A couple of weekends ago, I went home to North Carolina for the Dragonboat Festival. The Chinese Association was having a large party and wrapping zongzi for the occasion, so I decided to fly home to learn how to make the rice dumplings and also to spend time with my mom and her wonderful friends.
The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated every year according to the Lunar Year calendar (this year it was on June 16th). The festival, also known as Duanwe Jie, commemorates the life and death of the loyal minister and Chinese scholar Qu Yuan. While Qu Yuan was initially favored by the king, eventually other court officials sent him to prison on charges of conspiracy.
In the year 278 BCE, at the age of 37, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Milo River. He clasped a heavy stone to his chest and leaped into the water. Knowing that Qu Yuan was a righteous man, the people of Chu rushed to the river to try to save him. People started throwing in zongzi into the river in the hopes of feeding Qu Yuan, thus the tradition of making zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival.
For zongzi, you need the following materials:
Bamboo leaves, cleaned with warm water and then quickly boiled and rinsed to remove any dirt
Sticky rice (for the sweet zongzi, you just need to soak it in water, for savory zongzi, you can soak it in water OR you can add a little soy sauce for extra flavor)
String, for wrapping the zongzi
Filling (red bean paste, green bean paste, lotus paste, or some kind of meat filling)
First, we cleaned the bamboo leaves and cut off the ends of the stems (the stems are too stiff for wrapping):
Here’s some of the sticky rice we used for wrapping the savory zongzi (the color is a little brown because we used some soy sauce to add a little flavoring to the rice):
Red bean paste:
We separated the red bean paste into individual portions and then placed them in the freezer to harden them:
Meat for the savory zongzi (this was marinated with green onions, soy sauce, and water):
Here’s a video tutorial I made with my mom’s friends on how to wrap the zongzi:
Our wrapped zongzi before being cooked:
To cook the zongzi, you can either place them in boiling hours (for 3 hours) OR you can use a pressure cooker and cook them for 45 minutes. Here’s one of my mom’s friends, Auntie Zhu, filling the pressure cooker with water:
The zongzi rice is infused with the flavor from the bamboo leaves and any other flavorings you add to the rice. My mom’s friend, Auntie Wangling, grows a lot of vegetables and fruits and adds olive flowers to the sweet rice zongzi that makes them delicious! Zongzi are really fun to make and they can be made year-round, not just for the Dragon Boat Festival!