Vegetarian Bao Buns & Sweet and Sour Sauce
EVENT: SHHH COOKING SECRETLY
THEME: STEAMED FOOD
VEGETARIAN BAO BUNS
What are Bao Buns?
The first time I saw the Bao Buns was at the lounge of the Taiwan International Airport. Hubby and I were in transit and it was lunch time. A huge buffet was spread out and bao buns were among them. However, all the fillings were non veg. I took one plain one to taste and liked it. These steamed treats are super healthy and the best part is that one can use any filling. Traditionally a Chinese dish, the popular filling is pork belly. I searched several recipes to find what would work for me. Finally, I decided to use mushrooms as my main filling.
A bit about the group:
Members of this group give their partners two secret ingredients according to the theme decided and prepare a dish. Once the dish is ready we add the photo only and other members try and guess the secret ingredients. Towards the end of the month the secret is revealed when we share the recipe link. This month’s theme Steamed Food was suggested by Anu. Her blog Ente Thattukada is a mixture of traditional and some international recipes. Anu’s steamed Idiyappam made from rice flour and coconut milk is what I’d love to try out.
Each month for the theme to work well, we need to be an even number of participants. However, sometimes that’s not possible. So the admins then give the person without the partner secret ingredients. This time round I didn’t have a partner so my co-admin Renu had to give me the ingredients. In return I didn’t have to give her any as she already has a partner. I discussed with Renu that I would love to try out Vegetarian Bao Buns and she complied. From the list of ingredients that I would be using she picked milk and baking powder as my secret ingredients.
Do you need a Bamboo Steamer for Vegetarian Bao Buns?
Bao Buns are made from yeast dough and are steamed. Obviously the Chinese steam it in Bamboo Steamers. I don’t own one. However, that did not stop me from making them. I used my idli steamer and also the steamer I use for making dhokla. Its important to remember to use parchment paper so that the steamed buns do not stick to the metal steamer plates.
What Stuffing can you use for Bao Buns?
Anything from pork belly, chicken to numerous vegetarian options like mushrooms, tofu, tempeh, mixed vegetables, cauliflower, jackfruit, etc. Let your imagination take over. Usually served with a bit of salad and sauces, it makes a perfectly healthy meal.
You will come across fusion vegetarian bao buns that are served with guacamole, salsa, Sriracha sauce, peanut sauce, and even an Indian Style green chutney. Obviously, as I was trying out this recipe for the first time I stuck to Sweet and Sour Sauce and Chinese Style Chilli Sauce.
Advantages of Steamed Food
- Before I go into the recipe for Bao Buns, would like to stress the importance of including steamed food in your diet.
- Large amounts of fats or oil is not required when food is steamed.
- When food is steamed, usually retains the nutrients like vitamins and minerals whereas when food is boiled the nutrients are lost.
- Steamed food retains its colour, is crunchy and crispy and more tastier than boiled food.
- Steaming softens the fibre of vegetables and fruits, making it more digestible.
- Adding herbs, sauces, condiments, lemon juice, etc makes steamed food more tastier.
Some Steamed Food Recipes
Indian Cuisine has a large variety of steamed food which one can enjoy:
- My all time favorite steamed food is Dhokla. Sometimes I have it without the tempering on top, just hot steaming dhokla with chutney.
- Khaman or Instant Dhokla is a quick and easy steamed snack to make.
- Make some Farali Dhokra, on fasting days or when you feel like including millet in your diet.
- Muthiya/ Muthia is another famous steamed dish from the Gujarati Cuisine. The good thing about this dish is that one can add any vegetable like grated bottle gourd, cabbage, spinach, fresh methi(fenugreek) to make this healthy snack. I love to have it as light dinner with some lemon juice drizzled over it.
- Arvi Paan Bhajia, yet another steamed snack from the Gujarati Cuisine. All Gujarati snacks are not fried!
- Fancy some steamed Idra/ Idada/ White Dhokra with aam ras?
- Papdi no Lot is a very famous Patel Community steamed snack made from rice flour and spices. A favorite of so many with some red garlic chutney and oil drizzled over it.
- No Diwali celebration in our home is complete without making Kansar which is steamed sweet dish made using semolina or coarse wheat flour.
- Sweet Stuffed Modaks which are usually offered to Lord Ganesha during Ganesh Chaturthi.
North Indian Cuisine:
- When I prepared Bafauri ,a steamed snack famous in the state of Chhattisgarh for the first time, I thought the steamed snack would taste like dhokla, but I was so wrong.
- Siddu/Sidku – a Himachal Pradesh dish, wheat flour dough is stuffed with poppy seeds, walnuts and spices all ground together and steamed. Sometimes its stuffed with vegetables and steamed. Usually served with ghee and chutney or dal.
South Indian Cuisine:
- Mention steamed food to any Indian and the first thing that comes to mind is hot steamed Idli with chutney and sambhar.
- Delicious steamed rice flour balls with a flavorful tempering makes a delicious snack. I love ammini kozhukattai.
- Ragi Sevai – I love making this steamed South Indian breakfast from scratch.
- I’m still waiting for an opportunity to try out Renu’s steamed Palak Paneer Stuffed Idli.
- Sanna, steamed rice cakes made from rice and coconut are so delicious with a coconut based curry.
Ingredients Required for Vegetarian Bao Buns:
- Plain Flour – all purpose flour or maida
- Yeast – I used instant active dried yeast. If you use dry active yeast, then you need to allow it to ferment in warm milk or water for at least ten minutes before adding to the dough.
- Milk – optional. Can replace it with water for a vegan version.
- Baking Powder – an additional leavening agent
- Melted butter or oil – for vegan version use oil. I used oil. Also need some for greasing.
Ingredients for the Filling:
- Mushrooms – I used button mushrooms. Use any variety of your choice. Can use any other filling of your choice.
- Garlic – Use either paste or chopped
- Ginger – use either paste or thin strips
- Sesame Oil
- Sweet and Sour Sauce – make at home or buy ready made
- Chilli Sauce – make at home or buy ready made
- Cucumber – either slices or strips
- Carrot – grated or sticks
- Coriander or parsley – optional
Ingredients for Sweet and Sour Sauce
- Cornflour – corn starch
- Brown Sugar
- Tomato Ketchup or fresh tomato puree – I prefer using fresh thick tomato puree
- Chilli Sauce
- Vinegar – if you don’t have rice vinegar use any other good quality vinegar like cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- Soy Sauce – use either dark or light.
- For satvik version avoid garlic and onion
- For Vegan friendly bao buns omit dairy milk and butter. Replace the milk with nut milk or water.
VEGETARIAN BAO BUNS & SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE
FOR THE BAO BUNS:
- 2½ cups plain flour
- 1 cup milk warm
- 2 tsp dry active yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp oil
- extra oil for greasing
- extra flour for dusting
FOR THE FILLING:
- 250 g mushrooms, cut into quarters or slices
- 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
- 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced or paste
- 1 tsp ginger
- ¼ - ⅓ tsp salt
- 3 tbsp sweet and sour sauce
- 1 tbsp chilli sauce
- 1 medium cucumber sliced
- 1 large carrot shredded
- some fresh coriander or parsley leaves
FOR THE SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE:
- 1¼ cup water
- 1½ tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 2 tbsp thick tomato puree
- 1 -2 tbsp chilli sauce
- 1 -1½ tbsp vinegar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
PREPARATION OF BAO BUN DOUGH:
- Sift flour, salt, and baking powder into a big bowl.
- Add instant dry active yeast and sugar. Mix well.
- Mix oil and warm milk.
- Using the oil milk mixture, make a dough which is not too hard or too soft.
- Dust the worktop with a bit of flour. Knead the dough for 5-7 minutes till it becomes smooth.
- Shape the dough into a ball. Rub some oil over it.
- Grease the bowl with some oil.
- Put the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or a lid.
- Place the bowl in a warm place. Allow the dough to ferment for 1½ hours or till double in size.
PREPARATION OF BAO BUNS:
- Line the steamer trayor plate with some parchment paper. Brush a little oil over it.
- Dust the worktop with some flour.
- Roll out the dough into a big circle that is about ½ inch in thickness.
- Uisng a cookie cutter or a lid that is about 3 inches in diameter, cut circles from the dough.
- Gather up the sides and roll it again. Cut circles. Keep on doing that till all the dough is used up. If the dough cannot be rolled, let it rest for 5 minutes and it will become pliable again.
- Brush some oil over all the circles.
- Fold them into half, to resemble a semi circle or half moon.
- Using your rolling pin, gently roll over the semi circle once to flatten it a bit. Remember, roll gently.
- Place the rolled semi circles on the prepared steamer tray.
- Allow the buns to ferment for 30 minutes.
- Heat water some water in the steamer till it begins to boil.
- Place the tray or plates with the buns in the steamer.
- Steam for 8-10 minutes.
- Remove the tray or plate from the steamer.
- Let the buns cool down a bit.
- Remove from the parchment paper.
- Slowly pull apart from the folded seam. Each bun should open up easily.
- Smear some red chilli sauce and sweet and sour sauce on the inside of the bun.
- Add the filling and salad.
- Serve with extra sauces on the side.
PREPARATION OF THE MUSHROOM FILLING:
- Heat oil in a wide pan over medium heat.
- Add garlic and stir fry till you get the aroma.
- Add ginger and the chopped mushrooms.
- Stir fry the mushrooms over high heat till they appear a bit soft. You don't want to overcook them.
- Let the mixture cool for a bit.
- Add salt, sweet and sour sauce and the chilli sauce. Mix well.
- Adjust the spices according to your taste.
PREPARATION OF SWEET AND SOUR SAUCE:
- Mix ¼ cup of water with cornflour (cornstarch) and leave it on the side till required.
- Heat the remaining water in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add tomato puree, chilli sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt and soy sauce.
- When the water begins to simmer add the cornflour slurry.
- Keep stirring the sauce all the time till it becomes a bit thick.
- Take the pan off the heat. The sauce is ready. If it becomes too thick add a little water.
- For the homemade chilli sauce, check for the link in the ingredient list.
- Bao Buns can be served cold. However, you can easily warm them up in the steamer again for just about 5 minutes.
- Use any stuffing of your choice.
- Use ready made sauces of your choice.
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