Ba Bao Fan (八宝饭)
January 28, 2023  Print
Ba Bao Fan (八宝饭), or Eight Treasures Rice, is a Chinese dessert that generally uses eight ingredients. This results in the name, eight treasures (八宝). In Chinese and many other Asian cultures, food often carries symbolic meaning. Such is the case for Ba Bao Fan. Its round shape and sweet taste implies family unity and a happy life. As a result, Eight Treasures Rice is often included in the Spring Festival or Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner and also at family gatherings.
I made ba bao fan last week for Chinese New Year (Spring Festival). It takes some time to put together the eight treasures rice, but most of that time is not active time. Plus, I can do most of the preparation beforehand and freeze the prepared material. I can then steam the ba bao fan right before meal time right out of the freezer. That’s how I managed to make sure we had ba bao fan for our Chinese New Year’s Eve reunion dinner.
Both of my kids like the Eight Treasures Rice. It’s sweet, soft, and sticky. I used half black rice / purple rice and half glutinous rice as the main ingredients, but some people use only the glutinous rice for their Ba Bao Fan. Black rice is definitely more carb-friendly than white and glutinous rice. It has higher fiber content. I also particularly enjoy that it has a QQ (chewing) texture. I told my kids that in Ancient China, only the nobility was allowed to eat the black rice. So they think it’s quite a special rice.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can use regular pot to cook both the black rice and glutinous rice. Follow my directions on how to cook rice in a pot. Just make sure to add 1.5 and 1.25 times the water for black rice and glutinous rice respectively.
For the choice of side ingredients, it’s really up to your personal preference. It’s usually a combination of dried fruits and nuts. You can use more traditional Asian dried fruits like dried jujube, dried longan, and raisins or more modern ones like dried coconut, dried mandarin, and dried apricot. Appearance-wise, it’s best to use ingredients with colors that contrast with the black rice. I made two different versions below for demonstration purposes so you can see how different combinations look. Every family has its own style. There is no right or wrong way to make ba bao fan in terms of what side ingredients you choose.
Gluten Free, Vegan
Preparation Time: ~2.5 hours
Total Time: 3 hours
Servings: 4 small or 2 large bowls
- 1 rice cup (3/4 regular cup) black rice / purple rice(紫米) 2
- 1 rice cup (3/4 regular cup) sweet/glutinous rice (糯米) 2
- 1 cup sweet red bean paste (my recipe)
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil 3
- 4 tablespoons sugar
Version One 4
Version Two 4
- Rinse 1 rice up of black rice a few times (don’t worry if water has a deep purple color) and immerse the black rice in water for at least 1 hour to allow it to soften.
- While waiting for black rice to soften, rinse 1 rice cup of glutinous/sweet rice a few times and pour it in the rice cooker. Add water until the water slightly passes the 1 cup mark for sweet rice. (If your rice cooker doesn’t have sweet rice option, cook it as regular rice and add water to the 1.25 mark.) 2
- When the glutinous rice is done cooking, carefully transfer the hot rice into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 2 tablespoons of sugar to the hot glutinous rice and mix everything evenly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap to help prevent the glutinous rice from drying out.
- Wash the rice cooker. Pour out the water used for soaking the black rice and add the black rice to the clean rice cooker. Add enough water until it reaches the 1 cup mark for brown rice. (If your rice cooker doesn’t have brown rice option, cook it as regular rice and add water to 1.5 mark.) 2
- When the black rice is done cooking, carefully transfer the hot rice into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 2 tablespoons of sugar to the hot glutinous rice and mix everything evenly. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap if not using immediately.
- Prepare all the other ingredients. Slice two died jujubes in half crosswise and another two lengthwise. Brush a small bowl with a thin layer of vegetable oil to prevent sticking. Then lay the dried fruits and nuts in a pattern on the bottom and sides of the bowl (see pictures). If you are not planning to steam/eat right away, you can line the bowl with plastic wrap to allow you to lift out the rice and freeze for later.
- Add a few spoonful of cooked black rice and carefully use the back of a spoon to press the black rice and flatten the surface. Then add a thin layer of sweet red bean paste and flatten again. Finally, add another layer of glutinous rice to fill the bowl. If there is still room, you can add another layer of black rice. Repeat the same steps to make additional bowls of ba bao fan. You can freeze the extra ones for use later.
- Boil enough water in a steamer. When water is boiling, put the filled bowls on the steamer rack. Cover and steam for 15 minutes. When the timer is up, turn off the heat. Carefully transfer the bowl to a plate with the opening side down. Gently separate the bowl from its contents. This should result in the ba bao fan resting on the flat plate by itself without the bowl. Enjoy!
- If you don’t have a rice cooker (I use the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10 rice cooker), you can use regular pot to cook both the black rice and glutinous rice. Follow my directions on how to cook rice in a pot. Just make sure to add 1.5 and 1.25 times the water for black rice and glutinous rice respectively.
- You can find both black and glutinous rice in any Asian grocery store. Many western stores have them in stock as well.
- Traditionally, lard was used. But lard is much less common these days. I find coconut oil to be a nice substitute. You can also use butter or ghee. But if you have lard handy and are not vegan, it is the traditional choice.
- There are no fixed ingredients for ba bao fan. Besides black rice, glutinous rice, and red bean paste (my recipe), you can use a combination of dried fruits and nuts based on your own preferences. Be sure not to use fresh fruits. You can also use only glutinous rice if you prefer a more sticky texture.
- To freeze the ba bao fan, simply cover with plastic wrap and put it in a freezer before steaming. When it’s time to steam, take it out from the freezer. Remove the plastic wrap and put the whole thing in the same bowl (brushed with a thin layer of vegetable oil) that was used to shape the rice and put it on a steamer rack. Steam for 20 to 30 minutes.
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