Nian gao (年糕), literally ‘year cake,’ is a sticky glutinous rice flour cake traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year, not unlike the Japanese mochi. It is considered good luck to eat nian gao during the new year because nian gao is a homonym for 年高 (promotion or prosperity).
The most basic ingredients for nian gao is glutinous rice flour, sugar, and water. Variations on nian gao include the addition of red beans, green beans, jujubes, and walnuts; and using coconut milk instead of water. This version uses red bean (azuki) tempeh and coconut milk. As the beans are fermented, there is less anti-nutrients and more bioavailable nutrients. It also adds more flavour to the nian gao, something more than just sweet. Coconut milk and unrefined coconut sugar gives a richer, more complex flavour.
Decide on your preferred texture
In this recipe I have chosen to make a smooth nian gao by blending the beans to a smooth paste. If you prefer a more toothsome bite, you can use the glutinous rice batter with crumbled red beans.
Steaming time for nian gao
When researching on how to make nian gao, I discovered that the traditional method is a tedious process. Whole white glutinous rice is soaked, washed and drained; the rice is ground to a paste, mixed with white sugar, and then steamed for up to 20 hours! The long steaming time is said to help caramelise the white sugar, thus making the final product the brown shade as we known it. Few people in this day and age will have the patience for such a longdrawn process. A shortcut is to use glutinous rice flour and coconut sugar, which has an inherent caramel taste, not to mention intact minerals due to being less refined. I steamed it only for 2 hours, and I should think it was sufficient.
Ageing nian gao
Fresh from the steamer, the nian gao will appear very wet on the surface. At this stage, it will be very sticky and gooey inside, and difficult to slice. For best texture, leave to cool to room temperature, then cover the surface with wrap. Set side at room temperature for 2-3 days to reduce the moisture content, then store in the refrigerator for long-term storage. This makes it easier to slice, and the nian gao will take on a firm exterior with a chewy, soft interior.
Dietary notes on Azuki tempeh nian gao
Refined sugar free (sweetened with coconut sugar)
Uses fermented red beans to reduce anti-nutrients
For more Chinese New Year Recipes, check out my:
Azuki Tempeh Nian Gao
Nian gao (年糕), literally ‘year cake,’ is a sticky glutinous rice flour cake traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year. This version uses azuki tempeh and coconut milk. Fermented beans makes it more nutritious, and coconut milk and unrefined coconut sugar give a richer, more complex flavour.
- 200 g (1 pack) azuki bean tempeh (Angies Vegan Pantry) (sub 200 g cooked unsweetened red bean paste if not available)
- 150 g (3/4 cup) glutinous rice flour
- 240 g (1 cup) full-fat coconut milk or water
- 60 g (1/2 cup) coconut sugar
- 15 g (1 1/2 tbsp) coconut oil or grass-fed ghee
- Banana leaves or parchment paper
Prepare the tempeh. Trim and crumble the tempeh into small pieces with your fingers. Bring
a pot of water to boil. When boiling, add the tempeh and boil for 3 minutes. Drain and rinse, then set aside.
Prepare the sugar syrup. In a saucepan, combine the coconut milk or water and coconut
sugar. Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
Prepare the batter (chunky or smooth). Sift the glutinous rice flour into a large mixing bowl. Gradually stream in the sugar syrup, stirring as you go. Pass the glutinous rice mixture through a sieve into another bowl to remove any lumps. Add the crumbled adzuki bean tempeh and coconut oil to the mixing bowl and mix until well-distributed. If you prefer chunky nian gao with bits of aduzki beans, use the batter as it is. If you prefer a smooth texture nian gao, transfer the batter into a blender and blend on high speed until completely smooth.
Steam the batter. If using banana leaves, wash and toast the banana leaves over a direct flame to make them more pliable. Cut and fold the banana leaves or parchment paper to fit your mold. Pour the batter into the lined molds, then cover the top of each mold with aluminium foil. Place the molds into a steamer and steam for 2 hours. Check the water level in the steamer periodically and if it gets low, top up with more water if necessary. After 2 hours, remove the molds from the steamer. The cakes may appear wet on top, but they will dry out as they cool and age.
Dry and age the cakes. Leave the cakes to sit at room temperature for 2 days to firm up. Once unmolded, store in the refrigerator for up to one month.
How to enjoy. Adzuki Tempeh Nian Gao is best enjoyed sliced, dipped in beaten egg (optional), and pan-fried in coconut oil or ghee.