SINGAPORE HAWKER MARATHON: CRYSTAL DUMPLING (ZONGZI) MADE WITH SAGO PEARLS

 

WHAT:  Beautiful, jewel-like, crystal dumplings called zongzi made purely with sago pearls, which I didn’t actually eat in Singapore.

WHY:  Although, as far as I know, this is technically not a “Singaporean thing”, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.  Its glossily translucent and elegantly geometric body is made entirely with tapioca sago pearls, making it enthusiastically bouncy, springy, chewy, the most texturally cheerful dumpling out there served cold with coconut dark brown sugar syrup.

HOW:  By soaking and various natural coloring agents, we are turning plain sago pearls into colorful mushy fillings that, through baptism of boiling water, transforms into these gem-like, glassy and slick dumplings that are wonderfully chewy, cooling and simply euphoric to look at.  It’s a texture thing, very much like the addictive quality of tapioca pearls inside boba teas.  The single source of fragrance and flavor that is fused into these dumplings (except the green ones that are made with pandan leaf) depends solely on these spear-shaped leaves, often times called zongye (dumpling leaf), mostly harvested from a particular type of East Asian evergreen bamboos.  It’s hard to describe it to those who haven’t personally experienced it, as it is a truly unique fragrance.  In my best ability, but probably inadequate, I would say it’s a combination of very intense corn husks and grassy tea leaves.

If you feel wary of this unfamiliar ingredient, trust me, once I was too.  But after getting over my illogical fear – one that wasn’t even inconvenient because you can buy these leaves with only a few clicks on your computer – I am now so in love of it that I want to use the leftover, incredibly aromatic cooking water as a base for soups!  And once I’ve learnt how fun it is to shape them, I just want to sit by a sunny window and make zongzi all day long.

Staying in line with the Southeast Asian flavors of this series, I’m proposing a serving syrup made with coconut milk, dark brown sugar and sea salt, mimicking the flavor of palm sugar.  But any other sweethearts like honey, maple syrup, or date syrup will do, too.

 

IT’S A TEXTURE THING!

CRYSTAL DUMPLING (ZONGZI) MADE WITH SAGO PEARLS

Yield: 8~10 dumplings depending on size

Ingredients

  • 16~20 dried bamboo leaves for zongzi
  • 2 cups small-size sago pearls, like this one
  • canola oil for brushing
  • CLEAR DUMPLINGS:
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • YELLOW DUMPLINGS:
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 3 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 1/4 + 1/8 tsp ground turmeric
  • GREEN DUMPLINGS:
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 2 fresh or frozen pandan leaf, cut into segments
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • COCONUT DARK BROWN SUGAR SYRUP:
  • 1/4 cup (55 grams) coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup +1 tbsp (64 grams) dark brown sugar
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  1. PREPARATION: Soak the dried bamboo leaves in hot tap water, pressing them down with something heavy, for 1:30 to 2 hours until hydrated. Meanwhile, make the coconut dark brown sugar syrup. In a small pot, bring coconut milk, dark brown sugar and sea salt to a simmer. Cook for a couple minutes until the sugar and salt has completely melted. Chill in the fridge to cool down completely.
  2. 30 minutes before making the dumplings, prepare the sago pearls. You can make all the dumplings in one batch the same color, or divide the recipes accordingly to make multiple colors in one batch, or make a dual-colored one like the first photo. Place the sago pearls inside a large bowl. To make clear dumplings: Evenly mix the sago pearls with water and granulated sugar, and let soak for 30 minutes. To make yellow dumplings: Evenly mix the sago pearls with water, light brown sugar and ground turmeric, and let soak for 30 minutes. To make green dumpling: In a blender, blend water and pandan leaves together until finely pureed. Strain it through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much liquid as you can, then discard the solids. Evenly mix the pandan-water and granulated sugar with sago pearls, and let soak for 30 minutes. The sago pearls are ready when you squeeze one in between your fingers, it's completely softened and mushy inside out, without any hard center.
  3. TO SHAPE THE DUMPLINGS: Use a scissor to trim off the top stems/ends of every bamboo leaves (see photo), then soak them back in the water as you work. Lay a large towel on the working surface. Place two bamboo leaves on top, with the tough stem-side facing down, then wipe them dry with another towel. Very lightly brush the top surface with canola oil to prevent sticking. Then proceed to shape the dumplings according to the video above (excuse the slightly blurry quality...).
  4. TO COOK THE DUMPLINGS: Bring a large pot of water to boil. Lower the dumplings then put the lid on. Once the water comes back to a boil, lower the heat to maintain a gentle boil, then continue to cook for 45 minutes with the lid on (I know that sounds long but trust me). Once done, transfer the dumplings into the ice-bath to cool down completely. Drain well.
  5. TO SERVE: You can serve the dumplings immediately once they are chilled in the ice-bath. Or you can chill them in the fridge for up to 5 days. Because of the nature of tapioca, the dumplings will harden once they have sat in the fridge for too long, so you'll need to rewarm them thoroughly in hot water for 15 minutes. Or, how I like it, microwave it on high for 1 minute for each dumplings. After which, shock the dumplings in ice-bath again for 10~15 minutes before serving. I know it's not the most convenient situation, but once you've tasted them together with coconut dark brown sugar syrup, all will be justified.

Notes

* Me and my husband prefer these dumplings to be plain and unfilled. But if you want, you could certainly stuff them with various fillings, like popular red bean paste, or simply mashed pitted dates. And instead of coconut brown sugar syrup, you could also use simply honey or date syrup.

http://ladyandpups.com/2018/04/26/singapore-hawker-marathon-crystal-dumpling-zongzi-made-with-sago-pearls/

I READ EVERY SINGLE COMMENT WITH APPRECIATION. AND WILL TRY TO ANSWER ANY QUESTION AS SOON AS I CAN. THANKS!

8 Comments

  • I will try these with sweet red bean paste, which I love. Thanks for making these mysterious-to-me delicacies so easy to appreciate! The whole slippery texture thing is really foreign to westerners but so much fun to dive into, especially with excellent tutorials like these and your non-hyped but still encouraging enthusiasm. Thanks!

    PS: I did make the peanut butter dumplings in green tea and they were goood. : D

  • It’s somehow looks like “kueh lupis” in Javanese, but we use sticky rice instead of sago pearls. I already can imagine the taste, ah. Gonna try this, thanks Mandy!

  • I heard that traditional versions of this are yellow due to lye. If I don’t have lye, could I add turmeric powder to the clear dumpling version?

  • Hi Mandy! I unfortunately didn’t read the recipe till the end and did not cook the sago immediately after wrapping it as we are only having it today (made them yesterday). Should I boil it or do you think the recipe won’t work anymore:(

    • Lin, depending on if the sago is dried out or not. Try cooking them according to the instructions anyways and see. If they are not cooked through add another 20 min of cooking after that :)

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