Friday, January 20, 2012

Baby Take A Bao... Dim Sum With An Indian Twist

   Now that the holidays are over, it's game time. Bowl season. The meeting of padded out rivals with black streaks under their eyes who's main motive is to seize victory by tearing each other apart with no mercy or as it's known around our house, the Golden Globes and The Academy Awards.

  Yes, I do live just north of San Francisco, and as a 5th generation San Franciscan I am rooting for the Niners to make it to (and win) the Superbowl. But let's get our priorities straight people about what really really really matters. Is Charleize Theron going to get a nomination this year? And what about Ryan Gosling? What about Ryan Gosling indeed!! Oh the humanity! This is the time of year when I bust out my plastic tiara, start whipping up the finger food and inviting the crew over to watch awards shows.

   Now when it's Awards time, I do not want to be stuck in the kitchen and risk missing some enormous gaffe like someone coming back from the Ladies with toilet paper on their shoe (Golden Globes) or someone with two left feet trying to dance (Academy Awards.) Therefore I want my food ready, everything set out so people can help themselves and a minimum of fuss. My answer to the food question for last weekends Golden Globes was bao.

   I ate my first bao at the age of 13. I had gone down to Chinatown as part of a luncheon group from school, a reward to those who made the National Honor Society. We went to the Hang Ah Tea Room and it was my first brush with dim sum and my first bao. I loved it. I loved it so much I even ate the little paper doily attached to the bottom. I thought it was part of the pastry. Hey, I was in the National Honor Society. Nobody said I actually had brains.

   Back in the day, dim sum wasn't exactly something many people I knew were doing but it quickly became a habit with me. Every Saturday morning I'd get on the L Car and head downtown. I'd walk through the old Stockton Street Tunnel

...and have dim sum at the Hang Ah all by my lonesome.

   I think it cost me all of 2 dollars for a feast, the centerpiece of which was bao. Over the years I've eaten bao, but I've always eaten it out at large dim sum places in LA's Monterey Park. Restaurants the length of football fields with rolling cars and waiters with walkie talkies (I'm not kidding) a far cry from the dinky old beloved  Hang Ah. I was missing the bao love. Then I decided, why go out for bao? Why not try to make some bao right in my very own kitchen? And while I'm at it I thought, why not try a different filling than the standard pork I was used to. Why not try bao with perhaps an Indian filling? I  could do that? Who was going to stop me?

   Actually using an Indian-style filling for the bao was not such an outrageous idea. In the south of India, a popular snack is Ela Ada which is a sort of steamed rice flour pancake stuffed with a sweet filling. Not exactly bao but in the ballpark. I knew that there were rice pancakes also stuffed with a savory filling such as shrimp. I was in business. This was something I had to try. Bao with a South Indian filling. But it wasn't the filling I was worried about. It was making the lovely, doughy jacket for the dumplings. As it turns out it was easier than I thought.

   On my last trip to the Thai Lao market over in Santa Rosa, I came upon a bag of ready-made bao dough, one of those 'just add water' deals. When I got it home, I started thinking. What was I doing? I generally don't use anything processed. Surely there has to be an easier way. Easier than just ripping open a bag? Yes. A few years back, the LA Times did a feature on making bao at home. I saved the  dough recipe. It was simple. Flour, a dash of oil and sugar, fast acting yeast and water. I set aside the pre-made mix and I made the dough in my food processor. It was ready to rise in about 5 minutes. No lie. That fast. Check out the dough recipe link. It will turn you into a bao making fool. A couple of minutes out of the food processor this was what I had.

Let the dough rise for about 45 minutes in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with saran wrap and keep it in a warm place until it turns into a big, fluffy, ready-for-bao rolling pillow. While the dough was rising I prepared my filling, a spicy South Indian Shrimp curry.

Indian Dim Sum

Here's What You Need: 

1 pound of medium size  raw uncooked shrimp
1 seeded finely chopped green serrano chili
3 medium onions chopped
1 medium tomato chopped (or 1/2 can tomatoes chopped)
1 tsp of Kashmiri chili (or 1/2 tsp paprika mixed with 1/2 tsp of cayenne chili)
1 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp of turmeric
3 springs of curry leaves
salt to taste
4 Tbs of coconut or vegetable oil
1/2 cup grated dry unsweetened coconut
4 chopped shallots
1/2 tsp of fennel seed
2 serrano chilies chopped

Here's What To Do:
Rinse the shrimps and sprinkle them with
1/2 tsp of the kashmiri chili
1/4 tsp of turmeric
1/2 tsp of salt
Set them aside for 15 minutes

Chop the onions , curry leaves (if you have them.)
Heat 2 Tbs of oil and saute them starting with the onions first, then the chili, then the curry leaves
When the onions have cooked and are soft add in the chopped tomato and the spices.
Put a lid on things and let them cook at a low temperature for about 5 minutes.
What you want is for the tomatoes to soften.
Add a bit of salt
Add a bit of oil if you need it.
Keep sauteeing until the whole mixture is cooked together
Set the mixture aside.

In another pan heat the shrimp.

Let them cook in their own juice. Add the rest of the oil and fry them for a minute or two.
Chop the shrimp roughly.

Add the shrimp to the pan with the tomato mixture and heat everything together and set it aside.

Heat a cast iron pan and when it's hot, dry roast the grated coconut, the shallots, the fennel seeds and the chopped green chilies.

Stir it all around and toast the mixture until the coconut browns lightly and the spices are fragrant.

Put this dry mixture into a food processor or grinder and grind it up. Do NOT add water.
Add the dried coconut mix to the shrimp and tomato mixture and stir everything together.
Your filling is ready.

How To Make The Bao:

Prepare a large steamer over a pan of water. I use a bamboo steamer. I have a huge, 2 tier one that I bought at a Thai market for about 10 bucks. They can also be purchased online. 
Cut out a bunch of little squares of parchment paper. The bao will sit on these in the steamer as they cook.
Put the risen dough down on a lightly floured surface. Pat it down until it's a thick round disc. Cut it in half. Keep the part you're not immediately working with covered so that it doesn't dry out.
Take the half you are working with and roll it into a log about 1 foot long. Cut it into about 8 even pieces.

I used an Indian dowel-shaped rolling pin and rolled out each of the little chunks of bao dough. The idea is to keep the dough thick in the center (the bottom of the bao) but thinner at the sides.

When the dough round is rolled out place it cupped in your lightly floured palm.
Place a few teaspoons of the cooled filling in the  center of the dough and then fold the sides in around it.

Make sure the little dough packet is sealed tightly. Place it on one of the squares of parchment paper and let it rise again for another 15 to 30 minutes. I let my bao rise in the covered steamer. That way when I'm ready to cook I don't have to move them again. I just take the steamer and place it on top of the pan of steaming water.

When the bao have risen, steam them gently for about 15 minutes or so until they are puffed and the filling is cooked.
Take them out of the steamer and cool them for 5 minutes of a wire rack.

Eat and enjoy. Repeat  the process for more bao.

I served them with a  Gujarati salad of cabbage , carrots and peanuts I also offered Crispy Bitter Melon Chips which btw are fabulous with beer. So, will I be making bao again? You betcha!

   They were delicious, and this time I didn't eat the little paper doily. Since I discovered it's so easy to make the dough, I'm going to be perfecting my bao-making skills and trying out a variety of fillings. I also just found out the  The Hang Ah Tea Room has opened a North Bay branch in Santa Rosa. I'm definitely going to try it out, but it's nice to know that dim sum can also be available in one's very own kitchen without the 50 mile round trip.

   Coming up next more tricks with those stars of the Winter Vegetable World, Turnips! Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


  1. Ok, so making steamed dumplings like these aren't as complicated as I thought!
    Being vegetarian I think I will replace shrimp with potatoes or something else (what do you suggest?) & try these [after I purchase a steamer too!]

  2. Those are just gorgeous--I've always imagined they would be too hard to make, but you make them so accessible!

  3. @Nish,
    yes they're very easy and fun to make. I'd suggest a spicy cabbage filling for them, or chopped spicy mushrooms or maybe even eggplant. Potatoes might be a bit heavy with the dough.

  4. @Cucina49,
    I was so surprised to see that they were quick to make at home. If you have hungry people I do suggest doubling the amount of dough. These fly off the tray super fast!

  5. I am so in love with this. Two awesome worlds in one hand.

  6. i love the idea of a spicy coconutty indian filling in the bao. and the side salad too. i miss dim sums from china town in chicago..
    i usually add some sweet and sour veggies or orange zesty veggies to mine.

  7. I love the Hang Ah Tea Room! Last time I went it was closed :( After a three hour drive of anticipation that was a bummer. Now I can re-create the steamed buns on my own. Thank You!

  8. Always nice to meet a fellow dim sum addict. :) I can totally relate to your bao obsession... they're little bite-sized pockets of deliciousness.
    These dumplings look amazing. Love the fusion of Indian and Chinese... it's like getting the best of both worlds! Next time I'm craving dim sum, I might just have to give these a try, instead of shlepping halfway across town to my favourite dim sum spot.

  9. Mmmmmmmmmm...
    Dim sum, that was my the favorite treat of my mom & I. We used to drive to a dim sum place in Marin every Sunday morning. Well, the closest thing we have to dim sum here in Nepal are 'momos'. Yummy little bao-like dumplings with an 'achaar' pickled vegetable dipping sauce. Most often momos are filled with veggies, chicken or pork- but a local lady makes a lamb & mint filled momos with a cucumber/yogurt raita dip -Divine!

  10. Aaarhg! Such a nice recipe and I can't find the dough link! I must be blind.

  11. @spacedlaw,
    I just made all links red so that should make things easier to find!

  12. Thanks Kathy! for supplying the dough link so quickly yesterday. They turned out really good.

  13. @Bawa,
    so glad! from now on all links will be in red

  14. What a great idea! I love this kind of of mix and matching of culinary ideas—when they make sense because they draw on the common lines that cut across cultural lines. And, of course, it has to taste good!

    These look awesome.



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