Ningbo glutinous rice balls with black sesame seed stuffing (ning bo tang yuan)

Time 50 minutes
Yields Serves 6
Ningbo glutinous rice balls with black sesame seed stuffing (ning bo tang yuan)
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

In a dry frying pan heated over low heat, toast the sesame seeds until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and crush the sesame seeds to a coarse powder using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Set aside.


In the dry frying pan, toast the flour in the same way, until it tastes cooked and smells toasty, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.


In a bowl, combine the crushed sesame seeds, flour and sugar, mixing well.


Melt the lard or coconut oil, then stir it into the sesame seed mixture. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until set.


Roll the set stuffing into balls the size of grapes (about 1½ teaspoons filling, or 8 grams, each) and dust using glutinous flour to prevent sticking; you should have 24 balls. Freeze the formed fillings to harden.


Place the glutinous rice flour in a large bowl. Add the cooking oil and enough water to make a putty-like dough. The dough should not stick to your fingers. Break the dough into balls a little larger than the stuffing balls (a scant 1½ tablespoons, or 14 grams), dusting the work surface with rice flour as necessary.


Press your thumb into the center of each ball to make a cup. Press a frozen stuffing ball into each cup and draw the dough around it to enclose it completely.


Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add several rice balls and gently simmer until they begin to float, about 3 minutes. Repeat until all of the balls are cooked. Serve 4 balls per person in a bowl of the hot cooking water, sprinkling over a few osmanthus blossoms to garnish, if desired.

Adapted from “Land of Fish and Rice” by Fuchsia Dunlop. Dried osmanthus blossoms are available at select Chinese markets, as well as online.

Christine Zhang is a data journalist at The Baltimore Sun, where she reports news stories using data analysis and statistics. Before joining The Sun in 2018, she worked as a data scientist at Two Sigma and was previously an OpenNews fellow at the Los Angeles Times and a research analyst at the Brookings Institution. She has a B.A. from Smith College and an M.A. from Columbia University.
Frank Shyong is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times writing about diversity and diaspora in Los Angeles.
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