Vegan bao buns with pulled jackfruit
Vegan bao buns with pulled jackfruit
My mission to veganise the foods of the world continues with Chinese vegan boa buns with pulled jackfruit ‘pork’! Have you ever tried bao buns? They are h-e-a-v-e-n-l-y! A fluffy bun hugging a succulent, meaty filling marinated in a fragrant salty-sweet marinade, adorned with crispy vegetables, crushed roasted peanuts, spring onions and fresh herbs. For me, it was love at first bite (and sight), which is funny as these were simply meant to be a means to an end.
When we lived in London and went out for dim sum, Duncan always used to order sweet pork buns known as Cha Siu Bao. Now that we are vegan and have no dim sum restaurants on our doorstep, he misses them a lot so I promised to veganise them. As I was a little intimidated by their intricate pleating, I decided to tackle easier looking fold over buns to begin with. After a few tries and some tweaking, I’ve got the feel for the dough and I look forward to making more variations. If you are an avid bread or dumpling maker, you will have no problem making these! Give them a try, they are really satisfying to make and even more so to eat. If you are short on time or not inclined to get your hands floury, make a trip to an Asian supermarket or your city’s Chinatown and purchase them ready made instead.
What inspired me to try my hand at Chinese cooking was a BBC show on the culinary delights of China we’ve been watching lately. I knew from the outset that watching the show as a vegan wasn’t going to be the easiest thing to do but I really wanted to find out more about the cuisine of this fascinating country. I was holding up fine until they cut to a scene of live frogs, fish and turtles being sold at a food market with show presenters marvelling about how locals are passionate about the freshness of their ‘ingredients’. That bit sent me a little over the edge, I’ll admit. It just seemed so unnecessarily cruel…Those poor animals treated as inanimate objects!
This dish contains no animal products of course. Its ‘pulled pork’ filling is made from young jackfruit. I’m sure you’ve heard about this clever vegan substitute as it made a massive splash in the plant-based cooking world a year or so ago. I couldn’t get it here for ages, but one of my local shops ordered it for me recently and as soon as it arrived, I already had my heart set on veganising these succulent fold over buns. It’s crazy how pork-like this thing is, it’s amazing really. Funny how changing your lifestyle forces you to get out of your comfort zone and search for alternatives. Suddenly you realise that there is a whole world of cruelty-free options you would have never known about if you never ditched meat.
- 300 g / 2½ cups bao flour OR all purpose flour
- 2 tsp instant active yeast
- 1½ tbsp / 20 ml vegetable oil
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- 2 tsp sugar (optional)
- 560 g / 20 oz tin of green / young jackfruit (this is the brand I used)
- 2 small spring onions, sliced
- 4 tsp grated ginger
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3-4 tsp tamari / soy sauce, adjust to taste
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce (plus extra to serve)
- 2 tsp brown sugar or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil, for frying (I used peanut oil)
- 1 heaped tsp Chinese five spice
- sliced fresh chilli or chilli sauce
- ½ English cucumber, cut into matchsticks
- ½ daikon or 1 turnip, cut into matchsticks
- red cabbage, shredded finely
- roasted (unsalted) peanuts, crushed or chopped
- spring onion, sliced finely
- fresh coriander
- In a mixing bowl, combine flour, instant yeast, sugar and salt. Add about 120 ml / ½ cup of warm (that’s important) water and 1½ tbsp of oil. Once combined roughly with a wooden spoon, start combining the dough with your hands. It will need a bit more water but it is very important to add the water in gradually, tablespoon by tablespoon. In my experience it takes another 2-3 tablespoons of water to achieve a dough that is not too dry or not too sticky. Knead it for 10 minutes with your hands until elastic and smooth. Form the dough into a ball and rub a small amount of oil on the dough’s surface to prevent drying. Place in a clean bowl covered with a kitchen towel and place it somewhere warm (but not too warm, sticking it too close to a fireplace is a bad idea, for example) for 1-2 hrs or until it doubles in size.
- Cut two circles (if you have a two tier bamboo steamer) of baking paper to line the steamer with. Make a lot of small holes in the circles so that the steam can get through. You can use a paper puncher for this or fold each circle in half 3 times and cut small circles out along the folded edges with a pair of scissors. Prepare also eight 5 cm / 2″ squares of baking paper and insert into the buns to prevent the two halves from sticking to each other (you could also use oil instead).
- After the dough has doubled in size, tip it out onto a lightly floured surface and press the air our with your fingertips. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and form small balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface, cover with a kitchen towel and leave for another 30 min.
- Using a rolling pin, roll the balls out into ½ cm / ¼” thick oval shapes. Fold each shape in half and insert a square of baking paper between the two halves. Alternatively you could also oil the buns before folding in half.
- Line your bamboo steamer with paper circles you’ve made earlier and place folded up buns inside for another 30 min of proving. If your steamer is too small (like mine), place four buns inside (two on each tier) and rest the remaining four on a baking paper lined and lightly dusted tray until you are ready to steam.
- Half fill a pot (which the steamer can comfortably sit on, of course) with water and place the steamer with the buns on top. Whack the heat to medium-high (I used setting 4 out of 6) and let the water come to a simmer – don’t be tempted to peak inside or you will ruin the buns. Once you can hear the water simmering vigorously, put the timer on to 10 mins. After the time is up, take the pot and steamer off the heat and rest the buns for another 5 minutes. This will spare the buns temperature shock and will prevent them from shrinking. After 5 minutes, lift the lid off and remove the buns gently. Cook the remaining four like you did the first four.
- Open the can of jackfruit and drain it. Cut the firm, pointy ends off each triangular piece of jackfruit (you can still use them if you wish) and squash each piece of jackfruit gently so that it separates into individual strands and soaks up more of the cooking sauce. Set aside.
- Heat up 2 tbsp of oil in a medium size pan. Fry spring onions until softened. Add chopped garlic and ginger and fry gently until soft and fragrant.
- Mix in Chinese five spice and fry gently for one minute.
- Now add the remaining sauce ingredients: tamari / soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar and sugar. Mix them around well, allow sugar to melt. Finally add in jackfruit and mix well to allow it to warm up and soak up the maximum amount of sauce.
- Fill each bun with pulled jackfruit, fresh veggies, herbs, chilli, crushed peanuts and some extra hoisin sauce.
Bao bun making / cooking method adapted (based on my attempts) from this recipe and that recipe.
Thank you for giving clear instructions, I will need it, as I have never made anything like this before.
I have not made the actual buns without the oil so I cannot be 100% sure - it certainly does add some elasticity but I don't think they will fail without it. I often make dumplings without oil and they work well. As for the filling, you could sauté the aromatics/jackfruit in veggie broth - I'm sure you have that down pat if you are well versed in oil-free cooking. Good luck! Ania
Love from @_send_fudes in Dublin 💚
I just did and it worked out all right (using plain all-purpose flour), even tho I didn't really let it proof for the second time (I forgot to set a timer on the first fermentation and ran out of it to make lunch hahaha). I also kneaded it in a mixer (bread hook on), 10/10 recommend. Oooo and in order to roll the dough nice and evenly, I placed two bamboo pickers (the long ones used in bbq) and rolled the pin until reaching those :)
Well, as for the filling I couldn't really get to the essencen of the spices due to the lack of them on any asian store nearby - so I ordered it online from another state. And used fresh jackfruit.
I'm sorry, but it is somewhat customary that inactive / waiting time isn't included in recipes so that's the convention I went with. I hope they will be worth the wait. Ania
I would not recommend as, like you are said, they may end up a bit too soggy. Filling them before consumption is probably best if possible. Good luck and I hope they will go down well. x Ania
My pleasure, I hope you'll enjoy it. TBH, I have never heard of sugar cane vinegar so I'm not sure but as long as it tastes sour and doesn't have a detracting taste, it should work fine. Perhaps add it in gradually though as it may be more potent than rice vinegar. Hope that helps! Ania
You could come up with an improvised steamer (placing a metal colander with a lid) over a pot of boiling water, but they do need to be steamed as far as I know. Hope that helps! Ania
I've never tried making them in advance so it's only an educated guess. I would say that if you make them a day ahead and place in the fridge after proving stage, they will continue proving (although at a slower rate) and they MAY overproof - resulting in yeasty and sticky dough. A safer bet would be to cook them completely the day before and then just reheat gently in the steamer on the day. Hope that helps! Ania
No, I haven't tried, I'm afraid, but my suspicion (based on other experiments) is that they will be much less delicate and more beady. My advice would be to sub only 50% of flour to begin with. Ania
I love your blog! I was wondering how long the bao dough would keep and if it would be possible to freeze it.
Thanks so much for kind words. As for the dough, I don't know as I haven't tried either. Each time, I made my buns on the same day. Sorry I couldn't be of any help here. Ania
I have been following you for a while now and enjoying your blog immensely!!! EVERYTHING I make from your recipes turn out perfectly 😍
My friends (you know those omnivorous - vegan sceptic types) cannot believe the food I now create and thanks to you I pull off a mean dinner party.
These buns look awesome and I cannot wait to try making them.
Keep up the amazing creativity..
Thanks so much for your kind words. You really made my day! I know exactly what you mean - it's most satisfying when omnivores love your food and they cannot even guess that it's vegan! Hope you'll try these buns, they are really not that difficult to make although take a bit of time. Thank you for following along! Greetings from sunny Greece! x Ania