"Zong, or Joong in Cantonese, is a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice cake or dumpling with Chinese origins. This particular recipe was taught to Mum by my paternal Grandma Mary Siew Lan Yeow, who was an amazing cook. She was Nyonya, which means she comes from a Chinese-Malay heritage, so all the Nyonya dishes in my family come from her." Christina Yeow, Poh & Co.
- 1 kg glutinous rice, soaked overnight in plenty of water, drained before using
- 60 ml (¼ cup) cooking oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 500 g boneless pork belly, steamed until cooked through
- 500 g candied winter melon (see Note)
- 60 ml (¼ cup) vegetable oil
- 5 shallots or 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- ¼ cup ground coriander
- 1½ tbsp ground cekur (see Note)
- 2 heaped tsp salt, or to taste
- 90 g caster sugar or to taste
- 1½ tbsp dark caramel soy sauce (see Note)
- 500 g (3⅓ cups) unsalted peanuts, crushed and roasted
- 1 bunch dried bamboo or lotus leaves, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes or until pliable, rinsed, then returned to soak in cool water to prevent drying out
- cooking string
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Soaking time overnight
Cooling time 2 hours
You will need to begin this recipe one day ahead.
To make the rice, drain the rice, then place in a bowl with the oil and salt and combine well.
To make the filling, cut the cooked pork belly and winter melon into 5 mm pieces. Heat the oil in a large wok over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until golden and fragrant. Add the pork and winter melon and cook for 1 minute or until aromatic. If necessary add a little more oil. Add all the remaining ingredients except the nuts and cook for 7 minutes or until the mixture caramelises. Add the crushed peanuts and toss to combine well, then remove from the heat. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary - the filling needs to be a little over seasoned (salty and sweet) as it will balance out with the heavy boiling.
To assemble the zong, take 2 bamboo leaves, top side-up and place them on top of each other with the stem tips at opposite ends, then fold over to form a cone. Spoon about 1½ dessert spoons full of rice into bamboo cone. Using your finger push the rice to the sides of the cone forming a well in the middle. Fill with about 1 dessert spoon full of filling. Gently press the filling down and cover with another dessert spoon of rice. Gently press all the contents of the cone down, then fold the top end of the bamboo leaves to cover the top of the rice. Bend the excess ends of the leaves to hug tidily around the pyramid. Wind a piece of string firmly around the middle of the zong making sure the loose end of the pyramid is secured and knot firmly. It’s essential there are no holes in the parcels or the contents will spill out during boiling and cause a horrible mess in the cooking water.
Repeat with the remaining leaves, rice and filling. Cut another 5 lengths of string about 90–100 cm long, then fold in half. Thread 2 of the parcels onto the string then tie a loop in the end- this will allow you to hang the zong on a large hook (available from hardware stores) during cooking.
Half fill a large stock pot or saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Hang the zong from the hook, then carefully place into the boiling water, making sure all the zong are fully submerged. Simmer for 4 hours, topping up with extra water boiling water when necessary. Remove the zong and hang from the hook over a draining board until cool. If you refrigerate the zong, you can re-heat them by steaming or microwaving them individually.
• Also known as white gourd, ash gourd or winter gourd, winter melon is a large vine vegetable that develops white, waxy flesh when mature. It is often candied and used in sweets or to add a sweet note to savoury dishes. Candied winter melon is available in packets from Asian food stores.
• Also known as lesser galangal or Chinese ginger, cecuk is a highly aromatic rhizome cultivated widely in Malaysia where it is dried and ground, then typically added to rice as a flavouring. It is available from from Asian food stores.
• Dark caramel soy sauce is different to kecap manis or dark soy sauce. It is more viscous and is used in Malaysian cooking to add colour and depth of flavour. Despite its name, it is not sweet. The soy is also sold as thick caramel sauce and is available from from Asian food stores.
• If you make double this recipe, make sure you swap the bunches of zong around from the top to the bottom layers halfway through the boiling process so they are cooked evenly.