Monday, September 2, 2013

Vegan Mofo #4 - Terry’s Steamed BBQ Seitan Buns (Char Siu Seitan Bao)...

Vegan Mofo #4 - Terry’s Steamed BBQ Seitan Buns (Char Siu Seitan Bao)

The Region - China
The Book - Vegan Eats World
The Author - Terry Hope Romero
The Recipe - Steamed BBQ Seitan Buns (Char Siu Seitan Bao)
Page # 197-199
Difficulty - Easy but time consuming
Duration - Roughly 1 hour 30 minutes

Steamed buns, ah, can I ever describe to you how much I love them? I’m not sure I can. Steam buns represent a huge part of my life in Vancouver, they’re a large part of my growing up. I was obsessed with steamed or even baked buns back in those days and would buy them anywhere I could. Steamed buns can be made in sweet and savory varieties depending on the culture and regions. Different areas of China have different preparation methods and fillings for their bao. In my pre-vegan days I tried a lot of them and I have to say that of the savory variations Char Siu Bao was my favorite. Char Siu Bao are typically of Cantonese cuisine and these buns are traditionally filled with spiced BBQ pork. Growing up the idea of a savory filling in a bun or pastry was quite appealing and intriguing to me and I used to buy these quite a lot. I used to love going into the bakeries in Vancouver’s China town looking for sweet and savory treats though more often I would pick up a few bao at the T&T market, since it’s located right outside the Chinatown Skytrain. For under $3 you could get two huge bao and if I was seeing a film at Tinseltown it was the perfect cheap lunch.

Not all my Bao are perfect, but for a 1st try
I'd say they're not too bad.

Of course, I had other favorite bao as well. Of the sweet versions I was - and still am - particularly fond of the Doushabaozi which is a steamed bun filled with my favorite red bean paste. The Lotus seed bun was another favorite as was the Zhimabaozi bun which is filled with black sesame paste. Less often I would get the Naihuangbaozi bun which is filled with a sweet yellow custard, but when it comes to savory bao char siu was my only love. Unfortunately Char Siu is not vegan, and though you can get other savory bao they almost always contain meat, or eggs. I’ve heard that you can get vegetarian bao in some vegetarian restaurant but so far none that I’ve been to have ever featured this on the menu. I thought I would have to live without bao forever, until I recieved a copy of Terry Hope Romero’s “Vegan Eats World” last Christmas and stumbled upon her Vegan Seitan Bao recipe. Vegan Bao! You have no idea how excited I was to see it, it was a miracle.

Inside shot of a Bao, look at all that sweet, tangy,
saucy, gooey goodness!

However despite my initial excitement at rediscovering bao, I never seemed to get around to actually making the recipe. Then Mofo came around and I figured now was as good a time as any. The recipe itself is easy and straight forward, however it is rather time consuming. The bao dough needs to rise for an hour and though it’s a simple mixture of yeast, water, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and vegetable oil, I just never have great luck with dough. I find dough intimidating, and it doesn’t matter what I’m making. It could be pie, it could be pizza it doesn’t matter me and dough just don’t get along.  Lucky for me this dough was a lot less fussy, and a lot less sticky then other dough’s I’ve had to work with in the past and my only real mistake came from not using the recommended parchment paper under the bao when steaming. If you think it isn’t necessary then think again. If you don’t use the paper you’ll quickly discover that the bao will stick to the steamer basket and be hella difficult to remove without breaking. Since I had to cook my bao in two batches I rectified this the second time around and had no trouble removing the bao from the steamer or peeling the paper away from the bao.

As for the filling that’s pretty straight forward too although it does require some forethought. Romero uses the Chinese 5-spice seitan from Vegan Eats World in the recipe and though I suppose you could use store-bought seitan I honestly don’t think it would be as good. Her 5-spice seitan is really amazing. Lucky for me I had some tucked away in the freezer as I have a tendency to make big batches of seitan every couple of months to freeze for convenience. If you do that you’ll be ahead of the game. Once you have your seitan all set you roast it in a mixture of agave, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, vegetarian oyster sauce, Chinese shaoxing cooking wine, vegetable oil, 5 spice powder, and cornstarch.

Once that’s done you roll out your bao into a tube, cut it into 12 pieces, roll each piece into a circle and begin filling. Then you pinch the dough together give the peak a twist and pop em into the steamer. They steam for about 15 minutes until they’re firm to the touch and glistening. Once done you can eat them right away or even refrigerated them for later. You can eat the steamed buns as part of a dim sum meal, an appetizer, a snack with afternoon tea - as is the custom - or even as a breakfast - which is also typical. I ate 2 steam buns for an appetizer with dinner straight from the steamer and I’ll be honest and tell you that the rest I ate cold out of the fridge. They’re so good it doesn’t matter how you eat them. They have that perfect blend of sweet, tangy, a kick of spice and a hint of anis. Delicious perfection!

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