Life is full of surprises. Humans, inevitably, are too.
People never fail to surprise or shock me. In good ways or ways no amount of memory loss will ever allow me to forget. Like the time in 8th grade when I learned - on a three-way call no less - that my secretboyfriendcrush was going to the school dance with one of my good female friends. Betrayed and so obviously dissed, I wondered how I’d ever trust people - or myself - again.
But for all the surprises have crippled my soul and tainted my beliefs, there have been some that restored my faith in humankind. Like the time when Po-Po unexpectedly belted out a song at her 90th birthday party. Po-Po stood up in her red, glittery qi-pao, cleared her throat, and just sang. For ten minutes, she sang her heart out. Unbeknownst to me, Po-Po has hobbies far beyond the kitchen walls. And she’s got some pipes on her.
Very recently, I was surprised by someone I’ve known for a long time: my mother. From her, I learned to love music, to appreciate art, and how to wear denim on denim. But I never thought she'd teach me how to cook, especially since that was Po-Po’s wheelhouse.
Mom had a batch of Po-Po’s tangyuan filling in the fridge, and she decided she’d make some for me. She blended together the rice flour and water for the dough with precision. And then, ever-so-delicately, she filled the pieces with Po-Po’s black sesame paste and rolled them into perfect spheres. I was in awe. Mom threw herself completely into the process. What a nice surprise, and importantly, what an inspiration.
Black Sesame Tangyuan 湯圓
This classic Chinese dessert symbolizes familial togetherness, hence the round shape of the rice balls. To me, though, biting into the black sesame-filled rice balls is like experiencing life’s nice surprises.
Makes a dozen 1.5- inch balls
1 cup ground black sesame powder
1 cup sugar (adjusted to taste)
½ cup lard (or butter)
pinch of salt (optional)
2 tablespoons minced dried orange peel (ground in a food processer)
2 cups glutinous rice powder
1 cup water
Fermented Rice optional (Jiu Niang or Tian Jiu - you can buy this at a Chinese grocery store, or, make it at home)
To make the filling:
In a small bowl, mix together sesame, sugar, lard, and salt. Mix until blended and filling is sticky and shiny. Refrigerate for an hour until easy to work with. Roll ½ to 1 tablespoon sesame filling into a small ball. Set aside. Repeat with the rest and refrigerate black sesame balls until ready to use.
To make the rice ball:
In another bowl with the rice flour, slowly combine water to form dough. Mix with chopsticks or hands until combined well. Roll out into a long snake-like shape about divide into 1.5-inches pieces. Roll each piece into a ball and using your finger, create a little well making sure the bottom isn’t too thin. Place a black sesame ball in the center. Pinch together opening to close and roll between hands to form a smooth ball.
Heat enough water to cover rice balls in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add fermented rice if using. When soup boils, add rice balls, cooking in two batches. Cook for approximately 5 minutes or until balls float to the surface. Serve.