Ah! This is my first savory recipe post on this blog! I’ve written briefly about generic meal ideas when I got more creative at the start of the pandemic last year, but most were based on recipes I found to be amazing and easy to make! Lately I seemed to have a craving for joong, so I decided that maybe it’s finally time to write this recipe down. Truthfully, you can add whatever you want in various quantities, but this is my version that I’ve created with my mom.
What is Joong?
We have a little stickler on calling these “zong” or “joong” since they’re Cantonese-style. You might often hear zongzi, but that’s the Mandarin way of saying it! But if you haven’t heard of either, a joong is similar to a tamale, but entirely corn-less. Stripped down, it’s a leaf-wrapped meal with sticky rice and other filling. There’s many versions of this, including the more common one you might find at a dim sum restaurant, Lo Mai Gai (steamed sticky rice in lotus leaf with chicken). But specifically, joong is a bamboo leaf wrap rice dumpling and it’s slow cooked in simmering water for about 3 hours.
Joong is especially good in the winter because sticky rice and all the other hearty ingredients are so warming to the soul. The combination of slow cooked pork belly infused with 5 spice is just perfect! Maybe because 5 spice has that warmth of cinnamon amongst other ingredients, or maybe the richness of the pork belly that makes the sticky rice dumpling delicious. Either way, I’m always down to eat it! It’s also such a fun rainy day activity when you have all the time in the world to enjoy the art of wrapping joong. And once it’s cooked, you get a cute little parcel of a meal (or even 2 or more!) to enjoy. Sometimes I wonder why we even bother wrapping them up in the specific tetrahedral shape just to unwrap them. But believe me, the flavor of the bamboo leaves soaked into the rice is the finishing touch.
Plus, if you’re ever on the go, joong is perfect to take and eat. You don’t even need an extra Tupperware to store them! If you decide to freeze some, they’re easy to reheat by simply reboiling or steaming them till warm.
I think the hardest part of making joong is acquiring ingredients and potentially the wrapping too! So what goes into joong other than sticky rice?
- Pork belly: thick strip cuts of bacon marinated in 5 spice powder is slow cooked in the joong so the flavor simmers through the entire dumpling, melts-in-your-mouth kind of texture
- Chinese sausage: technically this one is optional, but I love it so much that I love to add it in
- Dried shrimp: so good in cantonese foods!
- Salted egg yolk: can be optional if it’s hard to find, or you could make your own (I haven’t tried that yet!)
- Yellow mung bean: add that extra nuttiness
- Mushroom: shiitake are great for this because of its flavors
- Peanuts: for me this is optional, but it’s widely used
Essentially everything is soaked and/or marinated an hour prior to wrapping. The rice should be soaked at least 3 hours before, preferably overnight so it cooks easier. And once you have all the ingredients out, you’re ready to wrap and cook. For the bamboo leaf wrap, I like to use 2 leaves for each dumpling. 3 may seem more sturdy but I find it hard to manage 3 leaves in my hands.
How to wrap Joong?
I haven’t the habit to take nicer process shots, so these are all iPhone pictures, but hopefully they’ll show you how everything is wrapped. The goal is to create a tetrahedral (4 sided) dumpling. Ignore the onions in the corner of the image!
- Take one leaf and make the shiny, smooth side facing in. This helps prevent the rice from sticking too much. Create a cone by folding in half, then fold one corner at an angle and open the pocket again.
- Start filling by adding rice at the base and then the other ingredients, topping with rice again. The cone should be fairly full without overflowing.
- Add the second leaf. I find it easiest to add it outside the previous leaf, but you can also insert it inside. Then fold it the same way you did the first corner. Pinch the free end shut and fold it over itself. Make sure folds are on same side of the joong for easier handling.
- Then, while holding the base fairly firmly, tap the joong vertically on the table to stuff everything down. Add a bit more rice if it looks a little empty.
- Grab all the leaves at the top and fold them down in a way that’s perpendicular to the most bottom edge to create that elongated tetrahedral shape. And hold it all down with one hand.
- Using your free hand, grab a string and start wrapping around the dumpling in a criss-cross fashion, making sure you tie down the ends of the leaves and the folds in particular. If you’re good, you can get away with 2 wraps, but 3-4 wrap arounds is best to make sure everything is tight. Shoelace or square (2 overhand) knot the ends of the string. And voila! Hopefully everything is still in tact!
There’s definitely other ways to still make this tetrahedral shape, but I’ve found this is the most efficient! Keep your eyes peeled and I might make a video of the wrapping process someday! Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy making your joong, a quintessential chinese food.
Eating Joong and other FAQ
When to make Joong?
- Traditionally, joong is eaten during the dragon boat festival. But personally I like eating it in colder months.
How do you eat Joong?
- Just unwrap the whole thing! If you’re on the move, you can eat it like a burrito, straight out from the leaves. But you can also turn it out on a plate and eat it with a fork.
What do you serve Joong with?
- Joong is often served with either a dash of sugar or soy sauce. It can also be eaten plain. Joong is an entire meal on its own, so no need to eat it with other food items. However, it may be nice to have some veggies or tea on the side to balance out the heartiness of the joong.
How to store Joong?
- You can freeze the joong. Since they’re already individually wrapped with the leaves, just leave them that way and store in a container or sealable bag. To reheat, steam it till warm or reboil it. This helps maintain its softness.
Can I reuse the leaves?
- If you clean the leaves well and reboil them before drying out again, you can most definitely reuse them! However, after multiple uses, the leaves will lose their flavor. Using them twice is reasonable, but any more, you’re just using them as a wrapper and not for flavor. You can also clean cotton string for future use.
Cantonese-Style Joong (粽)
- 3 cups uncooked sticky glutinous, short grain rice
- 1 Tbsp oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 lb pork belly
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp 5 spice powder
- 1 Tbsp shaoxing wine
- 2 Tbsp dried shiitake, soaked and sliced (about 12 pieces)
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp dried shrimp, washed and soaked
- 1 cup mung bean, washed and soaked
- 1 chinese sausage, chopped (about 12 pieces, optional)
- 1 salted egg yolk (optional)
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts (optional)
- 24 bamboo leaves
- 12 1-ft long cotton food-grade string
- Soak the rice overnight, or at least 3 hours to soften the rice. Drain and add oil and 1 tsp salt. Mix thoroughly.
- Marinate the pork belly with 2 tsp salt, 5 spice powder, and wine. Let it sit for at least an hour before wrapping.
- Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients, each in separate bowls. Marinate the mushroom in soy sauce and sugar. Dice the dried shrimp if pieces are unequal sizes. Soak the mung beans for at least 30 min. Chop the chinese sausage into 12 pieces. Cut up the egg yolk, if desired.
- When you're ready to wrap, prepare the bamboo leaves by boiling them in water until softened and flexible. Have you string or twine ready for use.
- Start with one leaf and create a cone, held in one hand. Do this by folding the length in half and then fold a corner over itself to seal one edge. You now essentially have 2 edges locked (crease on bottom and the fold). The fold should be held directly in your palm.
- Begin filling the leaf, first with the rice and then the other ingredients, as desired. Leave a bit of room to add more rice to somewhat cover the ingredients.
- Taking the second leaf, wrap it around the base of the first and make a fold on the other free edge closest to you. The folds should be facing each other. You should now essentially have 3 sealed edges.
- Continue holding the bottom of the joong. You can switch off hands to get a better grasp. Gently tap the joong on the table to settle the filling. Top off with more rice without spilling over.
- Grab all the leaves at the top with your free hand and fold them down neatly, perpendicular to the other edges. This should create a long tetrahedral (4 sided volume). You may need to tuck in and fold some edges in before folding all the leaves down together to create a neater look. You should be able to hold the whole joong in one hand.
- Using your other hand, wrap the string around the joong a few times (use the hand holding joong to also hold down the string in the beginning). It should crisscross itself a couple times too, but most importantly, make sure the string holds down the folds and the tips of the leaves. Tie a secure knot. Congrats on making your first joong!
- Repeat for 11 more joong. When you're almost done, start boiling a large pot of water. Place all the joong in the pot (add more water if necessary to keep from drying out). It's okay if the joong aren't fully submerged in water. Steaming works similar in the pot. Simmer for about 3 hours.
- Drain, unwrap, and enjoy! Feel free to add a little bit of soy sauce or sugar (this is common!)
- You can mix and match the ingredients to your liking. The ones marked optional are ones that aren't traditional or ones that I personally don't use as much
- If you don't have 5 spice powder, you can substitute for an equal mixture of cinnamon, ground ginger, and cloves. Traditionally, 5 spice powder consists of star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon.
- You can sub shaoxing wine with another similar white wine or mirin
- See the blog for pictures of wrapping the joong
- Give yourself about 4 hours to start preparing before you want to eat it (and a few more hours ahead for soaking rice)
- To re-use the bamboo leaves and string, soak them in water and scrape off all the food. Gently wash off the grease. Reboil the leaves to sterilize again, then air dry.
Did you make this recipe?
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