These crisp, chewy rice balls, filled with a nut and sesame paste, round off a Chinese meal nicely
A day spent with my Sichuanese stepmother Lily is always a joy - she's a terrific cook and the children love the delicious food she makes. It is the Chinese custom to share a variety of dishes that appeal to everyone at the table. When she puts a plate of these sweet, honey-drenched glutinous rice balls down at the end, the kids really beam.
I made these balls with Lily and tried desperately to keep up as she flung ingredients in the bowl at a pace. She doesn't own any scales and scoffed at the very thought of giving exact quantities for the sesame nut paste and the rice dough. You just "taste and feel that it's right", she laughed.
The filling will keep well in the fridge for at least a month, allowing you to make smaller quantities of the dough to cook fresh in smaller batches. Lily fries her rice balls for a crisp and chewy texture, rather than the slippery result that steaming or boiling brings. I've used peanut oil here; in China it would almost certainly be animal fat.
For the nut and sesame filling
(Enough for 20 or so balls)
60g roasted, salted peanuts
40g roasted almonds
40g roasted walnuts
40g sesame seeds
100g dark brown sugar
60g tahini or sesame paste
1 tbsp sesame oil
25-50g peanut oil
If your nuts aren't already roasted, roast them in a moderate oven until golden. Leave to cool.
Toast the sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over a moderate heat until golden. Leave to cool.
Put the nuts, seeds, sugar, sesame paste or tahini and sesame oil into a food processor, and blitz until broken down and sand-like in consistency.
Gradually add the peanut oil in small increments until the paste is mud-like in consistency; you may not need all the oil. Refrigerate for at least an hour, until hard.
For the sticky rice dough
(Makes six digestive biscuit-sized sticky rice patties)
200g sticky rice flour
100g cold water
Put the rice flour in a mixing bowl and cautiously add the water, a little at a time, mixing with your hands. The rice flour behaves a bit like cornflour, and a little too much water can be fatal to the finished mix, so go easy.
Work the dough with your hands until you have a shiny, soft, play-dough-like ball of dough. Cover with a damp tea towel, as it can dry out quickly if exposed to the air for too long.
For the rice balls
Divide the dough into six pieces. Leaving the others covered, take one piece in the palm of your hand and shape it into a bowl. Put one teaspoon of the nut paste into the hole.
Gather the sides together and draw the bowl closed, squeezing as much air out as possible and sealing it tightly and carefully. Make sure the dough is not torn or broken and the ball is intact. No filling should be visible.
Flatten slightly with your hand to make a round patty shape. You want the walls of the patty to measure about half a centimetre thick.
Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
To cook the rice balls
Runny honey, to serve
Put a tablespoon of peanut oil in a non-stick frying pan over a moderate to hot heat. When hot, add the sticky rice patties and fry for about three minutes on each side. The dough should lose its snowy white colour and blister gold and tan when ready.
Put the patties on a plate and drizzle with a little honey.
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Sweet, sticky glutinous rice balls. Photographs: Claire Thompson for the Guardian