Chinese Steamed Buns

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I enjoyed many variations of steamed buns while growing up – some were plain, some were filled with bright red pork filling, others looked like works of art.

They were especially ubiquitous during the time my French mother was in her Chinese phase (see Growing Up Foodie), which was a mostly wonderful culinary experience for our family.

But I never knew the extent of the magic created in a bamboo steamer until my husband and I went to our first dim sum restaurant.

This was in San Francisco’s Chinatown, 30+ years ago. It was a busy, bustling restaurant, full of people who spoke non-English. Waiters pushed little carts around tightly-placed tables and it was a bit unsettling. This is what the insides of the carts look like:

We weren’t sure what to do, so we kept pointing at food and nodding, because everything looked so good. There must have been at least 200 different items from which to choose. Maybe even more.

We were so excited, hungry, and a little nervous, that I think we ended up with food for a dozen people. Knowing us, we probably finished it all.

Years later we visited the same restaurant, this time with our daughters who were 10 and 12, and fortunately we knew what to do. This restaurant must be the place to go because it was still bustling and the food was superb. I know we could find the same restaurant again, but unfortunately we can’t remember the name of it to share with you.

This recipe for steamed buns is my one of my husband’s favorite things to eat. He often asks for them as part of his birthday dinner, like he did last week.

The dough is a basic bread dough, and the filling is Chinese sausage. It’s a recipe my mother created, because of her love of Chinese sausage.

So here’s the recipe for my hubby’s favorite steamed buns:


Bread Dough

1 tablespoon yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm milk, at about 110 degrees
3 1/2 cups white flour

Heat 1/4 cup of water in a large bowl to approximately 110 degrees; if you can put your finger in the water and hold it there, it’s hot enough. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for a few minutes.

Then stir up the mixture, place it in a non-drafty part of your kitchen, and let it sit for 5 minutes; it will have doubled in volume.

Stir in the warm milk, then add 3 cups of flour. Mix as much as you can with a spoon. Then turn out the dough on your work area and, using flour only as necessary, knead the dough until it is smooth. This should take about 5 minutes. Don’t add too much flour – just enough to keep the dough from sticking.

Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a clean, greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp towel, then put the bowl in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 1/2 hours.

It will have doubled in bulk. Punch down the dough, and let it rest about 20 minutes.

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To Prepare the Steamed Buns filled with Chinese Sausage

Have about 7 ounces of sliced Chinese sausage on hand, as well as toasted sesame oil.

Turn the dough out onto the work area. Roll the dough into a cylinder, and divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces. Form each piece of dough into a disc, about 3 1/2″ in diameter.

Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil in the middle of the disc, and then top with some sausage slices.


Pull up all four sides of the disc, then squeeze them together and twist to seal the dough.

As you make the buns, place them in a steamer basket that has been oiled. Or, alternatively, cut out squares of parchment paper and spray those with oil to keep the buns from sticking, placing them underneath the buns. Just make sure the steam can move around the steamer basket.

When you have finished making all twelve buns, let them rise in the steamer basket.

Meanwhile, bring a wok or pot of water to a boil on the stove, with the water level with the bottom of the steamer basket.

After the buns have risen for about 20-30 minutes, turn the water down to a simmer, then place the steamer basket in the wok.

After about 8-10 minutes, check the buns; the dough should be firm. If they are sticky, keep steaming another minute or two.

Remove them as soon as you can from the steamer basket and let cool slightly.

Then enjoy! They’re soft and the most fragrant while warm.

Here’s a panorama iphone pic of a dim sum restaurant we went to in New York City in 2017. It truly is as big as it looks!

I encourage everyone to enjoy dim sum at a reputable Chinese restaurant. There’s always chicken feet – for the hard to please!

Full disclosure: I first published this post in February of 2013, soon after I made these steamed buns for my husband’s birthday, but felt obligated to make the buns again, for my husband’s birthday, and post better photos.

An Ottolenghi Rice Salad

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It goes without saying that I’m a stubborn gal, especially when it comes to trends. Fashion, food, music, you name it.

Sometimes I wonder, though, what I might have missed out on. I don’t think it was kale chips, overnight oats, grilled lemons, or salads in jars. I might have missed out of zoodles if I hadn’t received a spiralizer as a gift.

In the 80’s basil pesto and sun-dried tomatoes were sooo trendy that I refused to try them. I lost quite a few tasty years as a result of my stubbornness. I’ve since made up for lost time!

In any case, I remember when everybody was making food from Ottolenghi’s cookbook, entitled “Plenty.” I gave the cookbook as gifts, but refused to purchase one for myself.

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Then “Jerusalem” came along.

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Then, “Ottolenghi.”

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Then, as if Plenty wasn’t enough, there came “Plenty More.”

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There might be more cookbooks written by Yotam Ottolonghi and Sami Tamimi, his business partner and chef, but Plenty was the first one of which I became aware. The recipes in Plenty and Plenty More are vegetarian, but not the other two. Mr. Ottolenghi himself is not a vegetarian; I love that he embraces lovely, vibrant food in general, meaty or meatless.

Also because of my stubborness, it was a while before I went to an Ottolenghi restaurant in London during the years my daughter lived there. In July of 2014, our last visit to London before she moved back to the states, we went to Nopi for lunch, located in Soho. And what a fabulous experience it was.

I wrote a post about it entitled, “How I Met Yotam Ottolenghi,” because the manager looked so much like him I thought I really had. In reality, they look nothing alike except that they both both wear glasses.

So I now own three books by Ottolenghi, although not Plenty, and one night I read through them marking recipes and choosing one to make that exemplifies his food, which was not easy. I stayed away from his classic “this and that with tahini and pomegranates.” (Stubbornness, again!)

This is what I chose.

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Rice Salad with Nuts and Sour Cherries
from Plenty More

Scant 1 cup wild rice
Scant 1 1/4 cups basmati rice (I used brown)
5 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup quinoa (I used millet)
6 1/2 tablespoons almonds, skins on, coarsely chopped
7 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup sunflower oil
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cups arugula
2/3 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest of one lemon
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper

Place the wild rice in a saucepan, cover with plenty of water, bring to a boil, and then turn down to a gentle simmer and cook for 35 minutes, until the rice is cooked but still firm.
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Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside to dry.

Mix the basmati rice with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place in a saucepan with 1 1/3 cups of boiling water, cover, and cook over the lowest possible heat for 15 minutes.

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Remove from the heat, place a tea towel over the pan, replace the lid, and set aside for 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool down completely.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil and add the quinoa. Cook for 9 minutes, then drain into a fine sieve, refresh under cold water, and set aside.

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Place the almonds and pine nuts in a small pan with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Transfer to a small plate as soon as the pine nuts begin to color and set aside.

Heat the sunflower oil in a large saute pan and add the onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper. Cook over high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring often, so that parts of the onion get crisp and others just soft. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Place all of the grains in a large bowl along with the chopped herbs, arugula, fried onion, nuts, and sour cherries. Add the lemon juice and zest, the remaining 3 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and some pepper.

Mix well and set aside for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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note: As with most all of Ottolenghi’s recipes, they are specific, and require many steps. In the write-up about this recipe, he actually apologizes for the need for so many pots! I read about how he came to the point when he realized that to test recipes, one must be exact; no handfuls of this and that. So exact they are! I seriously doubt that this salad would taste any differently with 7 tablespoons of almonds instead of 6 1/2! In fact, in my mind, it should really read “6 1/2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped almonds.” Oh well. His food is fabulous and this is a great recipe.

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verdict: This is, not surprisingly, a delicious salad. Everything in it sings, from the lemon and garlic flavors to the pungent arugula and herbs. I love the sour cherries, but just about any dried fruit would work.

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Zucchini Risotto

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If you have an overabundance of zucchini from your garden right now, this recipe is for you. It’s easy, healthy, and delicious. Plus, it helps use up your zucchini in a creative way.

Risotto, and polenta as well, are two dishes that I love to play with. Purists of Italian cuisine wouldn’t appreciate my culinary playtime, changing up recipes just for fun. But if you think of it, risotto is simply rice. Think of it as a vehicle, into which you can load lots of different flavors and ingredients.

Take vegetables, for example. You can add grated carrots to risotto, or even use carrot juice. You can add fresh tomatoes, or a little tomato paste. Sweet potato and pumpkin certainly work, as do roasted red bell peppers. Maybe I wouldn’t try a risotto with cucumbers….

If you would like a tutorial on making risotto, check out my Thai-inspired risotto. But even if you’ve never made a risotto before – trust me. It’s easy. I’ve even taught little kids to make them.

So the following recipe is more of a guide for you to make a fabulous zucchini risotto, using the ingredients you choose. Enjoy!

Zucchini Risotto

Butter or oil (I chose about 3 tablespoons butter)
Some kind of aromatic (I chose 1/4 finely chopped yellow onion)
Risotto rice (I chose arborio, about 1 1/4 cups)
White wine, about 1/3 cup*
1 medium zucchini, grated
Chicken broth, approximately 2 1/2 cups
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated cheese (I chose romano)

Have all of your ingredients handy, and be prepared to devote most all of your attention to the pot on the stove. That’s the only pre-requisite for making risotto.
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Begin by melting the butter in a saucepan or risotto pan. I let my butter brown a little because I love that extra flavor. Add the onion and cook them for a few minutes, turning down the heat a little if necessary.

Add the rice to the butter-onion mixture and stir it well for about 1 minute. All of the grains of rice should be coated with the butter and look shiny. If they don’t, you haven’t started with a sufficient amount of butter or oil. This step is the most critical in making a successful risotto.

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At this point, add the wine in one or two batches, stirring until it’s absorbed by the rice. If you prefer, you can use solely chicken broth instead.

I just noticed that this pinot blanc, from the Trimbach winery, is made in Ribeauvillé . I’ve actually been there, and it’s a gorgeous little town. Today I just saw on Facebook that it’s Hubert Keller’s home town.

Once you’ve used the wine, add the zucchini and stir well. Then gradually add chicken broth, a little at a time. Just stir until the rice absorbs the liquid, then add a little more liquid. Repeat. Also at some point add the salt.

The rice will get thicker as time goes on. The total risotto-making process takes about 30 minutes.

Towards the end, which you will be able to predict is close because the rice is much slower to absorb liquid, you can add cheese. Alternatively, wait and serve the cheese at the table.

Taste. Then serve.

Some people add cream instead of some of the broth, and sometimes also add a little more butter, and both are good options.


Today I served the zucchini risotto as a side dish, along side paprika-crusted pork tenderloin, but the risotto would satisfy vegetarians as well.

For seasoning, there are so many choices. I could have used fresh basil, but I opted for a little sprinkling of fresh thyme. I find that white pepper goes really well in vegetable risottos. Use what you like.
* You don’t have to include wine with the liquid in a risotto recipe. Just use more of your choice of liquid, like chicken broth. When I taught kids to make risotto, we didn’t include wine, just so you know!

note: Typically when you use zucchini in a recipe, there is a necessary procedure to attend to in order to rid the zucchini or extra water. However, this isn’t a necessary step in a risotto, since the zucchini’s liquid plays a role along with the wine and chicken broth. Another reason why this is such an easy recipe!!!

Pho

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I’m positive that most all of you food lovers out there in the blogosphere have enjoyed pho, that quintessentially Vietnamese soup that’s equally messy and delicious. Especially those of you who live in larger cities, where there tend to be a delicious variety of ethnic restaurants.

Myself, I never indulged in pho until just recently, when my daughter took me to a well known Vietnamese restaurant that she and her husband frequent in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And I was thoroughly satisfied after my very long and patient wait.

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The soup is a flavorful broth with noodles, beef slices, and bean sprouts, although there are other versions, including a vegetarian pho, available at this restaurant as well. But then here comes the fun part. You get to add Sriracha, hoisin sauce, cilantro, basil, lime juice and sliced jalapenos.

It would be so fun to have a pho party some time, just set up a bar of fun pho ingredients. But the only negative is how messy it is to eat. So maybe I won’t do it. Scratch that idea.

However, I did want to make pho at home from scratch, since I can’t go to any restaurant where I live and order it. I based my recipe that I’m posting here on one I found online from Food and Wine.

Pho Broth

Beef short ribs* and pork neck bones, about 6 pounds total
Oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
4″ piece fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
6 cloves
4 allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
Rock sugar – I used a few brown sugar cubes

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First place all of the meat and bones in a large pot. Add water to cover by at least 1″.
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Bring the meat and bones to a boil.

Meanwhile, add a little oil to a skillet, and sauté the onion and ginger until there’s a little color on them.
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Place the cloves, allspice, cinnamon, fennel seeds and bay leaves in a muslin bag, or a piece of tied up cheesecloth and set aside.

After the meat and bones have reached a boil, pour the water off. You may have to wait until things cool down a bit so you don’t get a meat and bone facial over your sink. They will look like this.
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Then cover the meat and bones with water again, add the onion and ginger, the bag of spices, and the sugar cubes.
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Bring the pot to a boil again, then cover and simmer for at least 2 1/2 hours. Let cool.

Place a colander over a large bowl and pour the whole thing into the colander. Place the bowl of broth in the refrigerator overnight.
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You will be left with a lot of bones.
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Remove any good meat from the beef short ribs, place the meat in a sealable plastic bag, and refrigerate overnight.

The next thing to do is make a spicy oil to add to the pho:

Heat 1/4 cup of plain, tasteless oil in a small pan on the stove over low heat. Add 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons of crushed red pepper flakes, a tablespoon of sesame seeds, and a pinch of salt. Just let the ingredients “warm” in the oil for about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and store the pan in the refrigerator.

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The next day, remove the fat from the broth, and then pour it back into a pot to heat on the stove. Taste the broth and add salt if you think it needs it.

Get the spicy sesame oil out of the refrigerator and strain it into a small bowl. Save the goodies to throw into a stir fry.

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Meanwhile, get out your other ingredients:

Limes
Cilantro
Bean sprouts
Cooked noodles
Sriracha
Hoisin sauce
Meat from short ribs
Jalapeno slices

To serve the pho, start by ladling the hot broth into a large bowl. Add some noodles and bean sprouts. Add some beef, and then sprinkle on the jalapenos, cilantro, and basil. Squeeze some lime into the pho as well. And then season everything by adding Sriracha and hoisin sauce, to taste. But you’re not done. Then add some of the spicy sesame oil on the top.
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Pho is typically eaten with a porcelain spoon in combination with chop sticks, but I don’t own one of those spoons.

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verdict: I’m glad I made this once. This pho was really remarkable. The broth was fabulous and flavorful. But I think the spicy sesame oil was the biggest hit of all. Making pho from scratch isn’t much work – it’s just time consuming. And then I found this:

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* The recipe called for oxtails, which I can’t get here.