Two Zongzi* (粽子)Recipes (Sweet & Savory)

What are zongzi?

Please note: This is a multi-step and possibly multi day process especially the savory version.  Please read through the entire recipe(s) before starting.

Sweet adzuki bean paste zongzi
Filling: (You can also buy canned red bean paste in Asian grocery stores)
  • Dried adzuki beans 12oz bag
  • 4 – 8 oz of rock sugar to start
  • Neutral tasting oil (I used canola, lard was probably used in period, unless it was for a Buddhist observances.)

  1. Rinse the adzuki beans and pick through them.
  2. Soak the beans for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.  Depending on the weather you may want to soak them in the fridge.
  3. Rinse the beans again.

Method 1 Stovetop.
  1. Place the beans in a saucepan; fill it with water until the beans are just covered.
  2. Bring the pot up to a boil.
  3. Add about 2oz or one big chunk of rock sugar.  Stir until it dissolves.  Simmer for about half an hour. Add water as needed so the beans do not dry out, stirring occasionally.
  4. Taste the mixture.  Add more sugar if necessary.
  5. Continue simmering until the beans mash easily against the side of the pot with a spoon.
  6. Taste and see if it needs more sugar.
  7. Mash the beans with a potato masher or wooden spoon.  You can also use a blender or food processor, but I prefer a more lumpy paste for zongzi.
  8. Continue simmering the beans until it is the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes.
  9. Add about a quarter cup of oil the beans and mix it together.  The oil is so that the paste does not resemble spackle after it cools.  Basically, the same reason you add butter or cream or milk to mashed potatoes.
  10. Allow the bean paste to cool.
Method 2 Rice Cooker method. (This method is much easier, since constant monitoring and stirring is unnecessary).
  1. Place the beans in the rice cooker pot, fill it with water until the beans are just covered.
  2. Turn on the rice cooker.
  3. Cook until the beans mash easily.
  4. Add sugar to taste and mash.
  5. You may have to transfer the beans to the stovetop to simmer off the water.
  6. Same as steps 8 – 10 of Method 1.
The dumplings.
  • 4 cups of sticky rice
  • The bean paste you just made or
  • 1 18oz can of Chinese brand red bean paste
  • 1 7 oz can of Japanese brand prepared red bean
  • Mix these 2 together.
  • Half a bag of bamboo leaves
  • A ball of twine
  1. Rinse and soak about 4 cups of sticky rice overnight.
  2. Soak 1 bundle of bamboo leaves.
  3. You can also soak everything in hot water if you don’t have time to soak it overnight in cold water.  It still takes about an hour for them to become pliable enough to use.  The leaves need to bend without cracking.
The next day:
  1. Drain the rice using a colander.
  2. Wipe down the leaves with a cloth or paper towels and place the leaves in clean water.
  3. While you are wiping down the leaves, take a close look at them.  The top face of the leaf is smooth, shiny, and slightly waxy.  The bottom of the leaf should have a raised vein and may be slightly fuzzy.  This is very important.  When you wrap the dumplings the top smooth side needs to be on the inside of the dumpling, otherwise the STICKY rice will adhere to wrappings, which makes it difficult to eat.  Some internet sites will tell you that the outside of the zongzi should be shiny so the fuzzy side should be on the inside.  It’s up to you whether you want pretty shiny food or food you don’t have to fight with to eat.
  4. Measure out about 4ft of twine.  Use this as a template and tie up 8 strings to form a bundle.  You will probably need 3 bundles or 24 strings.
  5. Before you start wrapping the dumplings.  Start heating up water in a large stock pot for steaming/boiling.  The amount of water is going to depend on your steaming setup.  Please note that most bamboo steamers are too shallow to steam zongz i.  You may want to boil additional water if your setup will require refilling the water in the middle of cooking.  Remember, every time the water cools and needs to reheat will add to your cooking time.  I prefer to steam the sweet ones, otherwise all the sugar ends up in the water and not in the zongzi.
  6. Warning: Wrapping zongzi takes practice.  The size and shape of your finished product depends not only on the leaves but your skill.  It will probably take a few attempts before you manage to make one  that will hold together.  So make sure you are wrapping your zongzi over a plate or other receptacle to catch any accidents.
  7. Align 2 leaves so that they overlap. The top leaf can be smaller than the bottom one.
  8. Bend the bottom leaf so if forms a cone.  The sides will overlap and be folded to the side.  The leaf should resemble the way the envelope is folded underneath.

  9. Tuck the top leaf into the cone.
  10. Place a heaping tablespoon or two (it depends on the size of the leaves, start with smaller quantities to be on the safe side) of sticky rice in the bottom of the cone.  Then add about a tablespoon of bean paste.  Since we are working with natural materials I cannot tell you exactly how much to add.  Since we are working with natural materials I cannot tell you exactly how much to add.
  11. Cover the bean paste with sticky rice until the cone is filled to about half an inch from the brim.
  12. See how Jenna ChildSlayer is folding down the brim in Step 9?  Fold down the edge closest to you.  Then fold the vertical sides down over the filling.

  13. There will be a long piece sticking straight up.  Fold this down over the 3 previously folded edges.  
  14. Wrap the string tightly around the middle of the dumpling to secure it.  If you tie a half bow, so that unwrapping is easier, make sure that the end that is pulled to untie the bow is the CUT END of the string.  Not the piece attached to the bundle.  See how they are being held?  This is how we place and remove the zongzi from a hot steamer.  If the “live” end is attached to the bundle, the zongzi will unroll when they are lifted!!!  So make sure your half bow is the SHORT end of the string.  Can we say HUGE mess?!
  15. Once the dumplings are made, steam them for at least 2 hours.
  16. Cut one off the string and open it to test for doneness.

    (Photo by Godiva Eclipea)
    Filling for Tainan (Southern Taiwan) style savory meat zongzi
    (Please note that the measurements are only guessimates.  I tend to start with a 5lb bag of rice and whole ham.)
    • 1 lb. ham** or pork belly
    • Fried shallots/onions/scallions (allium) to taste
    • 16 chestnuts (frozen or dried)
    • ½ cup raw dried peanuts
    • 8 dried shitake mushrooms (this will depend on the size and quality of your mushrooms)
    • ¼ cup dried shrimp
    • Sauce from making soy sauce braised meat (Recipe will be in the soy sauce chicken and egg article)
    • Optional : salted duck egg yolks (I’ve never used them.)
    • Oil for sautéing (I’ve used everything from, corn to canola to olive oil).

    1. Soak the shitake mushrooms, shrimp, and chestnuts if using dried in hot water.  By the time you are done with step 2 they should be rehydrated.  If not you can always skip ahead to step 6 & 7 and come back to the mushrooms and shrimp.  Alternatively, you can soak them in cold water overnight when you soak the other stuff.
    2. If you are using ham cube it into one inch chunks.
    3. If you are using pork belly, braise it in soy sauce.  Cube the meat into 1 inch pieces.
    4. Cut up the mushrooms into half inch pieces.
    5. Chop up the shrimp about 1/4” to 1/2″.
    6. Heat up oil with some of the fried shallots. (If you are using really fatty meat, you may just want to throw a couple of pieces of fat into the pan instead and let it melt).
    7. When the oil is pungent with the shallots brown the meat.  Remove and set aside.
    8. Sauté the mushrooms and shrimp and set aside.
    9. Sauté the peanuts and set aside.
    10. Sauté the rice, add liquid from braising the meat.  Keep sautéing until the outside of the rice is translucent but the middle is still opaque.
    11. Mix all the other ingredients together with the rice.  (Most methods do not call for mixing all the ingredients together; Mom does this because she would always end up with leftover meat, or too much rice.  Opening a zongzi and only finding rice is sad.)
    12. Allow rice mixture to cool.
    13. Wrap and tie them the same way as the sweet ones.  If you are making both sweet and savory or have some in the freezer, you may want to tie them with different colored string to differentiate the two different flavors. (See how I totally worked string into the dayboard!)
    14. Steam these for 3 hours, if boiling cook for 2 hours. 
    Some tips and warnings:
    1. It may seem like there is a lot of salt in the dumplings, but please remember, if you boil them most of the “flavor” ends up in the water.  If you are steaming them, please adjust the amount of soy sauce accordingly.  
    2. Also, it looks like a lot a fat and oil, but sticky rice absorbs it.  If you do not add fatty meat or oil to the filling the zongzi will be dry and tasteless, especially if they are steamed.  
    3. As for the cooking method, I would highly recommend that for the first couple of batches to steam the zongzi.  It’s is a much gentler method and until you gain proficiency in wrapping them steaming means they will be less likely to fall apart.  
    4. Please keep in mind that sticky rice softens and expands as it cooks.  There is a limit to how many dumplings you can stack on top of each other before the bottom ones are crushed during cooking.  Ask me how I know!
    5. IMPORTANT: Zongzi fillings and wrapping techniques have many regional and personal variations.  Please keep this in mind if you at a Chinese friend’s house and his or her family is making these.  Do not tell them they are doing it wrong, because you read some article written by a SCAdian.  Really, my mother learned from her college roommate.  My sister and I learned from our mother, yet none of us make them are exactly alike.  They are similar, but we each add our own personal touches and adjust ingredients to what is available and personal preference.
      So, please add your own personal flair.
      Some suggestions include:
    • Red bean zongzi – adding orange peel and or ginger to the bean paste.
    • Savory zongzi – dried jujubes and Chinese sausage are also common ingredients
    • Lady Maria Noret mka Mary Otten used duck instead of pork.
    * I used the measurements from this website, since I really have no idea how much is in my handful.  Please note that this recipe says 32 bamboo leaves.  The author is assuming that every one of them is perfect and will not rip or tear.  Soak MORE leaves.  This way you will have bandages to patch up the ones that split before they are cooked.  And so you can pick and choose nice leaves to start with.  Remember, leaves are CHEAP!
    **The ham is probably a substitution for Yunnan ham that was not readily available in the US in the 70’s and 80’s.  
    Editing & Fact checking & Photography Assistance provide by:
    Lady Asa in Svarta – editor extraordinaire- for help in editing & revising innumerable drafts.
    Lady Alys of Atlantia for grammatical support.
    Lady Ceandra Paizi & Lady Li Anhua for double checking facts, and confirming common knowledge and legends.
    Photos courtesy of Barbara the Nearly Naked Frisian mka Barbara Krooss, unless otherwise stated.
    Pictures of ingredient packaging: (I took these).


    One thought on “Two Zongzi* (粽子)Recipes (Sweet & Savory)

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.