A Steamed Cake That Brings Fond Memories–Black Tortoise Cake or O Ku Kueh (黑龟粿)

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Updated post on 13/3/2015 – new picture taking


This is a rather special type of steamed glutinous rice cake of my dialect, Chawan or Zhao An (诏安). It is usually prepared for the Chin Ming Festival and Hungry Ghost Festival only.  Literally, it was translated to the black tortoise cake (黑龟粿 or O Ku Kueh). Though  it is called black tortoise cake, it is not exactly “black” but in the shade of dark green depending on the type of leaves that were used.


Traditionally, the types of leaves or ingredients to make the O Ku Kueh can be:

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However, in the recent years, it appeared that black sesame seeds or even colouring were used to prepare the dough of this cake. For my dialects, the leaves that are usually  used are Artemisia Argyi or mugwort.  Per Wikipedia,

“Artemisia argyi is a herbaceous perennial plant with a creeping rhizome. It is native to China, Japan and the far east parts of the former Soviet Union. In Japan it is known as Gaiyou and in China as Ai Ye. It is used in herbal medicine for conditions of the liver, spleen and kidney. This wormwood is a xerophile, growing on dry mountain slopes, steep river banks, the edges of oak woods, coastal scrub, wasteland and along road and railway verges. The plants do better and are more aromatic when they grow on poor dry soil.Wormwood leaves are gathered on a warm dry day in spring and summer when the plant is in flower and dried in the shade. In traditional Chinese medicine, they are considered to have bitter, pungent and warm properties and to be associated with the liver, spleen and kidney meridians. The leaves are used as an antiseptic, expectorant, febrifuge and styptic. The herb is considered to increase the blood supply to the pelvic region and stimulate menstruation, help treat infertility, dysmenorrhea, asthma and coughs. (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_argyi)”


“艾草(学名:Artemisia argyi)是一种多年生草本植物,分布于亚洲及欧洲地区。在诗经时代,就已经是很重要的民生植物。一般用于针灸术的“灸”。所谓针灸其实分成两个部份。“针”就是拿针刺穴道,而“灸”就是拿艾草点燃之后去薰、烫穴道,穴道受热固然有刺激,但并不是任何纸或草点燃了都能做为“灸”使用。艾草的气味肯定也同时发挥了一定的作用。中国民间用拔火罐的方法治疗风湿病时,以艾草作为燃料效果更佳。亦会在端午的时候插于门口以避邪。也具有一定驱蚊作用. (Source: http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E8%89%BE%E8%8D%89)”

This cake come with a special split mung beans filling. A savoury mung beans filling with a balance of sweetness and saltiness. Spring onions were first sautéed and the split mung bean fillings were stir fried until fragrant followed by the addition of sugar and salt. Traditionally, lard were being used for the preparation. However, in recent years, normal cooking oil or peanut oil were used instead of lard. Putting health concerns aside, in my humble opinion, the use of lard is much aromatic than the use of cooking oil.

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I did not have a recipe to refer when I prepared this special cake. Therefore, I have prepared these based on my memories of the cake that I have tasted when I was young. As mentioned above, I got to eat this cake only twice a year. One during Ching Ming festival or tomb sweeping festivals and Hungry Ghost festivals. It is not commonly sold in the hawker centre, even if it is sold, the dough and the fillings are different. I have therefore decide to replicate the cake as a gesture of respect to the traditional cuisines that I have eaten before.



Servings : Prepare about 24-30

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For Mung Bean Fillings

  • 250 grams of split mung bean (绿豆瓣)
  • 300 grams of  water (清水)
  • Few stalks of spring onion (葱)
  • 125 grams of sugar (白砂糖)
  • 2 teaspoons of salt (盐巴)
  • 3 tablespoons of cooking oil (食用油)


  • 150 grams of mugwort leaves – cleaned (艾叶)
  • Adequate water just covering the mugwort leaves (清水)


Starter dough

  • 250 ml of hot water (热水)
  • 40 grams of rice flour (粘米粉)

The Dough

  • 500 grams of glutinous rice flour (糯米粉)
  • 200 grams of warm water (温水)
  • 60 grams of sugar (糖)
  • 10 tablespoons of cooking oil or coconut oil (食用油/椰油)



  • An angku mould (龟印)
  • 50 to 60 pieces of cleaned banana leaves with the size of about 6cm x 6cm (香蕉叶)

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Preparing the split mung beans fillings


  • Soak the split mung beans with adequate water for about 1 hour. Clean and drain. In a pot with 300 ml of water, place the split mung beans. Bring to boil. Once boiled, lower the heat to medium and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Cool and transfer to a food processor. Blend until your desired texture. Transfer to a clean bowl.


  • Chopped the white portion of spring onion. In a stir frying pan, add the cooking oil, stir fry the spring onion until aromatic and slightly brownish. Add in the split mung beans, stir fry for 1-2 minutes until well combined. Add in sugar and salt, stir until well mix. Cool and set aside. In this step, it is wise for you to take a teaspoon and taste the mung bean filling and add additional salt or sugar if desired.

Preparing the mugwort leaves


  • In a pot with some water, add the mugwort leaves and bring to boil. Let is boiled for 3-5 minutes until it is soft. Drain, cool and transfer it to the food processor. Blend it as fine as possible. Set aside for the preparation of the dough.

Preparing the dough

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  • For the starter dough, place the rice flour in a small bowl and add the hot water. Stir until well mixed. Set aside.
  • In a big bowl, place the glutinous rice flour and sugar. Make a well in the centre, add the rice flour mixture above, follow by warm water and oil. Add gradually, Knead until it become a pliable dough.
  • Transfer the dough to a food processor, add in the cooked mugwort, blend until well combined. Set aside for later assembly.


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  • Divide the dough and the split mung beans filling equally. Every mould is different. For my angku mould, I have use about 40 grams of dough with about 35 grams of filling. You can shape the dough and fillings into a small ball first before you start the wrapping process.

  • For the wrapping, take a dough,  flatten it, and put a filling ball on top of the mugwort dough. Seal it and make it in a big round ball. Put the ball on angku mould. Press it down as firmly as possible. To take out the rice cake, knock the side of the mould against the table . Place the rice cake on top of a piece of the banana leave. Steam the rice cake in the steamer for about 8-10 minutes. Too long the steaming time can blur the imprint.

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UPDATED POST ON 25-3-2015 on Ching Ming Glutinous Rice  Balls (清明团子)

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While in Singapore and Malaysia, most dialects have green color kuihs for Ching Ming. In my humble opinion, it actually developed from some green colour rice balls commonly only available during Ching Ming period in central China. When these green colour rice balls reached Fujian and Guangdong province, it was transformed into the common tortoise shape for the Hokkien dialect (o Ku), the peach shape (chi kak kuih or hia kuih) for Teochew dialect and the dumpling shape for the Hakka dialect (ai pan). As to the filings, it can be savoury radish or bamboo shoot fillings or the sweet fillings like mung bean, tausa etc.

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Today, I have decided to prepare some of these kuih for the blog with red bean paste fillings. If you are interested to know more, Chinese wiki equivalent or Baike do have some write up:

“青团子也叫清明团子是江南一带清明节的小吃,独到之处是用清明前后才有的野菜包括艾草、麦浆草、泥胡菜、鼠曲草、茼蒿菜等给面团上绿色,将上好色的糯米面粉包入豆沙馅、芝麻馅、素菜馅等等蒸熟。做好的青团子颜色碧绿,闻起来吃起来都有一股淡淡的青草味,绵远悠长,口感绵软不粘牙,仿佛要把整个春天吃进嘴里。 ”  (Source: http://www.baike.com/wiki/%E5%8D%B0%E8%8A%B1%E6%B8%85%E6%98%8E%E5%9B%A2%E5%AD%90)

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Salted mung bean fillings with ginger is a unique filling for the dialect Chawan and Teochew. One reader is requesting for the recipe and I have prepared a small portion for this purpose. My late aunt used to prepare this. This is not a filling that most people will appreciate. The fillings can be very dry, slightly spicy because of the ginger and rather salty. Once it was eaten, it may drop a lot of debris into the floor. This recipe has been modified to suit modern taste buds so as to make it moister and less salty. Hope it will benefit those who are looking for this recipe.



  • 250 grams of mung bean – soaked
  • 100-150 grams of ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon of cooking oil (optional)


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  • Steam the mung bean until soft. Drain the mung bean if there is a lot of water. Pound the ginger and add the juices to the steamed mung bean. If you wish, you can add the ginger residue too. Add salt and cooking oil. Use a food processor to blend the steamed mung bean until your desired fineness.  If the fillings are too wet, add 1-2 tablespoons of rice flour. Cool and divide into equal balls. (Note: in this illustration, my steamed mung bean is slightly wet)

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I have prepared this rice cake as a respect to the traditional cuisine that I have tasted and missed. Obviously, it is not commonly sold in Singapore or even in Malaysia. I am unsure if any readers will give this recipe a try but in my humble opinion, it is a much better than the red angku kueh. Try and let me know if this savoury split mung beans filling suits your taste buds.

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Hope you like the post today. Cheers and have a nice day.

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