Blogs By Category

Blogs By Date


The Chinese Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival, called Yuan Xiao Jie in Chinese, is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month.  This year, in 2012, it will be on February 7th.  The fifteenth day is the first full moon of the new year and marks the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations.  The word Yuan means the first month, xiao is the ancient word for "night," and Jie means "day."  Along with decorating the house with lanterns, the Chinese also enjoy the traditional food  ( of course) of this festival - small glutinous rice balls filled with sweetened peanut paste, ground black sesame seeds or red bean paste.  These delicious rice balls, about the size of small ping pong balls, are called Yuan Xiao.

Few Chinese makes these at home anymore due to busy schedules and because you can easily purchase excellent frozen Yuan Xiao in most any Asian market.
Frozen Glutinous Rice Balls (Yuan Xiao)
Frozen rice balls before cooking

I like the ones filled with ground peanuts or black sesame seeds.  They are very easy to prepare, but do keep them frozen until you are ready to cook or they will stick together.

When done the rice balls will float to the surface.

Simply drop frozen rice balls into a pot of boiling water and gently stir to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to maintain a nice, steady boil that's not too vigorous. Stir occasionally to keep them from sticking.  When they float, they are ready.

  I like to let them boil for an extra 30 seconds to one minute after they pop up to the surface.  Serve them with a little of the hot water in a bowl.  They will be hot, so don't put a whole rice ball into your mouth at once.  Pick one up with a spoon and take a small bite.  The filling will begin to ooze out and cool a little, whereupon you can nibble some more or take a larger bite.

Yuan Xiao with sweet peanut paste filling.

Complete your enjoyment of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations by serving these deliciously addictive sweets on February 7th, the Lantern Festival Day.  The sticky glutinous rice balls symbolize the sticking together of friends and family and the sweet fillings represent a sweet year ahead.

Happy Lantern Festival!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your comments, questions and Asian cuisine experiences here.


Like so many of us, Helen Chen learned to cook at her mother's side. But few of us had a mother like Joyce Chen. Helen grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her mother prepared the authentic dishes of her native Shanghai and Beijing with the sort of regularity the rest of us came to expect of macaroni and cheese or meatloaf.

"I remember when I was little, watching my mother prepare meals for family and friends. I once wrote a list of my favorite Chinese dishes," Helen recalls, "I came up with 150 recipes. I do not have one or two favorites. All the dishes on the list are traditional and all are ones that I learned from my mother. That is what I love most about Chinese food: its variety. Taste, texture and color all come into play, as does personality and culture. I think this is what cooking is all about."

Soft spoken and intensely intelligent, Helen Chen was born in Shanghai and moved to the U.S. with her family while still a baby. Helen grew up, as she describes it, in a traditional Chinese-American household. "When I was young I wanted to be totally American," she remembers. "It wasn't until I was in high school that I realized how lucky I was to have two cultures."

Today, Helen Chen is a widely acknowledged expert in Chinese cooking. Besides her role as an educator and cookbook author, she also is a corporate spokesperson and business consultant to the house wares industry. In 2007 she created and developed a new line of Asian kitchenware under the brand name Helen’s Asian Kitchen®, expressly for Harold Import Company in New Jersey.

Having been born in China and raised and educated in the United States, Helen brings the best of both worlds to her approach to the art of Chinese cuisine. She understands the needs of the American cook as only a native can, yet she is intimately knowledgeable in the culinary practices and philosophy of China.

In her active role as a teacher and educator, Helen teaches Chinese cuisine at Boston University; and, through the Anderson Foundation’s enrichment program ‘Cooking Up Culture’ she teaches Boston area school children from grades 1-12 about Chinese cuisine and culture. She also teaches Asian cuisine in numerous cooking schools across the country.

Helen has lectured to various professional and culinary organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Boston University Seminars in the Arts and Culinary Arts, Oldways Preservations and Exchange Trust, Small Business Development Center, The Culinary Historians of Boston, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs and the Culinary Guild of New England. In addition, she conducts culinary tours of Boston’s Chinatown and is a frequent guest chef at cooking schools around the U.S.

Helen is the author of Helen Chen’s Chinese Home Cooking (Hearst Books, 1994), Peking Cuisine (Orion Books,1997) and Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Chinese Stir-Fries (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). A second book in the Helen’s Asian Kitchen series, Helen’s Asian Kitchen: Easy Asian Noodles is scheduled for publication in January, 2010.