Tang Yuan in Red Bean Soup


Tang yuan literally means soup (tang) round (yuan).  These are small round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour,  and it is served in hot, ginger-brown-sugar infused syrup mixture.  The Japanese version is mochi but not served in sweet liquid, and  Vietnamese calls it “che xoi nuoc”.  This is typical festival foods served during Chinese Lantern Festival  or New Year, and mochi is served during Japanese New Year.  Because of its round-shape, tang yuan represents fullness or full circle which hold special meaning at families gathering to celebrate togetherness and  new year.  Our family make both nian gao (posted previous year), and tang yuan to welcome the new year.

Next month on February 10th, Chinese communities around the world will welcome the Year of the Snake.  The celebration last for 15 days.  Food is a very big part of the holiday, and the foods eaten during Chinese New Year have special meanings.  Chinese markets are displaying many CYN products. You may have noticed on your recent shopping trip to an Asian market that there are displays of fresh Chinese new year cake, nian gao,  but not fresh tang yuan.  If you are planning a Chinese New Year gathering with families or just want to know what exactly fresh tang yuan taste like, why not make it yourself?  It is really easy to make with simple ingredients.  You can buy all these ingredients at non-Asian groceries.  All you need is glutinous rice flour mixed with water, form into small round balls, boil and then simmer in brown sugar-water mixture (shorter cooking time recipe) or put a twist to it and serve it in sweetened red bean soup as posted here.

In this recipe, I am sharing with you two different ways to serve sweet tang yuan: in ginger-sugar syrup mixture or with sweet red bean soup. Sweet red bean soup can be made from scratch or from store-bought sweetened red bean paste. I recommend that you make the liquid base first before making rice balls. If you make red bean soup from scratch, beans need to be soaked overnight and cooking time takes at least 90 minutes to cook to the right tenderness. The cooking time for ginger-sugar mixture is about 20 minutes, or store-bought sweetened red bean paste soup is about 15 minutes.  This recipe may look long and complicated, but it is not (I have included more details in this post).  So be sure to read the whole recipe throughly before cooking.

One last note: When working with flour, depending on the geographic elevations and temperatures, the amount of liquid needed varies.  It is best not to add liquid into flour all at once but 1/3 at a time until you reach the right consistency.

Ingredients and Methods

To make brown sugar-ginger syrup: (instead of using sweet red bean soup)

  • 3 inch                                            ginger, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 300 grams           1 1/2 cup           brown sugar  (or 3 bars brown sugar, can be purchased at an Asian market)
  • 700 milliliters     3 cups                 water
  • 400 milliliters     1 can                   coconut milk
  1. Pour 3 cups of water into a medium saucepan, and bring it to a boil over high heat.  Once water is boiled, add in the sugar and ginger.  You can adjust the level of sweetness by adding more sugar to your liking.
  2. Bring the content back to a boil over high heat because the ingredients has cool the temperature of liquid.
  3. Then simmer this mixture over medium heat for 25 minutes or until the liquid bubbles and showing syrupy texture.
  4.  Reduce heat to low and let it continues to simmer while you make rice balls.

Note:  Once you made and cook the rice balls, add the 400ml coconut milk to the ginger-brown-sugar mixture, bring it to a quit boil before adding in cooked rice balls to the soup.

To make red bean soup from scratch

  • 227 grams                     1 cup                        dried red beans (azuki beans)
  • 200 grams                     1 cup                        brown sugar  (adjust to taste)
  • 2 littlers                         9 cups                      water
  • 400 milliters                  1 1/3 cups               coconut milk
  1. Soak the dried red beans overnight to help soften the beans and cut down cooking time.
  2. Rinse the beans throughly  before cooking. Add the soaked beans and water to a stock pot, and place it over a medium high heat and bring it to a boil.
  3.  Reduce heat to medium. Cover with lid but Keep an eye on the pot  to avoid boiling over.  You can leave a chopstick or a wooden ladle over the pot and rest the lid over it to reduce boil-over.
  4.  Let it simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours or until beans are soft and tender.  You should see beans start to break apart, and the liquid looks a bit grainy. Do a taste test for tenderness of the beans.  If more cooking time and/or water is needed, add hot water and cook until beans is soften.
  5. Once the beans are tender, bring the pot back to a boil then add in sugar.
  6. Do another fast test for sweetness and adjust to your preference.
  7. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer  while you make rice balls.

Note:  Once you made and cook the rice balls, add the 400ml coconut milk to the red bean soup, bring it to a quit boil before adding in cooked rice balls to the soup.

To make sweet red bean soup from store-bought sweet red bean paste:

  • 500 grams                   2 cups         prepared sweetened red bean paste
  • 150 milliliters              1/2 cup       water
  • 150 milliliter                1/2 cup       coconut milk
  1. Combined red bean paste, water, and coconut milk into a medium size saucepan.  Stir to blend the paste and water together.
  2. Place the large saucepan over medium-high heat to cook for  about 10 to 15 minutes or until the edge start to bubbles.
  3. Give it a stir and cook for another minute or two. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside while you make rice balls.

To make glutenous rice balls:

  • 454 grams                   3 cups              glutenous rice flour
  • 50 grams                     1/2 cup            coconut cream powder (optional)
  • 400 milliliters              1 3/4 cups       water  plus more if needed
  1. Using a big mixing bowl, set up an icy water bath to cool down the cooked rice balls. set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan  fill it 2/3 full with water and bring it  to a boil over medium high heat. While the water is cooking, make rice dough
  3. In a big mixing bowl, add in all the dry ingredients and make a well in the middle.  Pour 3/4 of the water into the well, and mix water and flour together to make a pliable dough.  If not enough liquid to mix all flour together, add the rest of the water in a little at a time until the dough feels like play-dough or your earlobe. (If more water needed, again, add a little at a time.)
  4. To form a small round ball, pinch about a large grape-size dough and roll it circular motion between your palms. Set aside until all dough are formed into little balls.
  5. To cook rice balls, make sure the pot of water is bubbling before adding handful of rice balls at a time to avoid crowding the pot.  Give them a couple of stirs, and cook for couple of minutes.  When they float to the top  (about 2 minutes), scoop them out with a wire ladle or skimmer, and put them immediately into the bowl of cold water bath to stop the cooking process.  Remove them from the cold bath by hands or skimmer to a big bowl lined with paper towel, and set aside.  Continue cooking the rest of uncooked rice balls.
  6. Bring the water back to a boil (can add more water to pot if needed to fill back up to 2/3 full) and repeat the previous step  until all the rice balls are cooked.

Putting the finishing touch:

See end note for each liquid recipe.  Serve it in a pretty bowls and enjoy tang yuan with your family.

Happy Chinese New Year, and may the new year bring you and your family good health, prosperity, and togetherness.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! 恭禧發財!


10 comments on “Tang Yuan in Red Bean Soup

  1. gosh your recipe is so so detailed, and love that you put both metric and cups for the recipes. this is my first time seeing glutinous rice balls made with coconut cream powder and it does sound quite intriguing. shall try it in two weeks time for chinese new year 😉

    • Hi Janine! When I learned to make this the first time, googling for recipes was not that popular yet, I was given vague directions over the phone. Even though it is a really simple recipe, I decided to write down detailed notes so anyone who attempt this for the first time can follow it easily. And I like to include some back ground info to foods from different culture. I always appreciate recipes that offers both type of measurements so I try to do that too. Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year! 🙂

    • For savory tang yuan- because it has not flavor, I like to serve it with a soup base that balance its blandness such as hot and sour soup. I have a recipe for that in archive. There is a savory stir-fry dish I am planning to make for our family gathering, and will share that recipe later. 🙂

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