Making Kuih Ee (Tang Yuan or 汤圆), or in English – Glutinous Rice Balls, was one of the highlights of the many festivities we celebrate each year, including the winter solstice celebration.
The solstice in December is celebrated for many reasons. Every 21st or 22nd of December marks the turning point between winter and spring in the northern hemisphere. It was important for the farmers in the olden days, as after this festive season it was time for them to start planting their crops. We call this time “tang check” (Winter Solstice festival) or in Chinese 冬至節., and making Kuih Ee is part of the winter solstice festivities.
In Malaysia, my cousins and I would be sitting around the table, trying to roll the balls. Some of us would be making the red balls and some the white ones. We were told the white balls needed to be bigger than the red ones, so we had to constantly compare the sizes of the balls. If the sizes were wrong, our balls were squashed and we had to do it again, and we were told that we would be a year older after eating the Kuih Ee.
The “kuih Ee’ we grew up with (hokkien families) is made of plain glutinous rice. Small portions of the dough are made into tiny balls. The bigger ones are of white colour (which is the mother) and the smaller ones are made of red balls. However, the other Chinese dialects groups would include fillings like red beans, ground nuts, and black sesame.
In the past, we had to sort out the normal rice from the glutinous rice, after that we would soak the glutinous rice in water before grinding in the rice flour using a stone grinder. However, right now you can easily purchase glutinous rice flour from your local shop or readymade kuih ee in the frozen section of your Asian grocers, or if you are in Asian country, you can purchase fresh kuih ee from your local market. Furthermore, the kiuh ee now comes in various colours, not just red and white.
Making the kuih ee is a FUN activity to share with your children or grandchildren. Get them to help you to add the colouring and making the balls.
Here is a simple recipe for making Kuih Ee.
1/2 tsp sugar 200ml water 200g glutinous flour 1 tsp Butterfly Pea powder, pandan powder
1 inch / 30g old ginger (peeled and smashed or sliced) 1 tsp pandan powder or 2 pandan leaves 100g sugar 250ml water Optional – You can add gula melaka/brown sugar to the syrup as well.
1 litre of water for boiling the glutinous rice balls 1 litre of cold water for blanching the balls after boiling
Making the glutinous balls:
Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl, and gradually pour water onto the flour.
Use a spatula to mix until a soft dough forms.
Knead for 1-2 minutes until dough is smooth.
Divide dough into 5 portions.
Add red, blue, purple and green colouring to 4 portions and leave 1 portion for the white.