RECIPE: Hakka Yam Abacus Seeds (Suen Poon Chi, 算盘子) stir-fry with vegetables

Lunar New Year to Chinese descent is like Christmas to westerners. It is the most beloved and anticipated festivity of the year. When I was a kid, I looked forward to wearing new clothes, playing with my cousins, visiting relatives, receiving red envelopes (紅包) and eating all sorts of cookies.

Now, I most look forward to have special dishes with my family. My absolute favourite (and my signature dish) is Hakka Yam Abacus Seeds or Suen Poon Chi (算盘子). It’s a classic but rare Hakka food is only normally available at Hakka restaurants.

hakka abacus 3

WHAT IS HAKKA TARO ABACUS SEEDS
Yam abacus beads are made from yam and tapioca starch. The dough is formed into flat discs that resembles beads in the Chinese abacus (Suen Poon 算盘). This dish it made during Chinese New Year to bring in wealth and luck.

Hakka Abacus 9

This recipe is one of my dearest; everybody who tastes this, loved it. I try to avoid using MSG in my daily cooking. Instead I imitate umami flavour with ingredients which contains natural glutamate. Hence, I included dried shrimps and dried cuttlefish, on top of shittake mushrooms. The complex combination flavour, colour and texture makes this dish superbly delicious.

Read: Make Your Own MSG

Active time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Makes: Serves 6 – 8

INGREDIENTS

ABACUS BEADS
300g yam, cubed
100g tapioca flour
1/4 cup hot water

STIR-FRY INGREDIENTS
6 dried Shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp dried shrimp
1 tbsp sliced dried cuttlefish
4 sprigs cilantro
4 green onions
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp chopped shallots
2 tsp minced garlic
1 large carrot

SEASONINGS
1 tbsp oyster sauce
4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp five spice powder
1/8 tsp white pepper

TOOLS
– Bowl of water 1 (to wash hands)
– Chopping board to place abacus beads
– Chopstick (to make hole)
– Strainer (to remove boiling abacus beads)
– Bowl of water 2 (to rinse abacus beads)
– potato masher
– non-stick pan
– spatula
– serving bowl

yam

INSTRUCTIONS

TO MAKE ABACUS SEEDS:
Steam yam, make into dough and mould into abacus shaped seeds.

  1. Measure 100 g of tapioca flour. Set aside.
  2. Peel and cut yam into small cubes.
  3. Steam yam until soften (15 minutes).
  4. Place hot yam into a large mixing bowl. Mash batter with a potato masher.
  5. Slowly add in 100 g of tapioca flour and 1/4 cup of hot water. Mix well. Knead until it turns into a pliable dough.
  6. If dough is too dry (crack) add more water. If dough is too watery (sticking to fingers), add more tapioca starch.
  7. Put dough into hands, roll dough into small balls. Finally, use your thumb or the back of a round chopstick to make an indentation in the middle.
  8. Roll the chunks in between your palms and roll round into balls.

Hakka Yam Abacus 3 Suen Poon Chi 算盘子Hakka Yam Abacus 5Hakka yam abacus 6Hakka Abacus 8Hakka Abacus 7

TO COOK ABACUS SEEDS:
Boil abacus seeds in a pot of water. Cook until it floats.

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop in yam abacus balls and cook till it floats.
  2. Once it floats, scoop it with a strainer and put it in a bowl of cold tap water.

hakka abacus 4

TO PREPARE:
Measure and chop ingredients.

  1. Soak mushroom to soften. Chop mushrooms into long strips when soften. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  2. Soak dried shrimps to soften. Roughly chop into small pieced. Place in a bowl together with sliced dried cuttlefish.
  3. Slice carrots into matchsticks. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  4. Chop cilantro and spring onions in 1 inch length. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  5. Mince shallots and garlic. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  6. Mix seasonings in a bowl and set aside

hakka abacus

TO STIR-FRY:
Stir-fry shallots, garlics, dried shrimps, sliced cuttlefish, mushroom. Then cook abacus seed with sauce. Add in parsley and green onion. Garnish with cilantro.

  1. Set pan on high heat. Stir fry shallots and garlic until golden brown (1 min)
  2. Add dried shrimp and sliced cuttlefish (1/2 min)
  3. Add mushrooms and carrots. Stir fry until mushrooms are lightly browned (1 – 2 min)
  4. Add cooked abacus seeds and sauce.
  5. Cook abacus beads gentle until lightly brown on both sides.
  6. Stir in parsley and green onions. Stir a few times.
  7. Dish out and garnish with cilantro. Serve warm.

hakka abacus 2

COOKING NOTES

  1. When make dough, yam should be hot. Do not wait to cool; otherwise dough does not form as well.
  2. Making the abacus seeds takes most of the time, and time which we do not have during Chinese New Year where we cook many dishes for the entire family. So I normally make abacus seeds few weeks ahead and freeze them. During reunion dinner, I only need to to stir-fry the abacus seeds with chopped ingredients. It’s so convenient!
  3. Since it requires so much work, I normally make enough for three dishes (which amounts to 900 g of yam). Another reason is that yam normally come in such huge size that I had no choice but to make more.

hakka abacus 1

FREEZING ABACUS SEEDS
After moulding it into abacus-shape seeds, arrange it neatly in a container(s). Remember to place it separate from each other and between parchment paper to prevent it from sticking to each other. Though they are firmer and chewier than fresh ones.
Hakka Yam Abacus Seed 2

Enjoy your abacus seeds and have a prosperous new year!

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