(This was an entry that I wrote at the end of August. It is one of my favourite pieces, but unfortunately, I was busy in September and didn’t have time to complete it. I am now finally able to publish this belated post)
It was overcast today. I look out of the window to my office, and in the vast Canadian skies, I see an infinity sea of clouds, each layer distinctly separate from the other, identified by their different shapes and shades of grey
The temperature is on the lower end for a late August day. 18 degrees Celsius. A slight breeze brings with it the smell of looming rain. Little whirlwinds of a few dried leaves dance in the corners of building, signalling to us that the cusp of Fall is right around the corner.
It is on these days that I feel particularly nostalgic. Nostalgic of what? I can’t particularly put a finger to it. Maybe it is a sense of sadness that the sunny, sweltering, summer days will soon be gone, or the anticipation of my favourite season, Fall, will light up the leaves with their fabulously vibrant red and gold, like jewels hanging from the trees. Or even, the stirring up of feelings of my childhood and teenage years, when September marked a new school year. Or, it could be the combination of all three that gave me this overwhelming sense of nostalgia.
Fall has always been my favourite season, because as a child, it marked a new school year, a signal that life is back to normality. Plus, it is my birthday season.
It also is the season of the Chinese mid-autumn festival. Legend said that the moon in North America is particularly bright and round. I think it’s just because we are more north here in Canada, that’s all.
Traditionally, for Mid-Autumn Festival, we have moon cakes (my fave), fruits, sit around as a family and talk under the moonlight, while children run around, and play with lanterns. We also ate “tangyuan”, as we sit around. Tangyuan, or “Tong Yuen” in Cantonese, is phonetically close to “Tuen Yuen”, which means “together”, or “bring together”. So in Chinese tradition, we eat it as a reminder that the family has rejoined around a table together.
We are lucky where I live that there are many shops that sell frozen homemade tangyuan. Even though they are not difficult to make, the little convenience it gives sure reduces the host’s stress during the preparation of a holiday dinner. At home, my mom always bought the frozen homemade tangyuan, but makes her own ginger-cane sugar syrup/soup as its accompaniment.
Sesame paste tangyuan is my favourite. I love watching the black and glossy sesame paste ooze into the spoon after a bite. Coupled with the sweet heat of this golden ginger-cane sugar syrup, this dessert brings me home, spiritually and tastefully, like no other.
My recipe here is for this sweet and spicy dessert soup, and also the little tips that I have when assembling this dessert. If you would like to learn how to make the tangyuan, feel free to contact me, and I’ll see if I can find a properly English-translated version of the recipe for you.
GINGER CANE-SUGAR DESSERT SOUP (FOR TANGYUAN/CHINESE DESSERT DUMPLINGS) (2 servings)
Notes: (I made the ginger cane-sugar dessert soup separate from the heating of the tangyuan to ensure that the ginger-sugar syrup remains clear and purely just the ginger and sugar taste, as if I heated the tangyuan together with the ginger-sugar syrup, it could become cloudy from the starch of the tangyuan. In addition, this prevents the the sesame filling from mixing with the ginger-sugar syrup in case they leak)
- Ginger, peels removed and sliced in flat pieces about 1 mm thick – 50g to 65g
- Water for ginger-sugar syrup – 600 mL
- Cane sugar (the Chinese type in bar, see photo above) – 1/2 a bar, about 50 grams (or to taste)
- Frozen sesame tangyuan (do not defrost) – 6 tangyuan
- In a pot, place in the 600 mL of water. Add the ginger, and bring water to a rolling boil on high heat.
- Once the water is boiling, reduce to low-medium heat. Let it boil for 5 minutes with lid closed. (keeping the lid closed will reduce the amount of water lost from evaporation)
- Add the bar of cane sugar to the boiling ginger soup and boil on low- medium heat until the sugar melts. Turn off the heat and set aside. (The reason that I added sugar after, instead of with the ginger, is because if sugar is boiled for too long, it produces a sour taste.)
- In a separate small or medium-sized pot, add 3 cups of water. (Make sure that the water is deep enough so that it allows enough room for the tangyuan to float and not stick to the bottom of the pot when they are placed.)
- Bring the water to a rolling boil on high heat. Once the water is boiling, add the frozen tangyuan (do not defrost) into the boiling water. Give a quick, but careful, stir in the pot until the water comes back to a boil again (so that the tangyuan doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot)
- Boil the frozen tangyuan with the lid off until they float (approximately 5-10 minutes), and when they float, boil for another 4-5 minutes. (I stress that the tangyuan must be boiled with the lid off, because the starch from the tangyuan will cause the water to boil over, creating a mess on the stove – the last thing we need in the kitchen. If it still boils over with the lid off, then reduce the heat to medium)
- With a slotted spoon, ladle out the tangyuan into a bowl, and add the ginger cane sugar dessert soup from the other pot into the bowl until it just covers the tangyuan.