Monday, June 3, 2019

Taiwanese peanut tamales

This Friday - June 7 - is Dragon Boat Festival, and there's still time to get ready with this really delicious version of rice tamales from Taiwan.

Taiwan has an absolutely fabulous range of foods, as you’ve probably already figured out from my endless ravings on the subject. Really, though, the culinary creativity of just about every corner of China found a home on this island and then blossomed.

Case in point: Chinese tamales.

Also known as zòngzĭ 粽子, you are able to enjoy an immense variety in Taiwan, including the enormous sweet bean paste or savory pork ones from Hunan, delicately hued amber tamales that probably hale from the Hakka regions, sticky rice paste ones that also lay claim to Hakka ancestry, and lovely Shanghainese tamales with sweet bean centers.

But the list goes on and on, and we’ll most likely be enjoying more recipes each summer as Dragon Boat Festival rolls around again.

Today’s recipe is simple, and so I won’t keep you in suspense for long, since I really want you to try it as soon as you can. The ingredients are absolutely minimal, but they combine to form one of my favorite types of tamale, since it can be eaten sweet or savory, hot or chilled, with toppings or as is, and are beloved by everyone who tastes them.

Honestly, these should be part of your regular repertoire all year around.

Taiwanese peanut tamales
Táiwānshì huāshēng zòng  
Taiwanese cuisine
Makes 16 tamales

2 cups | 400 g round sticky rice (try brown sticky rice, if you can find it)
16 large dried bamboo leaves (zòngyè
粽葉), plus a few extra just in case
1 cup | 150 g raw peeled peanuts
Lots of cotton kitchen string

Boiling water

Peanut sugar (optional):
½ cup | 75 g toasted shelled peanuts
Yup, that's it
3 tablespoons (or more) sugar of any type
½ teaspoon sea salt

or some plain old dark brown sugar

1. Start this recipe at least 8 hours before you want to serve the tamales. Pick over the rice for any foreign matter or stones, rinse it twice, and then soak the rice and peanuts together for at least an hour and up to overnight with enough cool water to cover it by at least 2 inches | 5 cm. Use your fingernail to test the rice and peanuts to ensure they’re ready: your fingernail should be able to split them easily.

2. An hour or so before you want to start wrapping the tamales, drain the rice and peanuts in a strainer over the sink and then clean and soak the bamboo leaves as directed in this recipe for Hakka tamales. Trim off the stem ends of the leaves and then cover the cleaned leaves with a moist towel.

3. If you have a slow stove, take a moment to set up about a gallon of water in a 2 gallon | 8 L pot on your stove over high heat so that it has comes to a boil while you are busy wrapping the tamales. 

5. Fold a leaf as directed in the Hakka tamale recipe with the shiny side on the inside and a slight fold at the bottom to keep the rice from squirreling out. Use a Chinese soupspoon to place 2 scoops of the rice-peanut mixture into the cone. Fold the leaf ends over the cone, allow about a half inch of slack in the fold (see the illustration and description in the previous post). Gently tie it up with 2 or 3 simple loops around the center and tie it off, keeping one end long so that you can tie 4 to 6 of the tamales together.

A personal source of happiness
6. When all of the tamales have been filled and tied, lower them gently into the boiling water, cover the pot, and boil them for about 5 minutes to set their shape. Then, remove the cover, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the tamales for about 90 minutes; add more boiling water if needed to completely submerge the tamales, and check them at 15 minute intervals just to make sure they don't need a bit more water.

7. Remove the tamales from the boiling water and drain. Eat them right away or cool down and store. They can be sprinkled with brown sugar, which is how many people like them. To make the optional peanut sugar, finely crush the peanuts and mix with the sugar and salt; adjust the seasoning as you like. You can then sprinkle them with this for a double peanut whammy, if you are so inclined. Children and children-at-heart will love you for it.