Monday, February 25, 2013

Vegetarian and/or Pork Bao

A bamboo steamer is one of the few kitchen "gadgets" I own but admittedly use very little.  Regularly, I subject Garrett to household purges - pointing to stuff pushed back to the upper shelves him to reach and deposit in the trash - because I am an anti-hoarder who thinks that if it won't fit in your car when you're ready to drive off into the sunset and leave it all behind, then its not worth having anyways.  Dead weight.

But the bamboo steamer has survived the scouring because when I do come around to making tamales and bao once every other year or so, its well worth having it.  But, really, I just sort of think its a beautiful object.  

Chinese New Year was a few weeks back now, I know, but I had purchased some yeast to ready for a bao fest.  Making steamed buns is sort of a process, so it took me a while to carve out the time.  I don't recommend embarking on bao when you have eighty essays to grade, an entire unit's worth of materials to design, and a grad paper due the next day on the book you haven't finished yet. 

I provided a vegetarian and pork option below, but both use the same "BBQ" sauce made with a jumble of the asian ingredients I've accumulated (especially the remaining kimchi and sweet chili paste from the Korean Tofu Rice Bowls).  When all the steamed buns were made, I was left with enough filling to get me by for lunch the next day, so there's a bonus for you or a loved one.

Well, the bao is done, the papers are almost graded, the unit needs just some minor finishing touches, and there's sixty pages to go...but, the bao is done.  Happy year of the snake.

Ingredients for Steamed Bun Dough (makes about 20 bao):

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Ingredients for Vegetarian Filling:
  • 7 oz. extra firm tofu (half a package, usually), small cubes
  • 4 heads of baby bok choy, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup scallions, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
Ingredients for Pork Filling:
  • 2 thick boneless pork chops, diced into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/2 jalapeño, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • 1/8 cup toasted sesame seeds
Ingredients for Asian "BBQ" Sauce (for both fillings):
  • 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 4 tbsp. sweet chili paste (look for anything with honey, miso, or sugar in the ingredients)
  • 2 tbsp. red chili paste (like sriracha or sambal)
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 2 tbsp. dark molasses (or brown sugar)
  • 1/2 cup of kimchi, chopped in the food processor
Start by preparing your filling ingredients.  Combine all your respective ingredients for the fillings - with the exception of the sesame seeds, cilantro and scallions, which are added after cooking.  Mix all the ingredients for the sauce (also leaving aside 2 tbsp. of the sweet chili paste for later).  

Leaving about 4 tbsp. of the sauce left over, equally pour over both fillings.  Set aside and marinate while you prepare the steamed bun dough.
Dissolve the sugar in the lukewarm water.  Add the yeast and let sit for about ten minutes to froth up.  Stir in the baking powder and oil, then sift in flour.  With your hands, knead the dough quickly.  I found I had to add more water along the way (probably almost a quarter cup more).  The final product should be slightly sticky, and stretch (rather than tear) as you pull it.  Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rise (it will only rise slightly) for about ten minutes.
While the dough is resting, bring a large pot of water to a boil with your bamboo steamer on top.  Then, heat a frying pan and cook the fillings on high heat.  I used the same pan for both, cooking the vegetarian first.  You'll know its done when it is mostly dry and the sauce becomes a bit glazed.  For the pork, add the additional 2 tbsp. of chili paste and sesame seeds near the end of the cooking process.

Allow the fillings to cool.  Add the remaining sauce left aside from earlier to the vegetarian filling, in addition to the cilantro and scallions.  Finish off the pork filling with scallions.
To assemble the bao, it is helpful to first divide the dough into equal portions - I rolled a rather fat log of dough, cut it into ten slices, then tore those in half.  Flatten a piece in the palm of your hands and pinch outwards until you get about a 4 inch diameter.  Fill with about 1 tbsp. of filling.  It takes a little practice, but you'll be able to pinch the dough together like a purse.  Twist at the end.  My technique does not produce a beautiful bao, I know.

Place each bao on a small square of wax paper and set it in your steamer.  They will take about 7 minutes to steam through.  


  1. Since we're mid-registering, I need to know - where did you get that white mixing bowl?

    1. oh they were a gift! but they are really great....the brand is OXO, which is pretty widely available...

      looking forward to seeing the fun stuff you register for!