The leaf-wrapped sticky rice dumplings zongzi (in Mandarin) or joong (Cantonese) are a snack enjoyed year-round in China, though they are especially popular in the spring. The long bamboo leaves are filled with either sweet or savory ingredients, and often made and enjoyed by families in the weeks leading up to the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day in the fifth month of the lunar calendar. We learned how to make these with Chinese home cook Mei Zeng, who’s perfected her zongzi recipe after years of practice.
A pressure-cooker is not essential for preparing zongzi, however it will cut the already lengthy cook time down significantly. If you do have one, the larger the better. If you don’t have one, pack dumplings snugly into a large, heavy pot and add enough water to reach about 1/2″ from the highest layer of dumplings. Simmer the dumplings, covered, over medium-low heat for 3 ½ hours before draining and serving.
Keep extra bamboo leaves on hand as they tend to crack easily along their veins during shaping, and unbroken leaves make for the tidiest dumplings.
Dried chinese sausage, bamboo leaves, sticky rice, dried shiitake mushrooms, and raw peanuts can be found in most Chinese grocery stores, but if you don’t have a large Chinese community near you, many of the ingredients can be found at your typical grocery store, and the rest are available online.
What You Will Need
- About 100 dried bamboo leaves
- 1⁄3 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup black-eyed peas
- 1⁄2 cup raw whole shelled peanuts
- 4 cups sticky (glutinous) rice
- 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
- Kosher salt
- 1⁄2 cup soy sauce, divided
- 1⁄2 cup shaoxing rice wine, divided
- 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced, divided
- 2 star anise, divided
- 3⁄4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1/2-inch by 2-inch strips
- 3⁄4 lb. fresh pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch by 2-inch strips
- 1⁄2 lb. dry Chinese sausage, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- Two days before you plan to make the zongzi, soak the leaves: In a very large pot or clean bucket combine the bamboo leaves with enough cold water to cover. Place a large plate on top of the leaves to submerge.
- The day before you plan to make the zongzi, in a medium bowl, add the mushrooms, then pour in enough hot water to cover. Put a small plate on top of mushrooms to submerge; let rest until softened, 40-50 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, reserving 1 teaspoon of the soaking liquid. Remove and discard any stems, and thinly slice the caps. In a small bowl, combine the sliced mushrooms, oyster sauce, and reserved soaking liquid.
- At least 4 hours before you plan to cook the zongzi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Divide the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, garlic, ginger, and star anise equally between two medium bowls.
- Add the pork shoulder to the boiling water and let cook 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon , transfer the meat from the hot water to one of the bowls of marinade and toss to coat. Repeat the process with the pork belly pieces, adding them to the second bowl. Cover the bowls with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
- In a small bowl, add the black-eyed peas and enough cold water to cover; let soak about 40 minutes.
- In a separate small bowl, add the peanuts and enough cold water to cover; let soak 15 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, add the rice and enough cold water to cover; let soak 10 minutes.
- Drain the beans, peanuts, and rice well, then return them all to the medium bowl, stirring to thoroughly combine.
- Assemble the dumplings: Hold a bamboo leaf horizontally, then stack another on top overlapping all but 1 ½ inches of the leaves (the stems should be facing the same way). Holding the leaves together as one piece, place a hand behind the leaves and pinch and pleat them once at the bottom center. While pinching, wrap the ends of the leaves towards you, crossing the ends over each other and shaping the pinched part into a point (the leaves should look like a wide-mouthed cone, with the stem and pointy tip ends flaring out to the sides). Holding the cone in one hand, pack about ⅓ cup of the rice mixture neatly into the bottom. Add 1 or 2 pieces of the mushrooms, and 1 piece each of pork shoulder, pork belly, and Chinese sausage, then cover the fillings with another small scoop of the rice mixture. Pack the stuffing down lightly so that it is level with the front of the cone, then, still holding the cone upright with one hand, use the other hand to pick up a third leaf. Gently tuck one end of the third leaf into the fold of the back pleat, then wrap the remaining end of the leaf around the front of the cone so that the widest center part of the leaf is closest to you and comes up about 2 inches above the filling. Hold the cone in two hands and cover the filling by folding one side of the front part of the cone down across the filling, followed by the other side (the leaves should now form a vertical tube-like opening at the top). Tap the tube gently with one hand to settle the filling down into it, then fold the open ends down over the filling to make a tight, pyramid-shaped dumpling. Wrap a long piece of kitchen twine tightly around the dumpling multiple times in both directions to seal it tightly, then tie a knot to secure. Repeat the process with the remaining leaves and fillings. (Dumplings can be prepared in advance and frozen.)
- In a large pressure cooker, combine as many dumplings as will fit without tightly packing them and enough water to come up ⅔ of the way. Cover the pressure cooker, open the safety valve, and lock the lid. Heat over medium-high heat until steam starts to come out of the nozzle. Place the safety valve on the nozzle, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour. Turn off the heat and let the pressure cooker rest without opening for another 30 minutes. If the dumplings did not all fit in the first round of cooking, finish cooking them in batches. Let the dumplings cool slightly or completely and serve from their leaves (the leaves are not edible).