A Surprisingly Simple Steamed Bun For Everyone (Vegans Included)

January 19, 2018

Every so often, we scour the site for cool recipes from our community that we then test, photograph, and feature. These pillowy, cloud-like steamed buns from user Cindy are bringing the dim sum classic to everyone, vegans included. (Bonus: they're easier to make than you think!)

For food indecisives and meal sharers, dim sum is the ideal meal. The Cantonese feast, which has come to become a weekend morning staple, is centered around sharing; which means you can select whatever catches your eye as the carts stacked high with steamer baskets and leaf-wrapped packages and soup vats roll by, trying a little bit of everything. You can sample a bite of pork siu mai, taste a jewel-like translucent shrimp har gau, split an order of soup dumplings (xiao long bao), wash it all down with a hot cup of jasmine tea, and still have room for more. The more dishes, the merrier.

For those who don't eat meat, however, dim sum selections can be limited. Chinese sausage-studded taro cakes (wu tao gou), fried steamed chicken feet (a.k.a. "phoenix claws"), and the enticing, cloud-like barbecue pork buns (char siu bao) are all off limits. Thankfully, community member Cindy sought to right that wrong with her recipe for vegetable steamed buns 素菜包, a vegan version of the meaty char siu bao. Fluffy, deeply savory, and just a little nutty thanks to the addition buckwheat flour, this twist on a dim sum classic is just as delicious as anything you've gotten from a dumpling-laden cart—and it's not as hard to make at home as you might think.

So puffy! So light! So tender! Photo by Julia Gartland

First, you'll first mix up a super-simple yeasted dough, incorporating buckwheat flour for complexity and flavor. While the dough rests and the yeast does its thing, it's time to make the filling: a pared-down mixture of shredded cabbage, meaty shiitake mushrooms, and carrots cooked briefly so that they retain their crunch, seasoned with sesame oil and oyster sauce (check the label to make sure your oyster sauce is vegan, if that's important to you!).

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Now comes the fun part: Divide the risen, puffy dough into six pieces. Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten each piece on a lightly-floured surface until you have a circle with a diameter of about 5 inches. Spoon a tablespoon of your cooled filling into the center of each disc, then, holding the dough in the palm of one hand, use your index finger and thumb on the other hand to create spiraling folds in the dough like a fan, eventually wrapping all the way around and pinching the dumpling closed. (Confused? Cindy refers us to a handy video guide to help with the dumpling folding process.)

Even if your first few dumplings aren't perfect (mine weren't!), they will still taste mighty fine. Steam the buns in a steamer basket until they're tender and fluffy, then tilt the lid of the steamer slightly on an angle to make a small gap and let your buns sit for two minutes more. While it might be hard to resist digging into these beauties right away, this extra step ensures that your dumplings will be smooth and wrinkle-free.

Cindy suggests serving the finished steamed buns with a cucumber salad and pickled daikon, but they're also excellent as is, drizzled with soy sauce or tamari and accompanied by a dollop of chili paste. Bonus: the buns can be frozen and reheated for a quick snack or a super-duper not sad desk lunch.

What's your favorite dim sum dish? Soup dumplings? Shrimp har gow? Chicken feet? Share in the comments!

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