This last week was the Autumn Moon Festival in China. It’s celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with the full moon. I knew it was a holiday in China because my daughter’s Skype tutor was unavailable, but I forgot to buy the mooncakes because I was on my way to Seattle. I landed back in the Bay Area on the day of the full moon and it was spectacular. In desperation, the next morning I went to Chinatown only to find my favorite bakery closed and the alternative nearby was out of sweet mooncakes made from lotus or black bean paste. I did what any self-respecting Tiger mom would do, I looked up a recipe on the internet. Nobody really makes these overly sweet delicacies. I found the most detailed and comprehensive explanation of how to make mooncakes on the Omnivore’s Cookbook. It was a beautiful essay on mooncakes but far too ambitious for me on Saturday with Korean school, dance, violin, soccer, piano, flag football and more dance ahead. So I bit the bullet and bought a box of mooncakes that were pre-made, filled with salted duck egg and lotus paste just as I remember eating as a child. I recognized the picture on the tin as the brand my father used to buy. Excited to share with my children and deflated when I discovered they prefer the red bean kind (which by the way is much cheaper).
Still feeling in the Chinese spirit I decided to make lotus wrapped sticky rice this weekend—not because it has anything to do with the moon and more to do with the fact that I had lotus leaves calling my name in my pantry. It’s a process that requires a lot of space and time but assembling the rice is quite intuitive. The ingredients to use are as follows:
The lotus leaves and rice need to be soaked a couple hours or overnight (in separate containers of course). Dice Chinese sausage and dried mushrooms (that have been softened in warm water). Other ingredients I often use: half a salted duck egg, peanuts, and chicken. Drain soaked rice and liberally add soy sauce and oyster sauce for flavor. Mix in the other ingredients. Cut the lotus leaves in quarters. With the green side up, brush center with oil and place about three or four tablespoons of the rice mixture in the center. Fold like a burrito. You can put string on them but unlike joong (sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) they will not fall apart if you put them seam side down. Steam until the rice is well cooked and sticky. Takes about 45-60 minutes. Be sure to check that your steamer always has water at the bottom every 30 minutes. Best served straight from the steamer but can be re-steamed or reheated in a microwave. They also freeze well.