This dish was inspired by the wonderful balls of ground meat coated with sweet rice that are so popular in western China. I love this vegetarian version, which is fragrant with black mushrooms, fresh ginger, and toasted sesame oil. Serve the pearl balls as an appetizer or a snack. They can be made in advance, and they reheat beautifully.
- 1 cup sweet (glutinous) or Arborio rice
- 1 pound firm tofu, cut into ½-inch slabs
- 14 dried Chinese black mushrooms, softened in hot water for 20 minutes and stems removed
- ¾ cup water chestnuts, blanched 15 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed under cold water
- 1½ cups grated carrots (½ cup for garnish)
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 1½ tablespoons minced scallions, white part only
- 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1½ teaspoons salt, or to taste
- 1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 egg white, lightly beaten
- 3 to 4 tablespoons cornstarch
1. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cold running water, raking it with your fingers, until the water runs clear. Drain the rice, and put it in cold water to cover. Let it sit for 1 hour, then drain it in a colander, pour it onto a tray or cookie sheet, and spread it out in an even layer.
2. Wrap the tofu slabs in paper towels or a cotton towel, and set a heavy weight, such as a cast-iron skillet, on top. Let the tofu stand for 30 minutes to press out excess water; then, using a fork, mash it until smooth in a large mixing bowl.
3. Shred the black mushroom caps by hand, or mince them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Blot the water chestnuts dry with paper towels and chop by hand or with a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
4. Add to the mashed tofu the black mushrooms, 1 cup of the carrots, the water chestnuts, and the Seasonings. Stir vigorously to combine the ingredients. Add the egg, egg white, and cornstarch, and mix until smooth and sticky. Add a little more cornstarch if the mixture is too loose.
5. Shape the tofu mixture into balls about 1 inch in diameter and roll each ball in the rice so that the outside is completely coated. Line a steamer tray with parchment paper or waxed paper and arrange the rice-coated balls in the tray. Alternatively, place the balls on an aluminum pie plate with holes on the bottom.
6. Fill a wok or large pot with several inches of water and heat until boiling. Arrange the steamer tray or pie plate on a rack over the boiling water, cover, and steam for 20 minutes. Arrange the pearl balls on a serving platter and sprinkle on top the remaining grated carrots. Serve with soy sauce for dipping. To reheat, steam for 5 minutes until piping hot.
Serving size is one rice ball.