How to make zongzi in 2021

Chinese tamales for a healthy lifestyle!

How are you, my friends?

I’ve been waiting for the Dragon boat festival to come for so long. After all, it’s June! June to me not only means beach and mimosa but a time for my Asian heart to yearn towards Zongzi, the Chinese rice wrap “tamales”.

Let me tell you that before I made this zongzi, my husband and I were on diet mode, we would like to make our bodies fit after a whole year of staying at home for Covid. we had agreed we would stay away from starch, so once I made zongzi, we would give away some of the zongzi to friends, and neighbors.  

But once we ate the first batch, my husband seriously told me there is NO WAY he would give away these delicious goodies! okay, so don’t tell the friends and neighbors, we aren’t selfish, not at all! hehe 😛

Chinese dragon boat food
zongzi, Chinese tamales, festival food

This year since we are working on a better diet, we pay more attention to calories, so I decided even if it’s the classic dish it can be improved as well. Therefore I substitute some portions of glutinous rice for mixed grains. In Asia, the typical ones sold in a supermarket would be ten mixed grains. 

Especially some of you may shop at a grocery affected by Covid that uses your favorite one, it can be any brand, any kind of mix you desire. 

Also, I would like to mention the protein part, you are welcome to substitute pork with chicken, any other protein, or go the all-vegetarian version with mushroom and vegetable. 

Chinese rice wrap

Serve 2-10 people, make about 20 medium zongzi

preparation time: 2 hours, cooking time: approximately: 1 hr


*Note: one cup is 240 cc/ml

800g glutinous rice (sticky rice)

400g mixed grains

1 cup dried baby shrimp

15-20 dried shiitake mushrooms, Slice it or cut it half

1 lb pork belly (cut it to chunks)

20 duck yolks

1 cup dried raw peanuts (optional)

20 chestnuts (optional)

1/2 cup ginkgo nuts (optional)

Chinese premade turnip (optional)

25-50 dried small scallops or big one then dice it (fresh one is good too)

5 cloves of garlic, minced

3 sliced ginger, minced

1 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon five-spice powder

2 tablespoons crystal sugar

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

4 tablespoon rice wine (can replace with white wine)

1 cup dried shallots (can buy premade) or diced fresh shallot then stir-fried it to golden brown

1200 cc dried mushroom soaking water

Rice cooker or instant pot, any kitchen appliance you use for cooking rice with.

For wrapping you will need:

20-40 dried bamboo leaves

one roll of cotton rope/twine

a scissor

Cooking steps:

*One night before cooking. Clean all the bamboo leaves with lukewarm water, dry them on a baking rack, and put heavy stuff or stone on the leaves, this will prevent the leaves from drying unevenly.

First, clean the glutinous rice (sticky rice). clean the mixed grains

Second, soak the dried mushrooms in clean water (Do not throw away the water, would use some in the cooking of rice).

Third, clean the pork belly, then boil some water in a pot, cook the pork belly for 10 mins. take it out, cool it down then slice it into 20 chunks. take a bowl and put the rice wine, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and some five-spice powder, blend it well and immerse all the pork belly.

*If you cannot find pre-made dried shallots, you can buy fresh shallots. slice it then stir-fried it to golden brown with small heat. 

Step 1: Put some cooking oil then the minced garlic, ginger, stir fry it for about 3 mins then put all the pork in, stir-fry it with medium heat, until it has an evenly brown color for about 7 mins. add scallops, add a teaspoon of soy sauce, cook for another 3 mins, turn the heat to high, add 2 tablespoons of rice wine and cook for 2 mins, then take them all out, leave the natural pork oil in the pot. 

Step 2: if the oil is not enough at this moment (depending on the cut of pork belly you bought, you can add some grapeseed oil). Add all the dried shallots, and all the dried baby shrimps, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, stir fry it for about 5 mins with small heat. take them all out. 

Step 3: cook the mushroom with a bit of salt for 5 mins. then take them out.

Step 4: Adding all soy sauce, crystal sugar, white pepper, five-spice powder, 800 cc water from soaking mushroom, put all the rice and mixed grains in, add the cooked shallot, baby shrimps, ginkgo nuts, then stir them all nicely for 3 mins with medium heat. Cover with lid, turn the heat to high until it boils.

Step 5: Open the lid once it boiled, turn the heat to small, stir them all nicely until it all has a beautiful even color on it. (it may not be easy since the rice is getting sticky). take some portion of cooked rice into the rice cooker. no need to add water to the rice, put the peanuts and chestnuts on top of the rice. Cook for 30 mins, then let it steam for another 30 mins. You may need to do it by batch depending on your rice cooker size.

Now you are ready to wrap it!

Wrapping process:

Take one or two leaves (if the leaf is too small you can add one or two more), overlapping about ⅘ length, then bend it in half, making a scoop shape. Put a little bit of rice at the bottom, add the cooked pork and mushroom, 1-2 scallops, one duck yolk, turnips, chestnut, peanuts if you like, then put some more rice to cover them all. Bend the leaf down, and give it a little bit of press to secure the shape. Fold the left leaf to the side, take the cotton rope and wrap it two rounds, make a tie and cut the rope. video for this process in my old post here.

 you may feel it is not easy at the beginning, believe me, you are not alone! I tried many times until I really got it, and the first few zongzi are not as beautiful as the others are very common, but practice will make it perfect!

How to eat:

You have to steam it for at least 30 mins. The way we do it is the simplest, just put them in a big bowl then put them all in a rice cooker, add 1 cup of water in the cooker, 40 mins later you can enjoy it!

Zongzi itself has a pretty strong flavor, you can eat them solo, or if you want to try a little bit of fusion you can get premade Jalapeno and lime sauce, or the Chinese sweet and spicy sauce, or some adventure take such as more fruity sauce, naming mango, pineapple sauce. These are all pretty good accompaniments in my opinion.

If you plan not to eat zongzi later, I will suggest putting them in the freezer and thaw it in the refrigerator one night before cooking it. 

All right! It’s some work there but after you see all the beautiful zongzi/ rice wraps/ Chinese tamales in front of you, you will immediately feel so proud of yourself! 

This year, the mixed grain idea actually turned out to be a great success! First of all, the taste is still the same as before, just a little bit different in texture (less sticky), and the calorie is so much less!! I may stick to this mixed grain combo in the future from now on! 

I couldn’t tell you how happy we are with that zongzi! And sorry our friends, you have to work on it by yourself now! But no matter how you decide to make it yourself or buy the premade ones, I hope you have a wonderful dragon boat festival and summer! 

Stay safe and healthy!

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