Savory Tang Yuan

Tang Yuan (汤圆) are a traditional sign of Chinese New Year, made with sweet and savory fillings. You’re probably most familiar with the sweet version of these round glutinous rice dumplings (the direct translation is “soup ball”), usually filled with sweet sesame paste, red bean paste, or sweet peanut paste, served in hot water or a light sweet soup. Judy’s recipe for Black Sesame Tang Yuan is traditional, easy to make, and has been tried and tested many times!

But the much lesser known variety is a Savory Tang Yuan made with pork filling. The filling is inspired by Hakka flavors and uses a winning combination of salted radish with pork, dried shrimp and mushrooms.

Tang Yuan: A Symbol of Togetherness

Tang Yuan are sometimes called yuan xiao when eaten during the Lantern Festival, also known as the Yuan Xiao Festival or yuan xiao jie (元宵节). Chinese New Year’s eve and day are always celebrated with family gatherings and dinners, but the following days are also part of the festivities. During the Lantern Festival, these little round dumplings symbolize togetherness and family unity. 

The Lantern Festival is always on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar new year. It marks the first full moon and signifies the official close of Chinese New Year celebrations. People celebrate this day by hanging all kinds of lanterns (like the ones we saw when we went to the Chengdu Temple Fair, watching lion dances, and, of course, eating lots of tang yuan or yuan xiao, both sweet and savory.

Celebrate your Lantern Festival holiday this year with some of these Savory Tang Yuan. They’re surprisingly easy to make, and they also freeze well for preparing in advance. Get your friends and family to help you make a big batch!

Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Savory Tang Yuan Recipe Instructions

First make the filling. Soak your dried shiitake mushrooms in a bowl of hot water for 30 minutes. Place a small plate on top to ensure they’re fully submerged. Cut the stems off the mushrooms and discard them. Return the mushrooms to the water if they still seem dry inside, since thicker mushrooms will take longer to rehydrate. Finely chop the mushrooms and set aside, reserving the soaking water.

Also soak your dried shrimp in hot water for 30 minutes. Strain and rinse them before chopping them. Rinse the salted preserved radish under running water and pat dry before chopping.

Tip to save time: prep the other ingredients while the dried shrimp and mushrooms are soaking!

dried shrimp cooking in wok, by thewoksoflife.comdried shrimp cooking in wok, by thewoksoflife.com

Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in your wok over medium low heat. Add the dried shrimp and cook until fragrant (about a minute).

Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Next, add the ground pork and stir-fry for 30 seconds, or just until the pork is no longer pink.

dried shrimp and pork cooking in wok, by thewoksoflife.comdried shrimp and pork cooking in wok, by thewoksoflife.com

Add the chopped Shiitake mushrooms, salted preserved radish, and Shaoxing wine.

Savory Tang Yuan filling cooking in wok , by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan filling cooking in wok , by thewoksoflife.com

Stir fry for another 30 seconds. Mix in the sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper, oyster sauce, chopped cilantro, chopped scallion and 1 cup of the mushroom soaking liquid.

Savory Tang Yuan filling with sauce cooking in wok , by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan filling with sauce cooking in wok , by thewoksoflife.com

Savory Tang Yuan filling cooking in wok with scallion, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan filling cooking in wok with scallion, by thewoksoflife.com

Cook on medium low heat until simmering, stirring often for 2 to 3 minutes, or until about half of the liquid has evaporated.

Savory Tang Yuan filling in wok, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan filling in wok, by thewoksoflife.com

Next, stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook until the mixture thickens and all standing liquid cooks off. Set aside, cool, and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.

finished filling in wok for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comfinished filling in wok for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

While the filling cools, make the dough. Mix 3½ cups glutinous rice flour and ½ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Stir in 1½ cups warm water and mix with chopsticks or a rubber spatula until a dough begins to form.

adding water to rice flour, by thewoksoflife.comadding water to rice flour, by thewoksoflife.com

stirring rice flour and water with chopstick, by thewoksoflife.comstirring rice flour and water with chopstick, by thewoksoflife.com

scraping rice dough off chopstick, by thewoksoflife.comscraping rice dough off chopstick, by thewoksoflife.com

Use your hands to knead until smooth. If the dough is too sticky, simply add more glutinous rice flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough forms a smooth ball.

smooth uncooked dough for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comsmooth uncooked dough for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Next, pinch off three small pieces of dough to form three balls about 1 inch in diameter. Cook in a small pot of boiling water until they float, about 6 to 7 minutes.

cooking rice dough ball=s in water for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comcooking rice dough ball=s in water for Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Now, add them to the raw dough, kneading them in until the dough is soft and smooth.

adding cooked rice balls to raw rice flour dough in bowl, by thewoksoflife.comadding cooked rice balls to raw rice flour dough in bowl, by thewoksoflife.com

I have to admit when I did this, I was slightly worried the dough wouldn’t come together, but give it a few minutes of kneading, and it does!

mixing cooked and raw rice flour dough in bowl, by thewoksoflife.commixing cooked and raw rice flour dough in bowl, by thewoksoflife.com

Now, divide the dough into 24 equal pieces about 32 grams each (a digital kitchen scale helps to ensure each is the same size), Keep them covered with a clean, damp kitchen towel to prevent drying while assembling your Savory Tang Yuan.

Take your filling out of the refrigerator, stirring it to redistribute the ingredients. There should be no visible liquid, and the filling should be somewhat dry.

Use your fingers to form each dough ball into a round disc.

Spoon about 1 tablespoon (15 g) of filling on the center of the disc. Use the spoon to lightly pack the filling so there are no air pockets. Fold over the edges of the dough to close the tang yuan, lightly pressing in the savory filling if needed. If the dough breaks, you can use a small piece of dough to patch it, using a little dab of glutinous rice flour and water to spackle it back together. Keep a small bowl of both handy for this purpose.

Making tang yuan, by thewoksoflife.comMaking tang yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Here’s a video showing the process also:

Next, gently roll the tang yuan between the palms of your hands to shape it into a uniform round ball. Set your finished tang yuan on a piece of parchment paper that has been lightly dusted with glutinous rice flour. Repeat this process until you have made all of the savory tang yuan. You’ll need another clean, damp kitchen cloth to cover them. Repeat these steps until you’ve assembled all the tang yuan.

uncooked Savory Tang Yuan sitting on parchment paper, by thewoksoflife.comuncooked Savory Tang Yuan sitting on parchment paper, by thewoksoflife.com

To cook the tang yuan, boil water in a medium pot (you’ll need at least a 4” depth of water). Use a slotted spoon to gently lower the tang yuan into the boiling water, stirring so they don’t have a chance to stick to the pot. Don’t overfill your pot, as this makes it difficult to cook the tang yuan evenly. Lower the heat to a slow boil.

cooking Savory Tang Yuan in water, by thewoksoflife.comcooking Savory Tang Yuan in water, by thewoksoflife.com

Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until your Savory Tang Yuan float to the top, stirring periodically.

Spoon your savory tang yuan into bowls with some of the cooking water. Add seasonings like sesame oil, salt, and scallions and/or cilantro to taste.

Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

If you’d like to freeze your tang yuan to enjoy later, simply place all of the assembled tang yuan on a parchment-lined baking sheet so they are not touching. Cover the baking sheet tightly (we use plastic grocery bags for this purpose), and freeze solid. Once the tang yuan are fully frozen, transfer to freezer bags and return to the freezer.

We hope you enjoy these Savory Tang Yuan! Wishing you a healthy lunar new year and a happy Lantern Festival!

Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

Savory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.comSavory Tang Yuan, by thewoksoflife.com

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