The best way to ring in the New Year, in my opinion, is with some rice cakes. For my people–the Hmong–rice cakes, or ncuav, signify a good harvest. It means everyone has labored well for the year, so we take a break from our hard work and celebrate the coming of the new year–with family, food and entertainment, whilst dressed in traditional clothing.
2018 has been a year of significant triumphs and battles for me, so I believe I deserve a reward, even if just a little one–with a soft, gooey middle and crunchy outside.
Traditionally, rice cakes are made in a big wooden tub, with big wooden mallets. (See here.) Cooked sticky rice is placed in the tub, and the men in the household or village whack at the rice until it becomes a big sticky glob. It’s very similar to the way the Japanese make mochi, only with a lot more rice and a lot less enthusiasm from the men.
After the men have labored away, the women shape the rice glob into circular disks. Because of the massive amount, the rice cakes are usually flattened out between bamboo leaves or aluminum foil. (Did I mention, the women rub cooked egg yolks between their palms to stop the rice cakes from sticking to them? It’s true! I used my watch my mom and aunts make rice cakes–more so because I was awaiting fresh rice cakes.) Everyone gets a share of the hard work, which can be stored in the freezer. The rice cakes are then reheated on the stove, to obtain a crispy outer skin and gooey center. Yummy!
Today, I don’t own a big tub and mallets like my grandfather did, so I make my New Year’s Rice Cakes the easy way. All it take are some glutinous rice flour, salt, and hot water. And the end result is nostalgia.
- 1 c. glutinous rice flour
- ½ tsp. Salt
- ½ c. boiling hot water (or just a little less)
- Syrup/Honey (optional)
In a mixing bowl, combine the rice flour and salt. Then add the hot water, a little at time, until everything has come together. If the mixture is too wet, add a dash more flour; if it’s too dry, add a bit more water. The dough should hold its shape and be just a little tacky.
Divide the mix into five golf-sized balls. Then heat up a pan on medium. Add a little bit of oil to the pan, enough to coat the bottom and stop the dough from sticking. Then add a dot of oil into your palms and flatten the dough balls before placing them on the pan. Flip the rice cakes every minute or two, and flatten with a kitchen scraper. They are cooked when the rice cakes are white and begin to balloon.
Remove from the heat and enjoy with either honey or syrup as a dip.
Enjoy! And have a Happy New Year^-^