dim sum buns with spring vegetables

5 months later – here we are again.  I’m typing this from the air, en route from San Francisco to Austin, which I’m told is the Bay Area of Texas, albeit without the earth quake risk.  It’s a work trip, but there are plans to wait in what could be the world’s longest line for barbeque here – I’m a skeptic, and hoping to be converted.

Well, 5 months.  They have flown by in a blur, punctuated by the following: a K-9 emigration, a move, a proposal, a planned wedding, and 2 tickets booked for Italy in the fall.  Save for missing a four legged companion who could not get along with Jen’s four legged companions, I have precisely no complaints.

There has certainly been plenty of kitchen time these months – more quiet nights at home since the move, and less eating out, a shift that’s brought some relief to my bank account and my hips.  I thought I might do a quick survey of the favorites lately to make up for lost time:

1 – Tacos.  We’re taco mad lately.  There’s been fish – panko dusted and topped with siracha mayo, lime, and cabbage cilantro slaw.  And thanks to my dad – venison, spice rubbed, grilled, and topped with avocado, salsa and sour cream.  Heaven.

2 – Drunken noodles for the home cook.  I’m sure you’ve ordered these up from your favorite Thai take out place, but did you know they’re a breeze to make at home?  I’ve been making this recipe, but simpler – 1 or 2 vegetables and substituting udon for the rice noodles only because they’re the ones my local shop stocks.  Double the sauce and don’t skip the basil.

3 – This Vietnamese style simple roasted salmon with the world’s most addictive sauce.  Sweet, spicy, and insanely delicious over sticky rice.  Throw in a cucumber salad or some quick sautéed vegetables on the side and you’re in business.

4 – We’ve re-visited this tart twice in recent weeks with spring strawberries.  Once as it stands, and once, a lazy version, with the mascarpone filling spooned into a bowl and topped with crushed biscoffs and whole strawberries for dipping.  High effect, almost no effort – perfect for the next time you need a lazy crowd pleaser.

5 – Steam buns.  I can’t pretend to be an expert on this front, but I think I’ve finally found a bun recipe that works consistently.  Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my folding skills, but no matter – the buns are delicious even if they look at bit wonky.  (See that gorgeous bun in the picture, um yeah, Jen and her Asian genes folded that one.)

The dough here is a slight adaptation of Boston Chef Ming Tsai’s recipe, with pastry flour substituted for the all-purpose.  John introduced me to steam buns years ago, and I’ve been wrestling with the bun part ever since – it seems the homemade version never has quite the pillow-y soft texture of the bought buns, but the pastry flour helps.  This recipe also uses only yeast as a leavener, though I’ve tried recipes that use baking powder and/or soda and never had the same luck with texture.

The recipe here is pretty simple even for the novice baker – just keep in mind you will need a bamboo steamer and a little patience for your bun forming!

homemade dim sum buns with spring vegetables 

For the Dough

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil + more for oiling papers
  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour + more for rolling
  • up to 5 tbsp cold water

Combine the sugar, warm water, and yeast in a small bowl for 5 minutes – check to make sure the mixture is foamy – this is a sign that your yeast is alive.  Combine the yeast mixture, flour, and vegetable oil in a food processor.  With the machine running, add the water 1 tablespoon at a time until a ball forms (I used 2 tablespoons.)  Remove the dough from the food processor and kneed on a floured surface 5 to 10 minutes.  Cover with saran wrap and rest 10 minutes then divide the dough into two pieces and roll each into a cylinder about 2 inches wide.  Cut each cylinder into 6-8 equal pieces and place the pieces on a floured sheet pan.  Cover with saran wrap (don’t use a towel as this dough dries out easily.)  Set aside at room temperature while you make the filling.

For the Filling and Assembly

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup shredded green cabbage (napa, savoy, or regular)
  • ¼ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ¼ cup finely chopped radishes
  • 2 to 3 finely chopped scallions
  • ½ tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp rice wine
  • ½ tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Chinese chili bean sauce
  • 4 oz ground chicken, beef, or pork*

*I’ve tried versions of this bun with the meat cooked ahead and with the meat steamed directly in the bun – steaming in the bun definitely yields a moister end result.  If you’re nervous about steaming from raw, you can absolutely add the meat into the vegetables and cook it ahead of time, or use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of your buns before pulling them (165 for chicken; 155 for beef or pork)  – I’ve never had a problem with undercooked meat when steaming from raw.

To make the filling, heat the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat and add the garlic and ginger.  Stir-fry 1-2 minutes then add the cabbage and stir-fry until wilted another minute or so.  Add the remaining ingredients except the meat and stir fry another 1-2 minutes until the vegetables are cooked but still retain their crunch.

Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and add the meat, stirring well to combine.

To assemble the buns, begin by preparing enough parchment paper squares to accommodate your buns (12-16, depending on the number of buns you have.)  Cut the paper into 5 inch squares and brush one side of each square lightly with vegetable oil.  Arrange the squares on 2 sheet pans.

Roll each piece of dough into a circle about ½ inch thick.  Spoon about 2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of the dough circle and then bring the sides of the dough up around the filling, pinching and turning the dough to seal.  This is of course easier said than done – try this video for some help – skip to minute 2:30.

You may end up with a little extra filling – stir fry it and eat it over rice as a cook’s reward.

Once the buns are formed, cover with saran wrap and set aside at room temperature to proof for 45 minutes to an hour – the buns are ready when they are the texture of a marshmallow and about doubled in size.

To cook, set a steamer over a pan of simmering water.  Arrange the buns in the steamer on their parchment squares – leave about 2 inches of space between each bun.  Steam 10 to 12 minutes and then repeat with remaining buns.

To Serve

Your choice of dipping sauce:

  • 1 – ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 finely chopped green chili
  • 2 – ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp ketchup, 1 tbsp siracha

Combine all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and mix well.  Serve buns hot with sauce on the side.

Leftover buns can be refrigerated and are surprisingly delicious warmed in the microwave – this makes a pretty killer office lunch, and I guarantee your colleagues will be jealous.  Happy bun making!


  1. That’s one d@-€ fine looking bun 😉

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