One of Qingming Festival’s most prized culinary traditions is that of cold foods, requiring households to eat only foods prepared before the festive period…and forcing pastry chefs to become innovative in their desserts. Because the texture and taste of the dessert had to sustain through temperature changes, chefs turned to buns. Though cleverly designed, buns mark the simple, from-scratch nature of Chinese holiday desserts.
South of the Yangtze River, in the Zhejiang province浙江, in Fuzhou福州 and in Chaoshan 潮汕, steamed green buns, also known as Qingming Buns, are snacked on customarily during the festival. Sizes, shapes, and fillings vary: massive or minute, ball or dumpling, sweet, with red bean paste or dates, or savory, such as turnip with bamboo shoots, sausage with mustard greens, or bean curd with chive. The flour wraps are mixed with wild potherb greens like wheat straw, cudweed, or mugwood, the most common wild species Chinese handpick. Steamers line with bamboo leaves so the heat rises through the layers, while the fragrance from the leaves infuses the dough and gently cooks the buns.
Amidst the various sizes, shapes, and fillings, Qingming buns all wear the same green hue, esteemed for deep symbolism. Green symbolizes nature, cultivation and the arrival of Spring, alongside harmonious growth and prosperity.
- 1 can of Red beans paste
- Glutinous rice flour 130 grams (g.)
- Wheat starch 20 g.
- Sugar 20 g.
- Wheat grass powder 20 g.
- Water 100 g. (to be added to Wheat grass powder)
- Water 30 g. (to be added to the dough to adjust its softness)
- Coconut oil 10 g. (melted for the dough)
- Water 4 cups (for boiling the dough)
- Coconut oil 5 g. (melted for brushing at the end)
- Transfer the red bean paste from the can to a bowl. Let it sit in the refrigerator over night, uncovered, which will get rid of some extra moisture in the paste.
- Measure 20 g. of red bean paste and form it into a ball shape with your palm. Repeat for a total of 8 balls. Keep them in the fridge for later.
- Boil the four cups of water.
- Mix glutinous rice flour, wheat starch, sugar, coconut oil in a big bowl.
- Make the green paste: combine Wheat grass powder with 100 g. water, mix well.
- Add the water and the green paste into the big bowl of rice flour, wheat starch, sugar, and coconut oil, using a rubber spatula to mix until you don’t see dry powder. The dough should begin to feel bit hard, and mixing should be difficult at first.
- Once the all water and green paste have been added, your hands are going in to knead. If the dough is too dry, add a little water to it, but only add one teaspoon at a time; if the dough is too wet, add little glutenous rice flour. The dough should come together in a sticky but solid texture. Don’t worry if the color has not been 100% incorporated, or if the texture is not to perfection.
- Move the dough to a flat surface. Continue to knead it until all the green color is even throughout the dough. We want the dough to be able to form into a ball but still be able to break apart when pressed.
- Take 20 g. of the raw dough, form a ball, then with your palms, press it flat like a disk. Cook it in the pot with boiling water, turn the flame to medium. First, the dough disk will sink to the bottom, but make sure it does not stick to the bottom by consistently stirring. Eventually, the dough disk floats up, signifying that it is cooked.
- Remove the disk and drain the excess water. Let it cool but allow the dough to retain enough warmth for elasticity.
- Split the rest of the raw dough into two balls, and sandwich the cooked dough disk between the two. Knead the cooked and raw dough together, and the conglomerate should become softer. To test its elasticity, pull the dough apart: good dough should easily expand.
- Knead the dough into a log, separating it into 8 even portions and forming each into ball shape.
- Take out the red bean balls from the fridge.
- Take a green ball and form it into a tea cup shape. (See visuals below). Place the red bean ball into the “tea cup”. Wrap it around, seal, and pinch out the extra dough. Roll it into a ball with your palms.
- Repeat for all 8 of the dumplings.
- Place each onto a greased steamer. Steam for 10 minutes on a medium high flame. Tip: when you open the steamer cover, avoid dripping water onto the green balls.
- While they are hot, brush them with some coconut oil on the top surface. This technique prevents cracking.
- These green dumplings traditionally are consumed cold. You can wrap each individual in plastic wrap and store into the fridge for up to 3 days.