A delectable treat consisting of sticky rice, dried fruits, nuts and red bean paste, eight treasure rice pudding is a must-have for Lunar New Year.
A classic festive treat
As the Chinese New Year is fast approaching, I’m sharing a dish that always held a place on our family’s New Year dinner menu. Eight treasure rice pudding, known as Ba Bao Fan/八宝饭 in Chinese, is a pretty and delectable festive treat that forms part of my childhood memory.
Made of glutinous rice, dried fruits, nuts and red bean paste, it tastes sticky, gooey, sweet, aromatic and nutty. I often think it resembles Zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) in texture and flavour, yet it’s much easier to make.
What ingredients do you need
Eight treasure rice pudding consists of three components: glutinous rice, toppings and a filling.
Glutinous Rice (Nuo Mi, 糯米), also known as sticky rice or sweet rice, is a type of rice popular in Asian cuisine which, when cooked, delivers a sticky texture and a subtly sweet, aromatic taste.
Although its name can be misleading, glutinous rice doesn’t contain any gluten (but has a glue-like nature once cooked). Both long-grain and short-grain variety work for this recipe.
Dried Fruits and Nuts are used as toppings. For photographing this dish, I gathered six ingredients from my pantry: Jujube (Chinese date), golden raisins, dried cranberries, dried pear, peanuts, walnuts and pumpkin seeds. Together with red bean paste (the filling), they make up “eight treasures”.
Please feel free to choose your own preferred ingredients. Mix different colours and textures if possible. Other options include dried apricot, goji berries, candied orange peel, dried kiwi, lotus seeds, almonds, cashew, pistachio, etc.
Red Bean Paste, a sweetened paste made of adzuki beans, is used as the filling. If time permits, I highly recommend you make your own instead of buying commercially produced ones. I have a blog post dedicated to Homemade Red Bean Paste which includes two types of paste: smooth and chunky. Both are great for this recipe.
🛎 Tip: It’s also possible to make eight treasure rice pudding without red bean paste. Simply add more dried fruits and nuts between two layers of rice.
Three simple steps to follow
Making eight treasure rice pudding is easy. Different from the approach found in many other recipes, I follow my parents’ technique which doesn’t involve steaming the rice before assembling the bowl. There are only three simple steps to follow. It always turns out to be a good-looking, delicious dish.
Step 1: Soak the rice
Rinse glutinous rice under running water. Put it into a bowl and top with water (make sure it’s enough as the rice expands over time). Leave to soak overnight. Then drain well and mix with a little sugar.
Some of the toppings you could use in the next step, such as dried jujube, peanuts, almonds, lotus seeds, etc., also need to be rehydrated beforehand.
Step 2: Assemble the bowl
Evenly coat a bowl with coconut oil (or or butter, neutral cooking oil). This will help you to easily remove the cooked pudding from the bowl.
Spread a single layer of mixed dried fruit and nuts over the bottom of the bowl. Design a pattern with different colours if you wish.
Lay half of the rice over the dried fruit and nuts. Put a flat disc of red bean paste in the middle. Then add the remaining rice on top. Flatten it with a spoon. Gently pour in water just enough to level with the rice.
Step 3: Steam the dish
Place the pudding bowl into a steamer basket or onto a steamer rack. Fill the wok/pot with water. Leave to steam over medium heat for 50 mins. Don’t forget to check the water level in the wok/pot halfway through in case it dries out.
A note on how to choose the right bowl
Although eight treasure rice pudding is traditionally served in a round shape, I don’t see any reason why you can’t use other shaped containers. Three factors to consider when choosing what to use:
- It’s heat-proof.
- It’s deep enough so that you can hide the red bean paste inside the rice.
- After everything is assembled, there should be at least 1cm (0.4in) space (from the rice to the rim of the bowl) to allow the rice to expand during steaming without spilling over.
For your reference, my bowl is about 15cm (6in) in diameter and 7cm (2.7inch) high. You can use a bowl with a larger volume than this but not smaller.
How to serve and store
After steaming, leave the pudding to cool for 10 mins or so. Then use a spatula or a knife to run along the edge of the pudding to initially separate it from the bowl.
Place a flat serving plate upside down over the bowl. Hold tight then flip over. You should be able to remove the bowl easily leaving the pudding resting on the plate. Drizzle some honey when serving if you like it sweeter.
Traditionally, this dish is served warm in a multi-course sharing meal, along with savoury dishes. It tastes wonderful at room temperature too so it also makes a great afternoon snack.
Eight treasure rice pudding freezes well so I often prepare it in advance for meals on special occasions. Once completely cooled, wrap it tightly with cling film then store in the freezer. Defrost it overnight in the fridge, unwrap and place on a plate. Steam for 10 minutes or so to reheat.
Eight Treasure Rice Pudding (Ba Bao Fan, 八宝饭)
For the rice
- 200 g glutinous rice (aka sticky rice, sweet rice), about 1 cup
- 1 tbsp white sugar, or brown sugar
For the filling
- 3 tbsp homemade red bean paste, or shop-bought version, see note 1
For the toppings (see note 3)
- 1 handful mixed dried fruit and nuts, e.g. jujube (Chinese dates), apricot, cranberry, raisins, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, peanuts, etc.
You also need
- ½ tsp coconut oil, or butter, neutral cooking oil
- Honey, for serving (optional)
Soak the rice
- Rinse glutinous rice under running water. Put it into a bowl and top with water. Leave to soak overnight. Then drain well and mix with sugar.
Prepare the toppings
- Deseed and slice dried fruits if necessary. If using Jujube (Chinese dates), peanuts, lotus seeds or almonds, soak in water overnight to soften. Other dried fruits and nuts can be used directly without soaking.
Assemble the bowl
- Evenly coat a bowl with coconut oil (or butter, neutral cooking oil) to prevent sticking.
- Spread a layer of mixed dried fruit and nuts over the bottom of the bowl. Design a pattern if you wish.
- Lay half of the rice over the dried fruit and nuts. Shape the red bean paste into a flat circle (smaller than the bowl). Place it on top of the rice. Put in the rest of the rice and flatten it with a spoon.
- Pour in water just enough to level with the rice (Be very gentle to avoid pushing the rice around).
Steamed the pudding
- Place the pudding bowl into a steamer basket or onto a steamer rack. Fill the wok/pot with water. Leave to steam over medium heat for 50 mins. Don’t forget to check the water level in the wok/pot halfway through in case it dries out.
Serve the pudding
- After steaming, leave to cool for 10 mins or so. Then use a knife or spatula to gently run along the edge of the pudding to help separating. Place a serving plate over the bowl. Flip over then gently remove the bowl.
- The rice pudding tastes great both warm and at room temperature. Drizzle some honey when serving if you like a sweeter taste.
Store and reheat
- You can keep the rice pudding in the fridge for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months (wrapped tightly with cling film after it cools completely).
- Steam for 10 minutes to reheat (defrost beforehand if frozen).