Chinese dessert soup with glutinous rice balls

A couple of weeks ago, I was shopping at the Asian grocery store.  It was early and so quiet after a snow storm (one of many snow storms...I've stopped counting at this point).  I was relishing it and taking my time, a somewhat rare occurrence since I'm usually rushing from place to place.  It's in my nature to rush but these days, I'm trying - with some success - to chill out and slow down the pace.

As I was walking around, I thought about grabbing a packet of glutinous rice balls to make dessert soup.  "Glutinous rice balls" don't sound very attractive, do they?  Well, they are not rice balls as in balls of rice.  These are mochi-like chewy, doughy, sticky balls made with rice flour that we enjoy as dessert.  I like to cook and enjoy them in a classic sweetened ginger soup.    
A Chinese dessert soup:  Two-ingredient chewy, doughy glutinous rice balls in a sweetened ginger broth
Dessert soups are very common in the Asian culture.  Mostly hot, sometimes cold - there are many kinds.  A common one you might come across is made with red beans, and one of my favorites is a very simple one made with sweet potatoes.  With Chinese New Year, I've been feeling nostalgic and have Asian food (particularly, sweets) on the brain. 

Circling back to these rice balls, I usually buy pre-made, frozen ones that are stuffed with peanut butter or sesame paste.  But as I took a packet from the freezer, I remembered I made these little chewy, doughy rice balls myself once or twice back in the day.  I remember making them with my family and my mother telling me how good I was at it.  She was joking.
I bought some frozen, pre-made glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame paste to go with the plain ones I made
So on a whim, I went to the flour section and grabbed a bag of glutinous rice flour.  I remember the flour we use goes by the same name as these little dumplings.  And I also remembered that to make them, all you need is the flour and some warm water, enough to make the dough come together.  I thought it would be fun to make some with my little guy and teach him a little something about Chinese dessert soups - something he's not a fan of because he does not enjoy anything warm. Give him a cup of lukewarm water and he'll say it's scorching.  Hot chocolate must be cooled, preferably with a scoop of ice cream.  You get the idea...

So make a batch of glutinous rice balls, we did.  I even taught my son how to sing this silly song in Chinese about how we roll these little dumplings "round and round".  I made mine plain, for ease and the fact that I actually like plain glutinous rice balls against the sweet "soup".  The plain ones are clearly not flavorful (made with just flour & water) - what I love about them is the chewy, doughy texture.  Fillings are certainly good as well. I picked up some black sesame ones this time and mixed those together with the homemade (pictured above).
These plain glutinous rice balls don't offer flavor but a unique chewy, doughy texture against the sweetened soup
Alas, I did not convert the little one over to the joys of dessert soup.  He tried one, deemed it alright, but wasn't overly impressed.  He is neither a fan of soup or warm things still.  But I have a feeling, one day years from now, we'll talk and marvel at all the things he didn't enjoy eating as a kid that he will like then.  My husband and I always joke that he'll likely be a vegetarian and hate sweets since he is the polar opposite of that now.


You need 2 ingredients to make these plain doughy, chewy glutinous rice balls and one of them is warm water.  
Essentially, you need to buy glutinous rice flour, like the one shown above that's available for less than $2 a bag at an Asian grocery store.  I can't tell you why but I remember we use warm water to mix the dough together.  I didn't even take notes when I made this, relying on memory.  I started with a cup of flour and added enough warm water - roughly half a cup - until a dough forms.
Once the dough comes together, just knead it a few times until you have a smooth mound.  Then, you can start shaping.  Take a chunk, roll it into a snake-like shape (or a rope), and pinch off a piece at a time and it roll into about a 1-inch ball.  You can make them larger or smaller.  Since these are plain, without filling, I think going smaller makes more sense.
My little guy got in on the action a bit and after a few tries, he understood not to press on the dough but to roll it around quickly.  In truth though, I think he found that silly song about making these little dumplings more interesting than helping to make or eat these.
I froze some extras for next time.
Once the rice balls are prepped, it's time to make the sweetened ginger soup. You simply need water, a chunk of fresh ginger to flavor the soup, and Chinese brown sugar bars to sweetened.  These brown sugar bars are readily available at the Chinese grocery store and are sometimes labeled "brown candy" or "candy pieces".  You could substitute with regular brown sugar though I must admit I've never tried that.
So I brought some water to a boil with pieces of crushed ginger and enough of the brown sugar to sweeten the broth.  You can sweeten and use more/less ginger according to your preference.  Once at a boil, cook the glutinous rice balls, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.  They are done in a few minutes, once they float to the surface.  I made about half my batch.
Unlike me, most people (like my husband) likely prefer their glutinous rice balls with some kind of filling for more flavor.  Here's what one type looks like.  You find it in the freezer section of the Chinese grocery store.  Peanut butter and red bean paste versions are also available (and tasty).  
I think it's nice to mix the plain and filling ones together.
I enjoyed making these and with these cold and snowy winter days and nights, I've been thinking more about this kind of hot dessert soups.  So here's to something a little different!


Recipe

Chinese Glutinous Rice Ball Dessert Soup
- Approximately 4 servings - 

For glutinous rice balls:
1 cup glutinous rice flour
Warm water, about half a cup

For sweetened ginger soup:
6 cups cold water
Fresh ginger, about 3 inches in length
1 1/2 bars Chinese brown sugar, or to taste

Place glutinous rice flour in a medium-size bowl.  Add enough warm water to form a dough, using your hands to bring it together.  Once the dough comes together, knead a few times until smooth.  Take small pieces of dough and roll into about 1-inch balls.  You should have somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen glutinous rice balls.

Peel ginger with a spoon.  Slice the ginger into 5-6 diagonal pieces and crush the pieces lightly with the spoon (to help release the flavor).  Place water and ginger into a medium-size pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Break one brown sugar bar into a few big pieces and add to the water.  Stir until sugar is completely dissolved.  Taste and add more sugar, as needed.

Gently drop glutinous rice balls into the water.  Give it a light stir to make sure rice balls are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.  (If it seems the pan is overcrowded, you might want to cook the rice balls in two batches.)  Cook a few minutes, until rice balls float to the surface.  Ladle into boils with the soup, and serve hot. 






50 comments:

  1. I would love a large bowl of sweetened glutinous rice balls too! It must be very tasty served with ginger syrup soup.

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    1. I was tempted to eat the rest of my stash today during yet another snow storm! This is one long winter.

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  2. My goodness! I've never seen a soup like this! Thanks for a great introduction...this Chinese dish looks fantastic! :) ela

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    1. Hi Ela - dessert soups are very common in Chinese culture. You can even find dessert houses specializing in this. I love it! : )

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  3. Love these sweet rice balls, I always look forward to enjoying them on CNY too :) Yours looks so good and your lil guy did an awesome job helping you :) I love them all but prefer the plain ones more and my hubby likes the black sesame ones. A warm bowl of this sounds awesome right now, especially with the snowy and cold weather we got again. Hope you have a great week Monica and stay warm :)

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    1. I think the guys think it's weird we like the plain ones, right?! : ) I like the black sesame and the peanut paste is good too. It was another storm today - ice this time. I'm ready for Spring! You take care and stay cozy!

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  4. I had never seen or heard of dessert soup before - this is so neat! I love learning something new! The sweetened ginger soup sounds really good - I'm so intrigued by this!

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    1. Glad to share a little something new with you, Ashley! I love hearing about new foods too - part of why I love blogs. There are so many kinds of these dessert soups - there's bound to be one or some you'd like! : )

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  5. Monica, I am glad you are doing more Chinese type recipes because I now have an expert to refer to! It's really hard for me to go to an Asian market because I don't know what I'm looking for and at. If I hear it from you then I can go with a goal in mind :) Thank you for this recipe, sounds like something I would enjoy. Now I'm going to of and look for the filled glutinous balls and know that they are made of rice, and are nice and chewy, I like that!

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    1. Hi Nazneen - I wish I could share more but I really don't have a very deep arsenal of Chinese dishes (or knowledge), unfortunately. I don't even own a proper wok (...don't tell anyone)! ; ) Once in a while, I remember that I know a little bit more about something than I realized. It can be hard to share these dishes - since it's hard to pin down the proportions in a recipe since there are no recipes! Anyway, I'm glad you found this one interesting.

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  6. This is absolutely fascinating! I wish I could travel more and enjoy interesting dishes - guess I'll just have to make them at home. Have you ever made homemade fortune cookies? My husband printed out a recipe and asked me if I would make them - they are on the list now. I guess some of those traditional American dishes look pretty over-the-top compared to a nice bowl of rice ball dessert soup!

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    1. I hear you, Tricia. When I was younger, I used to always think: "I'm so glad I came from somewhere else and know another culture...because otherwise, I'd never taste this, this, and this!" Always came down to food!

      I've never made fortune cookies but I've made tuiles and the kind like "cigarette tuiles" are very similar. I'd like to do it but it's the kind of task that requires a lot of patience and concentration. I find myself going cross eyed after a while! Not pretty!

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  7. I love the idea of a dessert soup! Sounds delicious :-)

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    1. Hi there! Yeah, they come in the form of hot or cold. My husband is all about "mango sago", which I learned how to make and make very often ever since when mango season arrives. There are so many kinds! : )

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  8. Did you say Dessert Soup? I love the sound of that. And of course the way it looks. I have a soft spot for anything that is round and floating in syrup (perhaps has to do with my childhood favourites). You had me at sweetened ginger in the soup.

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    1. In Cantonese, it literally translates into "sugar water"...does that still appeal to you? : ) I love the ginger soup, too. I like lots and lots of ginger to the point of spicy!

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  9. Warm, sweet, ginger soup with glutinous filled rice balls sounds wonderful Monica and I would dearly love to try this traditional dessert! Lovely to hear that you are sharing your culinary heritage with your son, even if he cannot quite appreciate yet! He will - good job Mum!!

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    1. Thanks, Jo. I'm at the point where I realize how little I know and feel bad that I'm not passing enough heritage onto the little one! One can only rely on grandma so much! : ) So I'm trying...that's all we can do! : )

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  10. What a fantastic dessert idea Monica! I've never tried sweet soups, but I must admit that this one looks delicious! Those brown sugar candy bars sound amazing, and I bet they make this soup wonderful.
    Aw your bowls look beautiful too. I really like them : )

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    1. We have many wonderful sweet soups in Asian cuisine...so really delicious stuff! : ) Those bowls are from Anthropology and they are so popular - I would bet most of us in the States have a set of these bowls! I see them all the time on blogs. :)

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  11. I need to stop by Asian store to get those sesame rice balls (didn't know those exist in freezer section!)! Japanese make these dessert soups too, mostly sweet red bean soup (sweeter than Chinese version). In a cold day, when everyone craves for hot chocolate, I crave for the red bean soup with these glutinous balls. :D

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    1. Yes - the Asian shops will have them in the freezer along with the gyoza and frozen dumplings and such. I don't think I've ever had the Japanese versions but I'm sure it's so delicious. I love all things with red beans! I am craving a bowl of hot sweet black sesame soup right now! : )

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  12. This soup looks pretty awesome and I love all your step pictures to make me oooh and ahhh the beauty of those balls!

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  13. I love these! I am fond of them because my MIL served them for part of our wedding festivities. I've never had the filling kind. This looks yummy!

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    1. Loved that your MIL served these - I can understand why. : ) When you feel up to it, you've got to grab a packet of these with filling and let me know what you think..it's great to mix the two (they don't sell plain ones, I don't think...so great reason to make some).

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  14. These look well worth the effort. Too bad you didn't convert the little one

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    1. haha - thanks, Cathleen. I didn't think I'd convert him going in...but I at least want him to have some knowledge of these kinds of foods as he grows. : )

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  15. Glutinous rice balls make me happy. I just LOVE that texture! And I'm amazed that they're so easy to make...definitely picking up some glutinous rice flour the next time I'm in Chinatown!

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    1. I am pretty addicted to the texture too. Soft and silky and then super stretchy, sticky, doughy. : )

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  16. This is almost our must-have dessert during Chinese New Year. To us, it symbolizes family reunion; I too love to cook the glutinous rice ball with sugar bars, plus generous amount of ginger : ).

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    1. I hear you...my family isn't big on desserts but my mom will make some on holidays like Chinese New Year. I'd forgotten I knew how to make them...2 ingredients and I forgot! I do love a sweetened ginger soup! I bet you know so many other great dessert soup recipes!!

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  17. all these beautiful chinese recipes make me really, really want to get my booty to one of our asian markets in town. We have several really great ones to choose from - we're lucky that way - and i better take LOADS of money with me because i'll want to buy all the things. This looks so cool: i'd heard of glutinous rice balls before, but had no real idea what they were, nor did i know that dessert soup was a thing! very inspiring, monica. Now if my snow would just go away for a minute, i could head out. :)

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    1. I don't know what's wrong with me lately...I feel like I'm posing as some sort of Chinese food expert lately when that is so far from the truth! : )
      The good thing about Asian markets is how surprisingly cheap these basic ingredients are. I habitually shop at the Asian marts but even I have to branch out and learn more about the ingredients instead of going for the same staples. Dessert soups are very, very common in Asian culture. I love it!

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  18. This is so very cool, Monica!! I love learning about foods from many cultures and I had never heard of hot dessert soup. This sounds wonderful to me and I hope you share some more sweet soup recipes (since that's the direction your culinary thoughts are going right now anyway :) ) We are lucky to have numerous Asian food markets nearby. They are a wonderful resource for non-wheat flours used in gluten free recipes and fresh ginger is a fraction of the price as compared to the regular grocery store. I am making this my weekend food experiment. I will report back!
    As for little boys and their taste buds....I know I have mentioned to you before how very much my son's eating habits changed when he went off to college. The kid was honestly weaned on Oreos and M&M's and ate that way for the first 18 years of his life. When I took him to the grocery store at the beginning of this semester, I could only smile and shake my head in wonder as he loaded up the shopping cart with tofu, veggies, and granola! So though you and your husband may joke now.....it appears that the unthinkable is possible! :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Wendy. Same here on the learning. I have so much to learn and it's really interesting.
      There are many, many types of dessert soups - most of which I have no idea how to make, honestly! If you're looking for a basic, I like making a sweet potato one with this same soup base. If you like sweet potatoes, it's a safer bet. It's here: http://www.playingwithflour.com/2012/01/sweet-potato-dessert-soup.html and I have a couple other recipes under 'Asian dessert' in my index.

      You do give me hope about my son. : ) As a very picky eater myself as a child, I know he'll branch out. I cannot imagine my son at 21 but how did he get to be 8! Time flies!

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    2. Monica, I am so far behind on commenting on my favorite blogs! Sorry. I wanted you to know that I made this soup!! I cooked a "Lunar New Year" dinner for my family with a few rather Americanized recipes and your Sweetened Ginger Soup (complete with both homemade and frozen filled glutinous rice balls) was dessert! Shopping in a large Asian supermarket was a culinary adventure to a foreign land but I eventually found the ingredients (same brands even). The entire recipe (soup and glutinous balls) couldn't be easier to make. We all thought the soup was sweet, warmly ginger, and tasty chewy. :) Thank you for guiding me on this adventure!

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    3. Oh wow - Wendy...thank you so much for letting me know! I am so inspired you did all that - having a Lunar New Year dinner and being so adventurous to seek these foreign ingredients out and to make it and then eat it with your family! It really makes me smile. I'm really so impressed and happy you did that. I'm glad you found everything you needed and it was easy. It's fun to try something new, isn't it...I hope it wasn't too foreign a taste for you guys. : ) Thank YOU again!

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  19. These look so good! I love that you always give us step by step photos; I feel like I'm there with you!

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    1. Sometimes I can't resist a few of those photos, no matter how bad the quality! Thank you, Jessica!

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  20. This looks amazing-I've never heard of dessert soup! Thank you for sharing!

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    1. Hi Dawn - yes..there are 'dessert houses' in Chinatowns that specialize in a slew of these soups whether hot or cold. I love many of them! Glad you like this. : )

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  21. I have never seen anything like this before. It looks delicious. I love going to Asian markets but I never know what to buy.

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    1. I'm so glad I could share a little something new with you, Christin! I totally get it about going to a different ethnic store. I go to some and wish I knew all the wonderful secrets on those shelves! And believe me, there are lots of ingredients I am not familiar with even at the Chinese market! I can't read Chinese so it's hard but I'm glad I know a bit. : )

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  22. I haven't had this in years! Definitely brings back memories. I'm a fan of the sesame ones myself. I had no idea they were so easy to make. Cute that you got your little guy involved too!

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    1. I hadn't had them in a while either! The sesame is probably my favorite too but that sometimes changes...the PB is good, too! : ) I'm trying to get the little one into the kitchen more - beyond just eating, which he does just fine. : )

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  23. I've never heard of a dessert soup, but what's not to like ;) Sometimes at korean restaurantes they give you this cold ginger sweet drink at the end of dinner that's so good though. Mmm, i like mochi so I bet I'd love these. Yours came out great! Also, I totally love going to the Asian grocery store. Do you go to the one on rt 10?

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    1. There are a ton of dessert soups so you're bound to find one you like! : ) And o.m.g., the Asian store on rt. 10 is precisely the setting behind the story of this post! haha - I am so going to run into you one day. I go there often!

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    2. Haha, well when I'm finally moved in we'll have to plan a shopping date there :) You can help explain to me what half the food there is!

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    3. haha...that kind of assumes I know a lot but, in reality, I probably don't know a whole lot more than you do. Many items are a mystery to me, too! : )

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