Fall Recipe: Vegetarian Steamed Buns

Last week, Nealey talked us through making Pork Buns (Baozi). Today, I bring you the vegetarian version. Have you ever bit into a fluffy, savory steamed bun at your local dim sum restaurant and thought, How on earth are these made? I marveled over this question for years before my sweetheart decided to take on this DIY cooking project at home. Thank goodness he did because veggie steamed buns are one of my favorite restaurant treats.

Read on to find out how he conquered this recipe in our very own tiny kitchen.

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My husband is a beginner baker and chef, with a tasty yet somewhat limited repertoire of standards he's in charge of: scrambled eggs, roasted vegetables, huge salads — he's awesome at these dishes. It surprised me a little when he declared on Saturday, "This is the day I'll make vegetarian steamed buns!" I wasn't about to halt his enthusiasm, but I confess I wondered about the outcome.

He started by doing something smart. He watched over an hour's worth of YouTube videos on the subject, mostly taught by Asian grandmothers. He wanted to be informed and to compare techniques before he began. Hmmm, I thought — I could learn something from this research-based approach!

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And then the real work commenced. After two trips to the Asian market and the organic co-op, he had all his ingredients. He synthesized two of his favorite recipes and got going. First the dough had to be prepared and set aside to rise.

"Look at how big this is getting, Lee!"

"That's what dough does, hun" I thought.

"This is amazing!"

He was right. Making a yeasted dough for steamed buns is absolutely amazing. Especially when it's your first time conducting such magic.

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He toiled away for hours, checking in on his videos for advice, muttering and sometimes congratulating himself. He took a break mid-bun session and napped on the couch, got back to it later in the afternoon and demonstrated his most successful pinching technique to close each parcel of ginger-laden filling and pillowy, tender wrapping (shown in the gallery of photos). He was making food that resembled a present and really, is there no greater gift you can give the person you love than a home-cooked meal redolent with hard work, tenderness and care?

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Vegetarian Steamed Buns

makes about 8 buns, depending on size

Dough:
2 cups all–purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
Pinch or two of salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus extra for rolling out dough
1/2 cup lukewarm stock or water

Filling:
1/2 small cabbage
1 spring onion or green onion, diced fine
2 tablespoons fresh peeled ginger, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon oyster sauce (see note)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast, baking powder, sugar, and salt together. Add the sesame oil and stir lightly. Slowly mix in the water and stir to combine. Knead the dough on a lightly floured, clean work surface until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Place the dough ball into a medium size bowl, cover with plastic wrap and put into a larger bowl filled with 3 or so inches of hot water. Place these into either the oven or microwave and let rise for 30 minutes, or until dough doubles in size.

While the dough is rising, prepare the filling. Steam the cabbage for 1 minute then drain the water (squeeze the water out as best you can). Chop the cabbage finely. Add the rest of the filling ingredients and mix thoroughly. Set the filling aside.

Forming the Buns:
After 30 minutes or more, the dough should have doubled in volume. Knead the dough lightly to expel any air pockets. Roll into a cylinder on a floured board, and cut into 8 equal pieces. Put a drop or two of sesame oil in your palm to coat hands (for each ball). Roll each piece into a ball, and place under a wet kitchen towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes (the dough will rise again).

Roll out dough into 4-inch diameter circles. Place a small ball of filling in center. Form pleats in dough as you seal the buns by twisting (make sure they have a nice seal).
Place finished buns on baking paper sheets.

To Cook:
Place the filled buns into warm bamboo steamer or rice cooker (as we did) and let steam for 15 to 20 minutes. The buns will almost double in size. Serve with soy sauce and/or hot chili sauce.

* Note: Many oyster sauces are actually vegetarian/vegan and made with mushrooms. But if you are vegetarian, do doublecheck the list of ingredients first.

Watch the YouTube video: Bread on Bread

Related: Vegetarian Meals that can be Made Ahead and Frozen?

(Images: Leela Cyd Ross)

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