little bao sandwiches (gua bao 荷葉) with quick pickles, hoisin mushrooms, and seasoned pork

These little bao sandwiches can be eaten as appetizers or just a light lunch. Made from the same recipe as bao, Chinese steamed buns, these are sweet, savoury, and salty and can be stuffed with any manner of things–roast duck and crispy skin pork are a few examples. But leave out the meat and it becomes a vegan treat. Versatile yet so delicious!

I made these gua bao using “special flour” which may be available in Asian grocery stores wherever in the world you may live. Here in Bangkok “special flour” is available at the supermarkets. It is a low-gluten flour specially formulated to make bao or steamed buns. However, all-purpose flour is a fine substitute.

Little Bao Sandwiches

Yield: 15 bao sandwiches

Dry Ingredients

275g all purpose flour (can use special flour)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4-teaspoon salt

Wet Ingredients

3/4-cup warm milk (110˚F)

3 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon instant dry yeast

1 tablespoon rice bran oil, plus more for brushing

Pickled Carrots and Cucumber

1/3-cup thinly sliced carrots

1/3-cup thinly slice cucumbers

3 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon  sugar or to taste

1 teaspoon chile peppers, thinly sliced, optional

1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, optional

Pinch of salt

White pepper

Hoisin Mushrooms

450g shiitake mushrooms

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon rice bran oil

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/4-teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder or ground Sichuan pepper

Suggested Fillings and Toppings

Kimchi

Chopped roasted peanuts

Chopped scallions

Chopped cilantro

1/3 cup pork, beef, or chicken slivers marinated in 1 teaspoon each garlic, ginger, and soy sauce/fish sauce.

Make the buns. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the milk is a microwave safe  cup and microwave on high for 15-20 seconds until the milk is around 110˚F or warm to the touch. If it is too hot it will kill the yeast, so test it with your finger. Mix in the sugar and yeast. Let sit 10-15 minutes until the surface is covered in foam. When it is foamy, mix in the oil.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Pour in the yeast mixture gradually, using a fork to mix in the flour mixture. When the flour mixture is moistened, use your hands to knead the dough until smooth and the sides of the bowl are clean. Knead until the dough is elastic and no longer sticks to your hands, 5-10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball then place it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest at least 1 hour or until doubled in size. While the dough is rising…

Make the Pickled Carrots and Cucumbers. Scrape out and discard the seeds of the cucumber. Peel the carrot. Cut the cucumber and carrot into matchsticks about 2-3-inches long. Place in a large bowl. 

In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Mix well until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the chilies, if using. Pour over the cucumber and carrots. Toss. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let sit 10-15 minutes. Add the sesame seeds, if using, and toss to coat. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the hoisin mushrooms. Slice mushrooms into strips, discarding the stems. 

Heat a non stick pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan. Once hot, add the garlic and saute untiil lightly brown, 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry. Pour in the hoisin sauce. Mix well and cook over medium heat 5-6 minutes or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Add the 5-spice powder or sichuan pepper and mix well. Off the heat and set aside.

Prepare the meat, if using, then cook in a teaspoon of hot oil. Set aside. 

Make the buns. Once the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Punch your finger into the center of the dough to make a hole. Stretch the dough to create a ring. Slice up the ring with a bench scraper into 12-15 equal pieces, each weighing 40 grams. Place the pieces in a baking tray and cover with a damp towel while working with one piece at a time. When you have four gua bao, steam them, and keep the remainder covered with the damp towel.

Roll a piece of dough into a ball and flatten it on a floured surface with the heel of your hand. Roll out the dough into an oval 3×4 inches to 3×4.5. Brush the tops of the flattened dough with a little oil then fold in half. Place each crescent on a piece of parchment. When you have 4 gua bao put them in a bamboo steamer basket or a stainless steel basket, about 2-inches apart. 

Fill the steamer with 2 inches of water. Make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the basket. Bring water to a boil over medium heat. Once it boils, place the basket on top of the boiling water. Reduce heat and cover the steamer. Steam 8-10 minutes. When time is up, do not open the steamer. Off the heat and let the bao sit for 10 minutes. Remove the buns to a baking tray. Cover them with a  clean towel so they don’t cool and dry out. Repeat the process until all the dough is used up. 

Cook’s Note: If using a stainless steel steamer, wrap the lid in a kitchen towel to absorb the condensation. Water, if dripped on top of the bao while steaming, will make the top unattractive.

Assemble the sandwiches. Carefully open a bun. Add the pickles, mushrooms, meat (if using), kimchi and other fillings/toppings, if using.

When cooled, buns can be frozen covered in parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together. Store in a zipper lock bag in the freezer. Take out individually and steam them 10 minutes until warm and softened. Fill bao sandwiches and serve.

jade garden@the montien hotel

A couple of weeks ago when we were at the Montien enjoying Hainanese Chicken Rice, we passed another in-house restaurant called the Jade Garden which serves all you can eat Chinese dimsum for Baht 300 (about US$10.00) per person. To enjoy it we ate only a bit of toast for breakfast so we were ravenous for dimsum. We tried to do it justice.

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I didn’t care too much for the fried cakes but the steamed dimsum was delectable. Everything had shrimp in it which was great because it was fresh and steamed until it was just done. The best was the shrimp wrapped in fish with slivers of ginger–the ginger wasn’t overpowering, just a discreet note to remind you it’s there to counter the blandness of the seafood. There was soup, too, but rather indifferent. Maybe that’s why I forgot to take a picture! I ordered the wonton soup, shrimp of course, but the soup itself  lacked the delicate dimensions of flavor you get when it steeps in ginger and scallion. It looked and tasted like a Knorr bouillon cube–salty and flat. Now, I don’t mind Knorr because I use it as a shortcut when my recipes call for stock, but when a soup is on display, you don’t want that shortcut. For dessert we both ordered the sesame dumplings in warm ginger syrup. I love it. The syrup is spicy and warm and the dumpling, when you suck on it, pulls apart on your tongue leaving a wonderful sweet sesame grit. It’s like eating sand if it were edible and made of sesame and sugar.

 

hainanese chicken rice at the montien

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We went to the Montien Hotel for lunch on Wednesday. We ordered their specialty: Hainanese chicken rice (khao man gai). This is the Thai take on the traditional Chinese dish. Starting clockwise at the top: the four dipping sauces. First, a yellow bean sauce and chilies, next to it a soy, ginger, and chili sauce, below that a sweet soy sauce, and last of all, ginger with Chinese rice vinegar (chikcho)–a much milder-tasting vinegar than Western varieties. The bowl of garlic rice was fluffy and moist, and the chicken soup had been lightly flavored with soy sauce. It included two pieces of daikon cooked until they were tender but not mushy. (BTW, the Montien gives seconds on the soup). And finally, the pièce de résistance: the chicken itself, one whole skinless and boneless chicken breast,  braised to perfection and resting on top of slices of cool fresh cucumber. Those chocolate brown squares at the top of the plate of chicken were two squares of pig’s blood cake (leud moo). Well,  I’m no Andrew Zimmern, so I passed on the blood cake and could not tell you how it tasted. But I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the meal.

Chinese New Year Dinner, Bangkok, Thailand

Chinese New Year Dinner, Bangkok, Thailand

To make sure that everybody has enough to eat in the Year of the Snake, every kind of meat is represented on the table: chicken, beef, pork, fish, and prawns. Thanks for the picture, Andy! I wish we were there. 新年快乐 xin nian kuai le to everybody at home!

last night in bangkok

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For our last feast in Bangkok Andy took us to Seacon Square to Chiseng Lamian, a Chinese noodle shop where they make their own noodles and dumplings. Without a pasta machine too. We had the soup dumplings, though I must say they were nothing like the ones we had  at the Pacificana in Brooklyn. One bite, and a burst of soup spurted into the mouth, perfectly warm without being scalding hot. However, the Chiseng noodles in the pork noodle soup  were perfectly al dente, the baby mustard greens just crisp tender, and the pork was perfection: it held up to the chopstick until placed in the mouth then it was tender without being dry or chewy. We all ordered the Thai iced lemongrass-ginger spiced tea.  Without the ubiquitous condensed milk. It was definitely home-made, with frozen tea-ice cubes. I thought I tasted cloves in it.  For dessert, I ate the frozen ice cubes. By the end of the meal they had turned into the consistency of tea-flavored shaved ice.