On counting sheep – Hakka Abacus Seeds 算盘子 (Chinese Yam Gnocchi)

No, I wasn’t the one who couldn’t sleep. My son kept me up the whole of last night. Literally. I wasn’t allowed to put him down in his cot. We ended up with him “sleeping” on me in my bed. And by “sleeping”, I really meant climbing around on me until he found a comfortable position to lay his head for a half hour or so before shifting again to find a different position. I don’t know what was wrong with him. If he was old enough, I’d probably just make him count sheep.

I usually don’t sleep much. Most days I function on 4 – 6 hours of sleep. I’ve even had days when I’ve only had an hour of sleep. But that was my choosing and I actually did get some sleep, even if it was only an hour. Last night however, I got no sleep and it was most definitely NOT my choosing.  I don’t know how he is still functioning because I am absolutely knackered.

Hakka abacus seeds

Since we’re on the topic of counting sheep, I’m going to stretch it a little and use that to lead into today’s dish. Hakka Abacus Seeds. You know, because we use abacuses to count  (Yes, that’s a word. I checked). I know I’m lame. 

Hakka abacus seeds

My mum used to regularly take us to this little Hakka restaurant when we were younger. Tucked away in a little alley, this family restaurant was always packed. I remember always asking myself why they kept it so dimly lit. Maybe it was to hide the fact that the food tasted better than they looked. Nah! I can’t remember how the food looked. I can’t even remember how it tasted. Just that it was always good. I wonder why we stopped going.

Hakka abacus seeds
Alana wanted a picture with the food too. She’s not balding, her hair was just pinned weird.

This was one of my favourites and I would always bug my mum to order it. Now I cannot stress enough that by the time I decided to re-create it,  I haven’t had this dish in over a decade. So, I really can’t say if this recipe is on par or not. I only know that it’s tasty.

Hakka abacus seeds

Hakka Abacus Seeds  算盘子


For the seeds:

  • 200 g yam
  • 50 g tapioca flour

For the stir-fry:

  • 1 Tbsp dried shrimps, soaked, washed and chopped
  • 1 dried scallop, soaked and shredded
  • 1 handful of dried wood ear mushrooms, soaked and cut into thin strips
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 to 2 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 red chilli, chopped
  • 1 leek, washed and sliced thin
  • 150 g minced pork
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • ½ tsp dark soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sesame oil

For the abacus seeds:

  • Peel and slice Yam into 1 cm thick rounds. Quarter the rounds and place in a steamer.
  • Steam the yam slices until soft, about 20-30 minutes, and mash into a paste.
  • While it is still warm, add the flour/starch and knead into a smooth dough. Add a little water if the dough is too dry. I used a perforated plate to steam the yam so it was pretty dry. I ended up adding close to a half cup of warm water .
  • Shape dough into marble sized balls and gently press in the center with your finger to make an indentation. Repeat until all the dough has been shaped.
  • Bring a pot of water to a gentle boil, add in the yam balls and cook until it floats. About 2 minutes. Remove and plunge into cold water. Drain and coat with sesame oil. Set aside.

For the stir-fry

  • In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, light & dark soy sauce and sesame oil. Set aside.
  • Heat oil in pan/wok and sauté the minced garlic.
  • Add in dried shrimps, scallop and chili. Fry till fragrant.
  • Add in minced pork. Use the back of your spatula to break it up as you stir.
  • Add wood ear fungus and leek. Continue to stir fry for a minute.
  • Add in the yam balls and the sauces. Stir and combine well with all ingredients.
  • Garnish with chopped green onions and serve.

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