Perusing through the dried Chinese ingredients in my local Asian groceries can be a fun time. It is messy and the organization is not always perfect, sometimes what’s being displayed and the price tag can be a mismatch, but I still love doing it all the same.
One of the more uncommon ingredients, at least to non Chinese, is probably going to be dried lily flowers. Unlike dried chrysanthemum or dried rose, at a glance dried lily flowers don’t look like flowers at all.
Dried lily flower are typically sold in a see-through plastic packaging. The flowers look more like 3 inches of golden brown stalks, and probably not the most appetizing thing judging from their appearance. But if you manage to find it in your market (or just buy from Amazon), these flowers have a mild flavor with crunchy and interesting texture, a perfect addition to your stir fry dishes, soup especially hot and sour, and of course I am going to use them in this recipe.
This is a very homely dish, something that my Grandma made for us when we were kids, and definitely not something you find served in fancy restaurants.
You will need to start preparing the dried ingredients the night before you want to cook the dish, I usually wash and soak all my dried ingredients (wood ear, shiitake, and lily flower) in separate bowls just before I am ready to go to bed so they have enough time to fully rehydrate by the next day when I prepare for lunch.
Once they are fully rehydrated, squeeze out the water, then thinly slice the wood ear and shiitake, chop off the stem (if present) of the lily flowers and tie each flower in a knot. If you are short on time, you don’t have to tie them in knots, but I think it is a nice touch and that’s how it’s been done in my family since my Grandma’s time.
The rest of the steps is very easy, but we will still need to marinate for 2 hours, so if you want to make this for lunch, it is best to do this step by 10 a.m. Simply combine all the ingredients (minus cornstarch) in a mixing bowl, cover the bowl with a saran, and marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. Remember to return to room temperature prior to cooking.
To cook, prepare a steamer and let the water boils on medium heat. While we wait for the water to boil, add cornstarch to the mixture, mix well, and transfer the whole thing into a steam proof bowl.
I use a 9″ pie dish and it is perfect. Once the water boils, just put the dish into the steamer and steam for 15 minutes. Remember to let the dish rest another 5 minutes before taking off the lid. Garnish with scallions and the dish is done!
Steaming chicken or fish with a simple salted soy beans sauce (Indonesian: tauco) is a healthy way to prepare a quick dish for lunch or dinner. Salted soy beans can be found in many Asian grocery store. My favorite salted soy beans is the one from Yeos, a Malaysian brand, which happens to be very similar to the ones I grow up eating in Indonesia. There will be slight different in taste if you choose other brands of salted soy beans, feel free to experiment to find out which one you like best.
If you opt to use chicken meat, I suggest a mixture of skinless boneless breast and thigh, or 100% thigh meat if you don’t mind the slightly higher calories. A pure 100% breast meat is still good, just not as juicy. You can also use white fish fillet slices (again, make it bite sizes) such as tilapia, rock fish, or red snapper, but be sure to reduce steaming time to 5 minutes since fish cooks much faster than chicken.
I love this dish so much and since my parents are still here in the States, I made two batches back to back! They are staying with my younger brother so I am packing one batch for them to enjoy 🙂
Chinese herbs are most commonly prepared as soup, but they can be made into healthy, easy, and delicious dish by steaming. Here I prepare a simple dish by steaming together marinated chicken drumsticks with slices of rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, along with my favorite Chinese herbs, which include angelica root (dang gui), american ginseng, jujube fruit (hong zao), goji berries (gou qi), and codonopsis root (dang shen).
Chinese herbs in this dish
If you do your grocery in Asian market such as Marina or 99 Ranch, you should be able to find all of the Chinese herbs used in this recipe in the Chinese herb aisle except American ginseng.
You will need to ask for American ginseng from one of the shop keepers since most likely they are stored away. I think this is because American ginseng is pricey compared to the rest, and they don’t want to risk people stealing even one tiny packet 😉
I totally understand if the task of finding these Chinese herbs on your own can be daunting. My advice is to just show the shop keeper the photo above and ask them to help you finding them.
If you live far away from Chinatown or a decent Chinese market, you can always place an online order from Amazon. But online prices are almost always more expensive, and you don’t have the luxury of inspecting them before buying.
Here are all the dried herbs and ingredients for this dish:
Marinating and steaming the chicken dish
For the chicken, if you are traditionalist like my Mom, she’ll insist on using one whole young chicken, cut up into pieces. As for me, I usually use 8-10 pieces of drumsticks since I think using oiler part like drumstick in steamed dishes make for a better dish.
In any case, marinade chicken pieces with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, sugar, and ground white pepper for 2 hours. You can marinade the chicken in steamed proof dish so they can just go in the steamer without needing to transfer from mixing bowl to steamed proof dish, less dirty dishes to wash.
Just before the chicken is ready to be cook, stir again so the sauce coats the chicken pieces evenly, then scatter the Chinese herbs along with thinly sliced rehydrated shiitake mushrooms, bruised garlic cloves, and thinly sliced ginger.
If your steamer is tiny, feel free to cook in batches, or make smaller portion to fit your steamer.
One of Asian grocery stores that I frequent is Marina, and they always give out food coupon for your purchase, which can be used in exchange for take out items in the nearby food stall and I usually ends up with either char siew or siew yuk. Most of the times, we eat those as is with steamed white rice, or as the main protein in fried rice, fried noodles, fried rice noodles, etc. Once in a while, when I feel especially crafty, I turn the char siew into char siew bao (pork roast steamed buns).
Char siew bao filling can be made with as little as 250 gram of char siew and most of the time I get more than enough to turn my free char siew into char siew bao filling. First, dice char siew into tiny cubes (1/8″), then dice 200 gram of onion also into cubes (1/8″), cook these with some oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and then add corn starch slurry to create a thick sauce. Done! Easy right?
While the filling is chilling in the fridge. Let’s make the skin. In my experience, there are two kinds of bao skin, the one that is more often sold by mom-and-pop/street hawker variety, and the one sold in dim sum. The skin recipe for the former one usually uses all purpose flour, but the later one usually uses Hong Kong bao flour. Hong Kong bao flour has much lower protein (gluten) content, very similar to cake flour, so the result is so much more fluffier. If you cannot get a hold of bao flour, you can easily substitute with cake flour. The second important ingredient is wheat starch (or tang mien), and I must stress that wheat starch is not wheat flour, please don’t use it. Most Asian grocery stores will carry wheat starch, and if not, you can always get wheat starch online from Amazon. Other than bao flour (which again can be substituted with cake flour) and wheat starch, the rest of the ingredients should be easily available from any decent supermarket.
As in any making any kind of bread, I start by mixing some warm water with my active dry yeast and sugar and let the solution sit awhile until foamy (about 15-20 minutes). Then, I sieve together all the flour (bao/cake flour, wheat starch), and sugar into a mixing bowl. Make a well, then pour the foamy yeast solution, along with oil and vinegar. Next is knead, knead, knead, for about 15-20 minutes, until the dough is non-sticky, smooth, soft, and elastic. Cover the mixing bowl (with the dough inside) with a wet kitchen towel/saran wrap, and let it proof until the volume is doubled, about 1 hour in a warm kitchen. Once the dough has finished proofing, mix 10 gram baking powder with 10 gram water, and sprinkle this on the dough, and knead the dough again until the baking powder solution is incorporated into the dough. Divide the dough into 16 portions. Next step, shaping the buns.
Take a piece of dough, flatten into 4″ circle with a rolling pin, place 1 medium ice cream scoop (1.5 tablespoon) of char siew filling on the dough, then gather the edges and make pleats (like this). And if it is too much to make pleats, you cannot go wrong with simple round buns 🙂 I use medium size ice cream scoop to portion my filling, and it is the perfect amount for 16 buns. Once they are done, simply steam for 12 minutes, then rest for 2 minutes in the hot steamer, then open the steamer and remove from steamer. Enjoy!
How can anyone resist freshly steamed Chinese steamed buns, let alone one shaped in rose, and come in light purple and bordering pinkish hue? After saving so many of these recipes for a long long while in my Pinterest board, I finally took the plunge and make these babies. Verdict: taste really good, soft fluffy texture, and most importantly, cannot suppress the smile as I bite into the soft fluffy purple/pink rose buns.
Steps to create rose shaped mantou (steamed buns)
It takes slightly more steps than you regular steamed buns because:
You need to steam purple sweet potato and mash,
You need to prepare the steamed buns dough, and finally
You need to shape them into roses, which took me 3-4 times longer than regular round steamed buns.
So time yourself accordingly. Having said that, it is not actually that hard to make these, so let me guide you along the way.
Prepare the purple sweet potato dough
First, steam some purple sweet potato. While your sweet potato is being steamed, you can prepare other ingredients.
My next step is to mix warm water with yeast and sugar and let it sit until frothy and foamy.
Then, I weigh all my dry ingredients (cake flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt) and place them in a mixing bowl. And don’t forget to weigh your unsalted butter too (you can use shortening too).
Once everything is ready, take out sweet potato from steamer and mash with a fork.
Make a well in the dry ingredients, add mashed sweet potato, and yeast solution. Knead into a smooth dough. Add unsalted butter to the dough, and knead until dough is not oily. At the end, it should be smooth, soft, and elastic.
Place in an oiled bowl, cover with wet kitchen towel/saran plastic, and proof until doubled, about 1 hour.
How to create rose shape mantou (steamed buns)
Once it has finished proofing, punch the dough to release air bubbles, and knead for 2 minutes. Make 15 gram dough balls. You will need 6×15 gram dough balls to make 2 roses.
For a detailed instructions on how to shape the rose, please refer to my step-by-step photo.
My dough yields 36×15 gram dough balls, which give me a total of 12 roses!
Place each rose in a cup cake liner. Once you are done shaping the roses, let the dough proof again for 45 minutes.
How to steam mantou (steamed buns)
My steamer is only one tier, and I can only steam 6 roses at a time. I chose to steam the first six that I shaped first since they have become bigger compared to the later 6. That way, in the end, all of my roses ended with roughly the same size. If you have a multi-tier steamer, you can wait until all buns have fully expanded before steaming everything in one go.
The buns actually expand slightly after steaming, so don’t crowd them too much. Also, I think the color becomes slightly lighter compared to pre-steamed color. If pre-steamed is more purple, I think after steaming, it is more pink, but look pretty regardless 😉 Taste wise, it doesn’t differ too much from your regular mantou (Chinese steamed buns), but the shape and the color definitely make these special.
How to store leftover steamed buns
As with other steamed buns, you can freeze any leftovers once they are steamed. To reheat, simply steam again from frozen state. Alternatively, you can place frozen buns in a plate, cover with a wet paper towel, and microwave until soft and fluffy again. Your choice.
There are desserts that I make because there is always room for dessert. 🙂 But there are some I make because it reminds me of my childhood, like this steamed ginger egg custard. These are super easy to make, and they are supposed to be good for you too! So totally no guilty feeling even if you prepare them often. 🙂
Ginger, Egg, Milk, and Sugar
Yup, those are the only 4 ingredients you need to make this dessert. And the hardest thing you need to do is to grate the fresh ginger and squeeze out the juice, which shouldn’t take any longer than 5 minutes. If you want it to be even easier, just use a food processor/blender, and you will probably only need 1 minute!
You can use any sort of bowls/ramekins to steam the custard, just make sure they are made of material that is steam proof. Aside from standard ramekins, you can use ceramic/stoneware bowls. I have also tried using Pyrex custard bowls, and tiny bowls from Corelle. Since you serve these steamed ginger egg custard straight out from the bowl, it is nice to use pretty looking ones.
Lemper ayam is an Indonesian snack consists of steamed glutinous rice filled with spiced chicken floss, and typically wrapped in banana leaves. I think of lemper as Indonesian version of onigiri, except of course we don’t eat the banana leaves, just the rice and the filling. And if I have to choose between the two, I will always choose lemper.
What is lemper ayam?
Lemper ayam is basically a steamed glutinous rice/sticky rice snack with chicken floss (or other savory) filling, and typically wrapped in banana leaves. As such, there are two components in any lemper making endeavor:
sticky rice/glutinous rice (Indonesian: beras ketan) The sticky rice component stays the same regardless of which filling you make, so once you master this recipe, you can go wild and experiment with other filling.
meat filling The most common filling for lemper is undoubtedly spiced chicken floss, and since Indonesian for chicken is ayam, we call this particular combo lemper ayam.
This lemper ayam recipe does call for a long list of ingredients, but it is actually very easy to cook the two parts that make up of a typical lemper:
Steam the sticky/glutinous rice with salt, coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves, daun salam, and pandan leaves.
Poach, shred, and fry the chicken (or other meat of your choice) with all the listed spices.
Once you are done preparing the sticky rice and the meat filling, the next step is assembling the lemper.
How to assemble lemper, the traditional way
The traditional way to assemble a lemper is by taking a handful of steamed sticky rice/glutinous rice, place some meat filling at the center, enclose the meat witht the rice, then wrap the whole thing in banana leaves. And repeat until all the steamed rice and/or meat filling is used up.
Sounds complicated and tedious? Well, let me tell you how I do it at home because it is so dead simple compared to the traditional way.
A much easier way to assemble lemper
Instead of all the complicated steps that I just mentioned, here is how I assemble my lemper, which I guarantee is exceedingly easy.
Next, spread half of the steamed sticky rice on the pan and press into an even layer.
Then, spread all the spiced chicken floss on top and press again into an even layer.
And finally, spread and press the remaining half of the sticky rice on top of the chicken layer.
Serving the lemper
When you want to serve the lemper, grab the saran plastic overhang to remove the rice/meat assembly from the pan. With an oiled knife (or better yet, a plastic knife), cut into serving sizes.
If you want big portions, then 2×4 (8 pieces) is the way to go. I usually cut it into 3×5 (15 pieces) since I think this size is closest to what I find in Indonesia. Or, if you prefer squares, you can do 3×3 (9 pieces) or 4×4 (16 pieces).
Whichever way you choose to cut, I think a pot of hot tea will go down nicely with lemper for tea time.
Growing up in Asia, steamed buns, steamed cakes, and steamed dessert is the norm. Most households don’t own any oven, instead we have big multi-tiered steamers and prepare a lot of steamed food.
For Japanese food lovers and matcha lovers, you are going to love this Japanese matcha steamed buns. These are super easy and fast to prepare, and then into the steamer for about 12 minutes. They are light and fluffy, and I love these not too sweet steamed buns with my afternoon tea/coffee. ♥
Matcha (Japanese green tea powder)
From the title alone, you know you will need to procure some matcha (Japanese green tea powder). Since this is for baking, I usually use culinary grade matcha.
If you need a recommendation, you can use what I usually use, which is Maeda-En culinary grade matcha. Another good option is Ito En matcha for those with Costco membership since you can get this huge packet for about $20+.
But, as good as the Costco deal sounds, only do this if you plan to cook/bake/drink matcha often, since the life span of matcha is actually pretty short since the powder tends to loose its fragrance and bright green color overtime due to oxidation once you open the packet.
For those who needs gluten-free dessert, this matcha steamed buns might become your new favorite, since we are going to use rice flour instead of all-purpose flour.
I always use Erawan brand rice flour when making these steamed buns. In fact, for all of my recipes that call for rice flour, this is the only brand I use when I am in the States.
If you want to use other brands, especially those not originated from Asia, do so at your own risk since I have no experience with those.
Silicon baking cups
I steam these matcha steamed buns in silicon baking cups. This recipe doesn’t yield a whole lot of steamed buns, only 5, which is about the perfect amount of steamed buns when I am having tea for two with my hubby. 🙂
You need a steamer to make steamed buns, and here are my tips for successfull steaming:
Be sure the bottom pot has at least one inch of water since we don’t want the water the dry out mid steaming.
Be sure the water is already boiling and there is plenty of steam before we start steaming the buns.
Be sure to set the stove hot enough that steam should always be visible while steaming. I usually set mine to medium high.
For those not using bamboo steamers, be sure to wrap the steamer lid with a kitchen towel to reduce the chance of water condensation drops on the steamed buns when you open the steamer lid. Any water from the lid that drops on the steamed buns will create wrinkly buns, and those spots will turn darker and chewier, so we really want to avoid that.
When I am short on time but still want to cook something quick and healthy, I often rely on steamed dishes. Today, I am going to share this steamed chicken with red dates recipe, a super easy dish, super fast to prepare, and pretty healthy to boot.
If you want to be extra healthy, opt for free range chicken, or ayam kampung in Indonesian, which literally means village chicken. Ayam kampung tends to be smaller in size and the meat is much leaner compared to normal (farmed) chicken. But normal chicken will work just fine.
Why chicken thigh is better for steaming
Steamed dishes tend to be free of oil, and this steamed chicken with red dates is no exception, that is why I prefer to use chicken thigh to make the dish juicier.
If all you have is chicken breast, you can go for it too, maybe add 1/2 tablespoon vegetable/canola oil in the mix to make up for the lack of oil.
Alternatively, is you are using one free range chicken (ayam kampung), get your butcher to chop it into 18-20 pieces and you can use the whole chicken in this recipe. The free range chicken option is the one my Mom prepares for us all the time.
Chinese red dates/jujube
The only required Chinese herb for this dish is some Chinese red dates/jujube. Most Chinese groceries and even Korean groceries should have red dates/jujube available, some times in a dizzying array of options, from seedless, with seeds, and so many different brands.
And if you are feeing a bit more adventurous, you can also add even more Chinese herbs to the mix. Some of my favorites include:
Shaoxing wine and it’s alternative
To find a good Shaoxing wine, I highly recommend you skip the cooking aisle and head to the wine/sake/alcoholic beverages section of your Asian grocery.
A good size store, such as 99 Ranch Market or the like, should have at the very least one good Shaoxing wine available. And by good, I mean, it’s meant to be for drinking, and as such should have 0% salt!
If you think about it, it makes perfect sense right? Since when we cook dishes with red wine or white wine, the one we prepare with drinking red/white wine will always be superior to the one with cooking red/cooking white wine. 🙂
It must have been more than a decade since I last sink my teeth into a piece of 白糖糕 bai tang gao – steamed rice cake. Since both sets of my grandparents are Cantonese, I grew up eating tons of this soft and chewy cake.
It looks so simple, but believe me, getting that just right texture can be super tricky. Case in point, no one in my family ever attempts this cake and just buy some from the neighborhood shop when the craving hits.
Of course, living halfway across the globe means I have no access to the said trusty shop. But at last, I have managed to recreate this favorite childhood cake of mine 🙂
What you need to prepare bai tang gao (Chinese steamed rice cake)
Turns out, you only need three ingredients to make a bai tang gao:
rice flour (Note: I always use the one from Erawan brand, if you use another brand, proceed at your own risk)
instant yeast, you can use active yeast too but instant is easier
How to prepare the batter for bai tang gao (Chinese steamed rice cake)
I have a detailed step-by-step photo that I hope is sufficient to show the visuals of what you can expect the bai tang gao batter should look like.
First, mix 250 gram of rice flour with 150 ml room temperature water into clumps.
Boil 150 gram sugar with 370 ml water in a small saucepot. Once all the sugar dissolves, pour this to the clumpy rice flour mix from step 1. Whisk into a smooth batter.
Wait for the batter to cool until only warm to touch. If you want to be precise like me, you can use a thermometer and it should read 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit). Also, you want to preheat the oven to 75 Celsius (170 Fahrenheit) at this point.
Add the instant yeast to the batter and whisk to mix. Cover the mixing bowl with a saran wrap, then rest in the preheated oven. Immediately turn off the oven heat, and rest the batter for 40 minutes.
At the end of the resting time, you should see that the batter has many air bubbles, which indicates that the yeast is doing its job and we should be getting the desired cake texture. If you don’t see the air bubbles, your yeast is either dead or expired, and unfortunately, there is no point to continue cooking the cake since it will 100% fail.
Can I use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast?
If all you have in your pantry is active dry yeast, you can use that too. But we will need to modify some of our steps above.
Step 1: no change.
Step 2: instead of boiling 150 gram sugar with 370 ml water, use only 150 gram water with 350 ml water.
Step 3: no change.
Step 4: mix 20 ml warm water (38 Celsius/100 Fahrenheit) with the active dry yeast and wait until foamy (usually about 5-10 minutes). Then add to the warm batter (not hot! preferably the batter is also 38 Celsius/100 Fahrenheit), and mix. The rest of the step is the same.
Same as the case with using instant yeast, your batter should have many air bubbles at the end of the resting period. From my own experience, when I use active dry yeast if at step 4 I don’t see any foam after 5-10 minutes from the time I mix the yeast with warm water, it is 100% guaranteed that my yeast has already expired and is completely useless.
Prepping the cake pan
Once your batter has finish resting and has produced many tiny air bubbles, let’s prep our cake pan. I use an 8″x2″ round cake pan.
For a successful bai tang gao, you need to pour the batter into a hot pan, so be sure to preheat the pan. It doesn’t need to be scalding hot, but definitely hot enough so it won’t be comfortable to grab it with bare hands.
Brush the hot pan with oil, give the cake batter a final stir so everything is well mixed, then pour the cake batter, and steam.
Steamer pot and tips for a successful steamed rice cake
I hope you do realize before this step that you need a steamer to complete this recipe. After all, we are making a steamed cake, and it even says so in the title.
You can use any kind of steamer as long as it can fit an 8”x2” round cake pan. I prefer a stainless steel steamer for hygiene reasons. But you can use a bamboo steamer too, and you are more likely to get a better result with a bamboo steamer.
Create a makeshift steamer
There is no need to rush out and buy a steamer if you currently don’t have one at home. Instead, you can use this guide from Food52 to create a makeshift steamer.
Fill a large pot with about half an inch of boiling water. Use aluminum foil to make three balls of roughly equal size. Once we are ready to steam, rest the cake pan on top of the foil balls. Cover the pot and steam the cake. Of course, you need to make sure the pot is large enough to accommodate the aluminum foil balls and the cake pan.
Make sure to prevent water droplets fall onto the cake surface
Please make sure that there are no water droplets drop onto the surface of the cake. The steam that rises during the steaming process can condense and turn into water droplets that may fall onto the cake surface. If this happens, your cake may turn sticky and pudding-like instead of light and fluffy.
If you steam with a bamboo steamer and a bamboo cover, you shouldn’t encounter this problem. If your cover is made from metal or glass, please wrap with a piece of kitchen cloth so the cloth will trap the steam and prevent any water droplets from falling onto the cake surface.
And that’s all the tips that I have to prepare a successful bai tang gao (Chinese steamed cake). Enjoy!