Once or twice a year, I get struck by an insatiable, somewhat crippling craving for dumplings.
Crippling because during this phase, my mind rebelliously dreams about nothing but dumplings: thick, doughy dumpling skins fried to golden crusts housing spicy-gingered cabbage or resilient, translucent-skinned steamed dumplings with perfectly pleated tops. Salty dark dipping sauce and the hot rush of steam that comes billowing out of every first bite. I didn’t even realize that this was a yearly occurrence until Erik recently brought up the Great Dumpling Search of senior year when we went on a fruitless, semi-hearted search (through a whopping three restaurants) for the best dumplings in Houston. It seems that my dumpling craze tends to manifest itself in late winter/early spring and occasionally in the fall–more often than pumpkin hankerings, but far less often than chocolate cravings. Once I get my fill, it’s like having the most satisfying itch scratched. I can get back to driving past Chinese restaurants without having to fight the hot surge of urgency coursing from brain to foot to stop and pick up two orders of dumplings.
A few weeks ago (during the throes of my most recent dumpling craze), a few friends came over to make potstickers and Karen started eating the leftover dumpling filling from a spoon. It occurred to me that the dumpling filling was very similar to this very successful spinach and artichoke dip and so the logical next step was to create a dumpling dip.
This dip starts with a creamy base of pureed tofu and the holy flavor trinity of golden onions, garlic and ginger; it’s kicked up with miso, soy sauce and a drip of vinegar, bulked with shredded greens and topped with sesame seeds for crunch, green onions for looks. It’s a solidly umami-packed dip. But it is nothing without yeasty, pillowy baos (aka steamed buns) to be slathered on and topped with avocado, more seeds and a few shreds of fresh herbs.
Can I tell you what a proud Asian I felt like when I had steamed my own baos? My very-Americanized-I-can-only-say-two-sentences-in-Chinese self felt like I could conquer the world. The yeast-based dough does take quite a bit of time to rise and fold and steam, but it is so worth it.
After seeing these failed steamed buns, I searched very carefully for a recipe to try before attempting this one, using this folding technique with parchment paper. I read some article that said the best steamed buns achieve the perfect balance between yeast and baking powder and I think the recipe I used is pretty decent. With up to four hours of waiting time, it’s not the quickest recipe and it didn’t quite yield restaurant-quality baos (i.e. silky-topped and rising to poofy, uber-soft open-crumbed heights) BUT it was easy enough for me to succeed at and it yields a pretty fluffy, tasty counterpart to this dumpling dip. (More bao resources: she is my guide to all Asian foods, this is a detailed step-by-step bao guide + review, and these are perfect-looking baos, in my opinion.)
If you refuse to try baos (sigh), I think wonton chips would also be awesome dippers, or you could use the dip as a hummus-like spread in a sandwich.
- ½ tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 medium onion about 2 scant cups, chopped
- 5-6 garlic cloves minced
- 2- inch piece fresh ginger peeled and sliced
- 1 16- oz package soft or firm tofu
- 1-3 tablespoons miso see note
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar or lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 2-3 cups kale chopped
- 5 green onions sliced
- 2 tablespoons black or white sesame seeds
- Sliced avocado extra sesame seeds, and fresh basil for serving (optional)
- For the baos I used this recipe
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Once oil is hot, add the onion and cook until onions are softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute or two before removing from heat.
- Add the onion mixture and tofu to a blender and blend until smooth. Add the miso, rice vinegar, soy sauce and pepper and blend again until combined. Add the kale and pulse until the kale is finely chopped and dispersed throughout the mixture.
- Pour mixture into an 8x8-inch pan and scatter with green onions and sesame seeds.
- Bake for about 20 minutes, or until top begins to brown.
- Serve dip on steamed buns with toppings of choice.
Did you try this recipe?Tag @thepancakeprincess on Instagram!
Can’t get down with dip? Try these vegan tofu kale potstickers:
That looks refreshing! Your baos look a bit different than mine: http://veganmiam.com/recipes/salt-pepper-tofu-gua-bao, I love fluffy and soft sandwich buns! I grew up eating them! Thanks for sharing a refreshing version!
Oooh I’ve had your fabulous-looking buns bookmarked for so long!! Salt and pepper tofu, LOVE. Thanks so much Rika <3
Kristi @ My San Francisco Kitchen
OMG I love dumplings! These look so good!!
Thanks Kristi!! 🙂
Natasha @ The Cake Merchant
I’m loving your photos lately! Seriously, can I come over for lunch?
Aww thanks Natasha! And of course! When you find yourself in Houston, you know where to come 🙂
Amy Jean Tappenden
Thank you so much for commenting on my blog :3 I’ve just started it but I haven’t promoted it on Instagram yet…lol. It’s still a work in progress but basically will end up being a portfolio type blog I think. I can’t believe YOU were the first person to comment on it though :> Thank you!! I absolutely adore your healthy but delicious recipes and my Pancake Sundays is thanks to you and your Pancake Fridays, so thank you once again :3 I can’t make some of your pancakes yet as Japan doesn’t have the ingredients but once I’m home I can’t wait to make more and more of yours! I’m super excited to try your red velvet pancakes with the beetroot!!! Om nom nom. Thanks again and keep up everything you do!! It’s so inspirational for me :3
Thank YOU for trying so many of my pancakes!! You are seriously one of my favorite readers–I love it when people let me know when they try my recipes :)) I know I haven’t posted as many lately, but I have a sweet potato/black sesame one coming up that I hope you’ll like 🙂
Can’t wait to see your blog develop–it’s looking fab so far!
The Vegan 8
Ok, I have never had dumplings or baos! I know, crazy, but I haven’t. However, I am dying over that delicious dumpling dip. I love every single ingredient, especially the sesame oil. It is my favorite oil. I also love the avocado on top…I think I could put avocado on just about anything savory and it taste delicious. Although, I am not on board with avocados in desserts…yuck…I can always taste them…kind of like the whole bean dessert thing, haha! Looks so beautiful Erika!
My first impulse was to say BRANDI!!! But…they aren’t the most healthy things, so I can see why 🙂 And sesame oil is totally my favorite too! SO good. Totally agree on the avocados–it can save some truly mediocre dishes! Thanks lady 🙂
So much to love about this post that I don’t even know where to start!! First, your dumpling craving is hilarious. I completely understand — and so far I haven’t found a good source here in the city (at least that delivers to my office … Chinatown and Flushing, you are but an inaccessible dream). Second, LOVE your baos! I just tackled steamed buns myself and was thinking how fun the little folded versions would be. Especially with that wonderful dip. So creative, Erika! (As a side note, interestingly, in my recipe testing I found that recipes without any baking powder at all worked best for me, and were somehow fluffier than my baking powder batches. Kind of counterintuitive, but maybe worth giving a try?) Finally, girl. Mandy is such a Chinese food goddess, isn’t she? She’s like. Our muse.
Ahh you’re always the sweetest!! Oooh looking forward to seeing your take on them. I only tried the one recipe so I’d be very curious to try a baker powder-less version! And Mandy is SUCH a goddess. I just want her to come teach me everything she knows. And you to come teach me about mochi 🙂
Ooh, I could definitely get on board with this! I completely avoid EVER making Asian foods when I’m at home because the comparisons with restaurant/store-bought versions will never, ever end (my mom = “Why do you waste all this time making this? Not as good as store-bought AND you could be looking for a real job!”). However, I will, ahem, plan to make these for myself sometime. I love making homemade baos, particularly sweet ones but these look swell, Erika!
Bahaha that is hilarious!!! You know, I didn’t really think about the fact that these could easily be bought from the frozen section of my grocery store while making them. Feeling kind of dumb, but then again, I saved myself a 30 min car ride. Restaurant/store-bought versions are the best…but I aspire to get to that level someday! I’m going to try some sweet ones soon!
Karen @ The Food Charlatan
Okay I’m feeling like an even lamer Asian than you because I’ve never even HAD dumplings. Wait a second… 🙂
Love this! And I love your garlic-onion-ginger holy trinity too! haha.
Nora (Buttercream Fanatic)
This looks completely, mindbogglingly delicious and satisfying. I’ve never had a real bao, just the mass-produced Wow Bao stuff. They weren’t terrible, but I’m certain that they don’t hold a candle to these!
I’m so intrigued–what is Wow Bao?! In any case, these were pretty good–I have a feeling you would like them, Ms. Cupcake Queen! 🙂
Choc Chip Uru
Oh my, I have heard of baos, but never gotten the chance to try them!
This looks incredible 😀
Choc Chip Uru
Lan | morestomach
kudos to you for doing something about your cravings. i would’ve just taken myself to Chinatown in DC for my hit, or worse, hit up the frozen section of my asian market.
Lol! I don’t know why I’m scared of the frozen section of my asian market…oh wait yes I do. If I bought a bag of frozen dumplings I would eat.them.ALL. I guess this is my version of portion control? Haha. I’m curious to see DC’s chinatown! Is it good?
Katie (The Muffin Myth)
Great photos in this post! I’ve never had a bao that I can recall, so this is something I’ll have to go into blindly. I love the idea of the dumpling dip though, and those avocado slices look so beautiful. Definitely bookmarking this one to try!
Thanks Katie! YOU’VE NEVER HAD A BAO?! #blasphemy Well I guess Sweden probably doesn’t have a super hot bao scene, so I forgive you. I hope you like it!! *bites nails* This was kind of an off-the-wall idea, but I thought the flavors were pretty good. I also liked it better on the second day–I should add that to the notes!
This is such a fun and unique idea. True East meets West idea. Great photo shots so pinning this recipe!
Thanks Bam! I love bringing the East to the West, don’t you? 🙂
I recently used Use Real Butter’s bun recipe (http://userealbutter.com/2011/12/31/chinese-sweet-red-bean-buns-recipe/) and I thought it turned out really well! 🙂 Maybe give it a try next time? I used butter instead of shortening though, haha.
Awesome!!! Thanks so much Chelsea–her buns look SO fluffy! I will definitely be giving that recipe a try (I <3 red beans!!)
These look absolutely perfect Erika! Oh my gosh. I always have trouble making steamed buns of any kind so you are totally my bao hero right now! Love the fact that you’ve baked them like little pockets, just ready to be stuffed with avocadoey, black sesame goodness. The dip sounds great. You go, Chinese American girl (I am saying this as an English born, half-English almost half-Chinese tiny-bit-Portuguese girl who lives in Australia. I never really mention it as I am devoid of Chinese culture but I get you!) xxxx
Thank you so much, Laura! What do you find is the issue when you make steamed buns? This was actually my first time making them and I did make a big discovery that you absolutely should not refrigerate the dough overnight (duh)…I ended up with crusted-over dough that I had to wrestle into shape the next day. So silly.
I’m so excited to know you’re half-Chinese!! I totally understand not broadcasting that–I feel like I shy away from mentioning it too much since I’m really totally Americanized (I have to bite my tongue from saying “white washed”) and I’d feel like a fraud if I tried to talk in-depth about anything relating to Chinese culture. English/Chinese/Portuguese/Australia sounds like such a fun and exotic mix to me! Which culture do you find you identify most with?
Kiersten @ Oh My Veggies
Oh man, it’s been so long since I’ve had baos! We always get them when we go to Chicago, but it’s been a while. So you can really make them at home??? This might be a good weekend project for me. 🙂
Yes yes!! What kind of baos do you usually get–sweet or savory? I grew up on the savory pork-filled baos, but nowadays I find myself craving the sweet red bean/taro-filled ones. After I posted this, someone recommended Use Real Butter’s red bean bun recipe which I’m definitely trying next–they look so fluffy! Best of luck on your bao adventures 🙂
Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes)
These look so cool! I love how unique your ideas are!
Thanks Jocelyn!! 🙂
Shikha @ Shikha la mode
Can’t get your photos, seriously. Next time you’re in town for more than 2 days can you teach me your skills please? I need to learn.
Also, these remind me all the dumplings in your freezer that your parents had made! So good.
Um yes. Photography lesson for a SF food tour trade off? <3
I love baos! Yum!
Nancy @ gottagetbaked
Erika, this post is making me feel all kinds of things. First off, your photos are so beautiful. They always are but I marvel at your photography skill each time I read through a new post of yours. More pressing is the urge to run out and eat bao! I’m Chinese too but sadly haven’t attempted to make any of our own cuisine. I’m too intimidated, plus I live in a city where excellent Chinese food is plentiful and cheap, making it hard for me to want to attempt it (and possibly fail). That being said, I have a long list of Chinese food that I want to try making, such as pineapple buns, tapioca pudding, egg tarts and now, bao. Yours look perfect. And that dumpling dip is genius! I need to devote a weekend to making bao and eating it.
Nancy, you are TOO kind! Oooh, to live in a city with plentiful, excellent Chinese food! That is not so much the case here in Houston…still need to find a go-to dumpling place that isn’t far away! After seeing the pineapple buns on Lady and Pups, I am so wanting to try those too! And egg tarts! (Though I’m really scared of those.) I’ve been so inspired by Lady and Pups and Two Red Bowls lately–they’re really piquing my interest in baking Chinese pastries/desserts! We shall brave these unknown waters together!