Very thrilled to be a contributor in VegNews‘ May-June travel issue. In this issue, I veganized recipes I grew up loving, mixing a few popular flavors from my Filipino-Chinese heritage. I ended up with Savory Char Sui Maitake Bao and Sweet Ube Siopao. Steamed buns, also known as bao and siopao, are stuffed with sweet and savory fillings, making it a common and portable snack eaten every day and originally found all over South East-Asia. Growing up, we ate these for breakfast or as a snack. It was such a treat.
Since my friends at VegNews were so kind to feature my recipes, I am going to hold-off on giving the fillings recipes for now, so you can subscribe or pick up an issue at your local health food store. I am going to wait about a month to give out the entire recipe. So, please hold tight if you’re not able to get a hold of the issue right now. For now, since I made a version in the magazine that uses regular wheat flour (which is just like the original bao I grew up loving), for my gluten-free readers, I have a bun recipe for you, below.
After several attempts at making a bouncy gluten-free bao bun, I unfortunately wasn’t able to achieve the signature bouncy, spongy attributes the original wheat flour version possesses, BUT! When eaten minutes after steaming, it does have more of a bounce, so make sure you eat them minutes after steaming to get somewhat of a bouncy feel. Otherwise, if you wait and let them sit, they will feel heavier and dense.
In preparing for the feature, I was asked a few questions about my recipes and how they are relevant to my multicultural background. They ended up not making the cut, but that’s ok. This is why I have a blog! I share the questions and answers, below.
What’s your personal relationship to this recipe?
As a child, going to Woo Chee Chong Market, which at that time was the only Asian market in my hometown, was definitely a treat for me and my sisters. While my mom shopped for her essentials, my sisters and I would slowly peruse every aisle with wonder–inspecting, observing, and smelling all the foreign and exotic ingredients, spices, beautifully packaged and prepared foods. Our favorites were the red and green boxes of Botan Rice Candy that melted in our mouths, and watching the part-time teenage workers in the kitchen use a super sharp cleaver to slice the most delicious bright red char siu pork, and packaging it in a to-go box with chow mien for us to take home. I don’t have a memory eating it at home because once we would get home, it would be gone in .03 seconds. It was so delicious—tender, sweet, savory, and spiked with spices I couldn’t even name or identify. Char siu is definitely ingrained in my taste bud memory.
Around this same time, my grandmother would make the most delicious steamed buns called siopao. We would eat them piping hot right out of the bamboo steamer. They were beautiful little, bouncy, sponge-like pillows filled with juicy, flavorful shredded meat, and egg.
I created a vegan version of it without her direction, as she has since passed. I decided to create a char siu-style siapao. Instead of using pork I used maitake mushrooms, which create a meaty texture and hold flavor quite well. I made this in classic Yvonne-style, making it gluten-free, vegan, low-glycemic, and yet very flavorful. The sweet ube bao recipe is reminiscent of all the Filipino desserts I ate growing up–ube ice cream, ube cake, and the blob of ube on top of my halo-halo dessert!
Both recipes are reflective of my childhood and Filipino-American heritage.
Why is this recipe special in the culture it represents?
Every culture seems to have some sort of small, succulent parcel encased in dough and wrapped. Mexicans have tamales. East Indians have samosas. Filipinos have lumpia, empanadas, and siopao. Chinese have eggrolls, wontons, and bao, which actually means “wrapper” and is referred to being steamed stuffed buns. In ancient Chinese history, bao went by different names, and was said to be created by different people for many reasons–to help keep the poor warm and fed in the winter, and to cure soldiers from plague. Today it is definitely a popular food. Bao is a common and portable snack eaten every day mostly for breakfast and found all over South East-Asia.
How is this recipe originally made and how did you veganize it?
These recipes are originally made with shortening, meat, dairy, sometimes egg, and lots of refined sugar. I veganized it by replacing the meat with maitake mushrooms, ube, and using vegan milk and coconut sugar.
Cha Siu Maitake Bao
Makes 10 bao
1 ½ cups unsweetened vegan milk, lukewarm (100- 110 degrees F)
3 tablespoons plus 1 ½ teaspoons coconut sugar
1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons oat flour
1 cup potato starch
3 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
½ teaspoon xanthan gum
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
2 maitake mushrooms (8 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon minced peeled ginger
2 tablespoons tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons mirin (or rice wine, dry sherry)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoons ketchup
1 ½ teaspoons hoisin sauce
½ teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon 5 spice powder
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
- For the dough, in a large bowl, whisk together warm vegan milk, coconut sugar, and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes or until bubbly and bloomed. Add the grapeseed oil.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients then add to the yeast mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms, then turn dough out onto a lightly oat-floured surface. Knead until smooth. Return dough to large mixing bowl, coated with cooking spray, and lightly spray the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a warm place (85 degrees F) for 1 hour or until doubled in size. As it rises, prepare the filling.
- For the filling, in a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients except maitake mushrooms and arrowroot powder, and stir to combine. Break maitake apart from the roots, to pieces, and into the sauce, and stir to coat. Place covered saucepan over medium-low heat for 17 minutes. Remove from heat, mix in arrowroot powder, and set aside uncovered to cool.
- Divide dough in half. Cut each half into 8 equal portions, forming each into a ball. Cover dough balls while working with one dough ball at a time. On a lightly dusted (with oat flour) surface, roll ball into a 4-inch circle using a rolling pin. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle. Bring up sides to cover filling and meet on top. Pinch and twist to seal in filling. Place each bun onto a 2 ½-inch parchment square with the pinched seal at the bottom while you finish the rest of the buns.
- Spray a multi-layered bamboo steamer with cooking spray. Place the steamer on top of a large saucepan, and pour in water to several inches below the steamer. Bring water to boil.
- Working in several batches, place 3 or 4 buns into each steamer layer without letting buns touch each other or the edge of the steamer, about an inch apart. Cover steamer. Let buns steam over medium-low heat until puffy and the dough is springy. About 15-20 minutes per batch. Cool for at least 5 minutes and serve warm.
Makes 16 siopao
For the Dough:
Use dough recipe, above.
For the Filling:
1 ¼ cups steamed ube (purple yam)
¾ cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup monkfruit sweetener (or 1 cup sugar)
1 cup shredded young coconut
¼ cup sliced jackfruit (optional)
1. Prepare dough as explained, above.
3. For the filling, in a blender, combine all ingredients except for shredded young coconut and jackfruit, adding the coconut milk first, and blend completely using a tamper or spatula to ensure a smooth blend. Do not blend for too long or the filling will become pasty. Stop blending once thoroughly combined. Fold in shredded coconut and jackfruit.
4. Divide dough in half. Cut each half into 8 equal portions, forming each into a ball. Cover dough balls while working with one dough ball at a time. On a lightly dusted (with oat flour) surface, roll ball into a 4-inch circle. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle. Bring up sides to cover filling and meet on top. Pinch and twist to seal in the filling. Place each bun onto a 2 ½-inch parchment square with the pinched seal at the bottom while you finish the rest of the bun.
5. Spray a multi-layered bamboo steamer with cooking spray. Place the steamer on top of a large saucepan, and pour in water to several inches below the steamer. Bring water to boil.
6. Working in several batches, place 3 or 4 buns into each steamer layer without letting buns touch each other or the edge of the steamer. Cover steamer. Let buns steam over medium-low heat until puffy and the dough is springy. About 15-20 minutes per batch. Cool for at least 5 minutes and serve warm.
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