Recipe from A Spoonful of Ginger by Nina Simonds (Knopf, 2011)This dish was inspired by the wonderful balls of ground meat coated with sweet rice that are so popular in western China. I love this vegetarian version, which is fragrant with black mushrooms, fresh ginger, and toasted sesame oil. Serve the pearl balls as an appetizer or snack. They can be made in advance, and they reheat beautifully.
- 1 cup sweet (glutinous) or Arborio rice
- 1 pound firm tofu, cut into ½inch slabs
- 14 dried Chinese black mushrooms, softened in hot water for 20 minutes and stems removed
- 3/4 cup water chestnuts, blanched 15 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed under cold water*
- 1 ½ cups grated carrots (½ cup for garnish)
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1 ½ tablespoons minced scallions, white part only
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
- 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1. Rinse the water in a strainer under cold running water, raking it with your fingers, until the water runs clear. Drain the rice, and put it in cold water to cover. Let it sit for 1 hour, then drain it in a colander, pour it onto a tray or cookie sheet, and spread it out in an even layer.
2. Wrap the tofu slabs in paper towels or a cotton towel, and set a heavy weight, such as a cast-iron skillet, on top. Let the tofu stand for 30 minutes to press out excess water; then, using a fork, mash it until smooth in a large mixing bowl.
3. Shred the black mushroom caps by hand, or mince them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Blot the water chestnuts dry with paper towels and chop by hand or with a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
4. Add to the mashed tofu the black mushrooms, 1 cup of the carrots, the water chestnuts, and the Seasonings. Stir vigorously to combine the ingredients. Add the egg, egg white, and cornstarch, and mix until smooth and sticky. Add a little more cornstarch if the mixture is too loose.
5. Shape the tofu mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter and roll each ball in the rice so that the outside is completely coated. Line a steamer tray with parchment paper or waxed paper and arrange the rice-coated balls in the tray. Alternatively, place the balls on an aluminum pie plate with holes in the bottom.
6. Fill a wok or large pot with several inches of water and heat until boiling. Arrange the steamer tray or pie plate on a rack over boiling water, cover, and steam for 20 minutes. Arrange the pearl balls on a serving platter and sprinkle on top the remaining grated carrots. Serve with soy sauce for dipping. To reheat, steam for 5 minutes until piping hot.
*When water chestnuts are called for in the recipes, use whole, canned water chestnuts. They should be blanched in boiling water, refreshed in cold water, drained on paper towels, and used as directed. Of course, you can use fresh water chestnuts, but they must be peeled and cooked for five minutes in boiling water, then refreshed in cold water and drained.
MAKES 36 BALLS