Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hakka Abacus Beads (客家算盘子)

I love Hakka Abacus Beads (客家算盘子). Not only that, I love everything else that has springy and chewy food. If you are as much of a taro fans as I am, then, you will find these an absolute delight in a way they're served.

Abacus Beads, literally Taro Gnocchi, with a dimple in the centre resembles abacus beads shape. This dish has symbolic wealth meaning and Chinese loves to prepare this dish during Chinese New year. When abacus beads stir fried with other ingredients and condiments, the dimple in the middle also helps contain the ingredients that flavour it. This traditional is really delicious.


Last year's Chinese New Year, I wanted to make this dish. But you know, CNY task is overwhelmed and I barely have time to rest. So, I only get to cook this dish about 2 months ago. 

If you have eaten Hakka abacus beads or you know how to make them, you will know that this dish requires alot of manual labour and patient. But, when you see your family dig in with their happy smile, I think it is all worth-while.


Ingredients are easily available at the market. You don't have to worry too much. Some Hakka family will add pork into the stir-fry. I want to keep it simple and I didn't wan't to make it a heavy meal. So, I'd just go along with the basic ingredients.

Of course, you can add or take away any stir-fry ingredients which you don't like. But for abacus beads recipe, please try to stick to it. It's abacus beads. We use taro for the gnocchi. Pls don't ask me questions like "Hi, can I use sweet potatoes instead?" or "Hi, I don't like taro. What about using Potatoes as a substitute? Do you think it works?"

Sorry ah. To me, traditional is traditional. I never try fusion style before. As much as I could, I will try to stick to original way. And I love originals.


This recipe serves 4 as lunch, or upto 6 as a starter or tea-break snack.

Ingredients

For the Abacus Beads
  • 650g Taro
  • 200g Tapioca Flour
  • 120g Hot Boiling Water
  • few pinches of Fine Salt
For Stir-Frying
  • 8 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • 5 Shallots, minced 
  • 2 tbsp Cai Pu / Choi Po (菜谱)
  • 40g Dried Shrimps, soaked, minced
  • 15g Dried Cuttlefish, soaked and cut into thin strips 
  • 30g Dried Mushrooms (about 4 to 5pcs), soaked overnight and sliced 
  • 30g Wood Ear / Dried Fungus, soaked, julienned 
  • 6 tbsp Cooking Oil for frying
  • 1 tsp Salt, 1 tsp Pepper and few dashes Fish Sauce to taste
For Garnishing
  • 2 Red Chilli
  • some Coriander 
  • some Spring Onions
Method - For the Abacus Beads
  1. Taro - Skinned, washed, cut into cubes. Steam the taro for 15mins until they are soft and cooked. You may use a chopstick to poke through the taro to check if it is cooked or not.
  2. Once taro cubes are cooked, transfer the taro cubes into a large mixing bowl, add in few pinches of salt and with your quick motion, roughly mash the taro with the potato masher. I didn't mash my taro thoroughly. Because I want to remain the "bite" taro texture for my abacus beads.
  3. Add in half the tapioca flour, continue to mash and mix them while the taro is still hot.
  4. You will soon realized that it's getting tough to mix it with potato masher. This is the time when you need to use your palms into it and give it some mixing and kneading.
  5. Add half amount of boiling water, continue the the kneading, add in the remaining tapioca flour, knead, add remaining boiling water, knead so as to form a nice dough.
  6. Make dough into small but even balls. Use your tiniest finger to make a dimple in the centre of each ball to resemble abacus beads. My finger is rough and big. So, I use the edge of the sieve as a tool to create those nice dimples on the dough to achieve evenly sized and can be evenly cooked later.
  7. Boil a large wok / pot of water. Slowly and gently, dd the abacus beads into the boiling water, VERY gently, stir to prevent them from sticking together. Boil for about 15mins to 20mins or until the batch floats on the boiling water.
  8. Prepare a pot of ice cold water. Remove the cooked abacus beads from the boiling water with a strainer, put the abacus beads into the cold water.
  9. Drain the abacus beads with a colander. Coat the abacus beads with 2 to 3 tbsps of cooking oil to prevent sticking. 

Method - Frying the Abacus Beads
  1. Heat cooking oil in wok on high heat
  2. Add garlic, shallots, dried shrimps and dried cuttlefish, stir fry until fragrant. 
  3. Add Cai Pu, mushrooms, wood ear and continue to fry for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. 
  4. Add salt, pepper, fish sauce. Give it a quick stir. 
  5. Add in the abacus beads and gently stir-fry for about 2 minutes. 
  6. Add in half portion of spring onions, coriander and red chilli. Stir through for another minute. 
  7. Taste, and more flavour (salt, pepper, fish sauce) if needed. Stir through. 
  8. To serve, dish abacus beads in a shallow serving dish or casserole. Garnish with the remaining chilli, spring onions and coriander stalk.

Note : The success to make the abacus beads is to mix and knead it while it's hot. I know kneading the abacus dough while it's hot may be challenging. But when you get the hang of it, your hand will somehow immune to the heat and you will be able to do it pretty fast.

Step 6 - Make dough into small but even balls. Use your tiniest finger to make a dimple in the centre of each ball to resemble abacus beads. My finger is rough and big. So, I use the edge of the sieve as a tool to create those nice dimples on the dough to achieve evenly sized and can be evenly cooked later.


The texture of the abacus beads that I'm trying to achieve is springy, but with the starchy fragrance of taro on every bite. My abacus beads looked rough, as I only roughly mash my taro. This is how I maintain the taro "bite" texture for each gnocchi.


Step 7 - Boil a large wok / pot of water. Slowly and gently, dd the abacus beads into the boiling water, VERY gently, stir to prevent them from sticking together. Boil for about 15mins to 20mins or until the batch floats on the boiling water.


Stir fry the abacus beads as per instruction. Remember - Keep it simple. DO NOT add too much condiments or any ingredients that has heavy flavour. Or else, you won't be able to fully savour the fragrance of the taro when you eat them.


On a side note, do not let the cooked abacus beads stand in the cold water for too long. For best texture and flavour, stir fry the cooked abacus beads as soon as possible after they have been boiled. My friend told me that I can store cooked abacus beads in airtight container, keep it refrigerated until I need to stir fry them. I have not tried keeping them in refrigerator before. But I think it probably works.

Max loves it. He asked if I can cook this more often when I'm free. I think, his request could tell how good this dish is.


This dish is an absolute textural delight. The lightly chewiness of the abacus beads, loads of flavorful goodness and mushrooms and the sudden burst of crunchy freshness from the greens. I don't have to say more.

7 comments:

  1. Annie, I love this dish a lot too! My auntie made it once for a family gathering and everybody sapu the dish clean! A lot of work but I think it is worthwhile if making to serve a group of 5-6 people or more. It's great if can make ahead and keep in the fridge. That way won't be so kelam kabut when it comes to cooking.

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    Replies
    1. Yes you are right Phong Hong. But I've yet to try how to prepare in advance. Maybe I should try it one day :)

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  2. Annie, you never failed to surprise me with your skill. Each dish is filled with TLC.

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    Replies
    1. Ahaha.. Thanks Edith. What's TLC???? LOL!!!

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  3. Wow ...I ate this when I was a child. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I may just try it one day.
    I stumble on your site just this week and enjoyed reading some of your recipes. And I appreciate greatly the page on cleaning pig stomach.
    Great work. Thanks for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for visiting my blog Sal. Do cook up for your family! It's nice! :)

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