Vegan Black Sesame Tang Yuan (湯圓)

A vegan-friendly Tang Yuan. One of the most important and meaningful Taiwanese desserts, often eaten during Winter Solstice or Lunar New Year.

Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year and as per Taiwanese tradition, my family would get together and share a big pot of Tang Yuan. Tang Yuan are glutinous rice balls that come in many faces, many shapes: some are smaller and dyed different colors, some are larger and filled different flavors. We all lead drastically different lives, come from different walks, but none of that seemed to matter at the dinner table. While no longer able to clearly recall the conversations, I could never forget the pure joy biting into freshly cooked black sesame tang yuan, feeling its warmth, and looking up to see everyone’s faces warming up too. 

Now in the midst of a pandemic, I found myself making them for the first time, thousands of miles away from home. They are just as I remember: soft and chewy on the outside, oozing with warm, nutty filling on the inside. Their black and white figure remind me, as faded photographs do, those moments lost in time.


Vegan Black Sesame Tang Yuan (湯圓)

5 from 5 votes
Recipe by George L. Course: DessertCuisine: TaiwaneseDifficulty: Medium
Servings

4

servings
Prep time

1

hour 
Cooking time

10

minutes

A vegan-friendly Tang Yuan. One of the most important and meaningful Taiwanese desserts, often eaten during Winter Solstice or Lunar New Year.

Ingredients

  • 140 grams (1 cup + 1 tablespoon) glutinous rice flour

  • 120 grams (1/2 cup) warm water

  • 60 grams (6.5 tablespoons) black sesame seeds (see notes for mixed blends)

  • 60 grams (4 tablespoons) sugar

  • 60 grams (4 tablespoons) softened vegan butter, I used melt organic

Directions

  • Make the Filling. Before you start, take the vegan butter out from the refrigerator to let it come to room temperature. Start making the filling by toasting black sesame seeds in a pan on medium-low heat. Once they smell fragrant and begin to create popping sounds (this usually takes about 5-7 minutes), remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Once cooled, add sesame seeds along with sugar to a food processor and blend until grainy. Place the mixture into a bowl, and stir in vegan butter to form a paste. Note: the consistency of the paste at this point will resemble what it looks like when the tang yuan is cooked. If the filling is not runny enough, add 1/2 – 1 tablespoon of water to loosen it. Place filling in a ziplock bag, then into the freezer to let cool (or the fridge if you are not making the dough immediately).
  • Make the Dough. While the filling is cooling, make the dough. Place glutinous rice flour into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the warm water while stirring, then gather with your hands until a rough dough forms. The dough should not be sticky, but still soft & pliable. Place the dough in a large bowl covered with a damp towel. Set aside.
  • Finish Prepping the Filling. At this point, check the filling to see if it has set. The filling should have hardened but still workable. Use a knife to cut open the ziplock bag and carefully remove the block of filling, then cut into about 16 evenly-sized portions (8-10 grams each). Roll each portion into balls, then place them all back into the refrigerator to keep cool. Note: I usually take 2-3 out at a time while forming the Tang Yuan.
  • Make the Tang Yuan. Roll out the rice flour dough into a long log, and divide into about 16 evenly-sized portions (18-20 grams each). Keep them in the covered bowl while assembling. For assembly roll each portion into balls, then use your thumb to create an indentation. Draw up the sides of the indent slightly, and place the black sesame filling in the middle. Keep drawing up the sides and eventually pinch the top shut. Gently roll to shape it into a smooth, round ball. Repeat until all the Tang Yuan is made.
  • Cook the Tang Yuan. Bring a pot of water to boil. Carefully place the Tang Yuan in, stirring immediately to make sure they do not stick. Simply cook until they float to the surface. Optionally, you can mix in a few tablespoons of osthamus syrup and/or fermented sweet rice (酒酿 Jiu Niang) near the end. Serve them warm with the hot soup.

Notes

  • Why this is distinctly Taiwanese. The difference mostly lies in the filling. While variations do exist, most Taiwanese recipes will only use black sesame in the filling, so as to fully pronounce its flavors. Whereas in Chinese recipes, you’ll often see that additional nuts such as peanuts, pecans, or walnuts are added to the black sesame filling to bring out an extra nutty dimension.
  • Addition of Nuts. I chose to keep this recipe nut-free to make it accessible for more people. If you do want to add nuts, replace about 15 grams of black sesame seeds with 15 grams of the nut(s) of choice (ex: 45 grams sesame seeds + 15 grams peanuts = 60 grams total). Remember to toast the nut(s) of choice separately.
  • Vegan Butter. Commonly, the filling is made with lard (rendered pork fat) and/or regular butter. I’ve modified this recipe to work best with vegan butter. You can also substitute vegan butter with an equal amount of melted coconut oil. 
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Luis Reyes
Luis Reyes
8 months ago

Most people don’t realize the connection food has. The story behind this recipe is what makes it worth making it because is not about the conversation but your family’s expression around the table while eating.

Sylvia
Sylvia
8 months ago

Hi George! 🙂 I’m wondering if I can (non vegan) butter for this recipe? Thanks!
Sylvia