Soto Ayam / Yellow Spicy Chicken Noodle Soup

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Soto ayam, a classic Indonesian dish that is spicy, sour, flavourful and infused in aromas. I have only tasted it when our Indonesian friend Nora made it for us a few weeks ago. I have been craving for soto ayam ever since and I tried to make it a couple of times. It was so good, not as good as the one Nora made though because she uses her own chili sauce and I think it makes a clear difference, of course. But now I have a basic recipe to share with you. If you ever enjoy noodle soup as much as I do, I assure you will love this one. It is very luring. It is a bit complicated to make since it requires a lot of spices and some works to do like boiling the noodle and egg, but trust me it is so worth the effort.

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( Make 2 servings)

Ingredients:

2 Chicken thighs (about 1 kilo with bones), cleaned

200 g Rice noodles, cook according to package or until soften

2 Shallots, sliced

4 Garlic cloves, diced

2 pcs Sliced ginger

2-4 Kaffir lime leaves

1 Lemongrass stalk, halved and then cut into long sticks

1 tbsp Coriander powder

1 tbsp Cumin powder

1/2 tbsp Turmeric powder

1 l Water

2 tsp Salt

White pepper to taste

To Garnish:

50 g Bean sprouts, washed

1 Hard-boiled egg, halved

Coriander leaves

Fried shallot

Lime wedges

Chili sauce (I used Siracha)

Sweet soy sauce

Methods:

1) Put all the ingredients except the rice noodles and garnishment into a deep pot, bring to boil and covered, simmer for about 30 minutes. (I used pressure cooker so it took about 15 minutes).

2) Add salt and pepper to taste, place cooked rice noodle into bowls. Drain the soup with sieve. Pour soup over the noodle, then top up with chicken from the soup, half an egg, lime wedge, coriander leaves, fried shallot, and some bean sprouts. To serve, add in some small amount of sweet soy sauce and chili sauce according to own preference ( I put about 1 tablespoon each). It was such a satisfying dish.

IMG_2202PS: When the rice noodle is cooked, do rinse it with very cold water to prevent it from sticking together.

I will try to figure out a vegetarian version of this soon. 😉

 

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Childhood memories of Lantern Festival / Piglet Biscuits (猪笼饼)

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Have you heard of lantern festival? A day when you might see Chinese children carry colourful lanterns, light up candles while the adults gather together and share a pot of tea with mooncakes? Well, I haven’t seen anything like that since I moved to Finland. Back then when I was little, lantern festival was one of the best days in my childhood.

I have the clearest memory when my sister and I were about 7-9 years old. Our primary school held DIY lanterns competition every year. A few days before that, we would run to a soft drinks shop next door and buy its ‘seasonal products’ like lanterns-making materials, and make our own lanterns with those shiny, colourful papers with glue and wires. We were pretty smart back then. I don’t remember much but I’ve always made a chicken lantern. I guess I only knew the shape of a chicken well since we always had chickens in our farm house. Not only lanterns, my sister and I also experienced making our own kites that flew high in the sky! It was so exciting!

About 300 meters away from my grandmother’s house (where I grew up) there is a Chinese temple called 三神庙 (Three gods temple). Each year there would be all kinds of celebration happening and so as lantern festival. Nearly all of the kids in the village, maybe even outside the village would come here together with their lanterns. If I remember right, there was like 100 kids or more. All of us held our lanterns with a bamboo stick, gathered as a giant circle along the basketball field located at the Chinese temple. Everybody waited for the classic song to play, which is 传灯, the direct translation is ‘to pass on the light’, meaning to pass down our culture to the next generation. When the song is played, we walked slowly in a clockwise circle, carefully held our bamboo stick so that the lantern wouldn’t fall, all the way until the song ended. (We supposed to sing a long too but I’ve never learned the lyrics at such age) And the most important part was when the ceremony ended, all of us would be getting a piglet biscuit as reward, and to me it was the best part of all!

Later on, the adults would be setting up the praying ceremony at home. There was a table in the front yard, where there would be mooncakes, fruits, tea and sometimes roasted chicken or pork. And the adults would light up some incense sticks, which is believed that the smoke raised up in the air carried the prayers to the gods. On the other hand, the children would be lighting up more lanterns all over the yard. We also loved to light up all the leftover candles that we had everywhere around the house. The night of lantern festival was one of those very few nights we’re allowed to stay up late.

It was so amazing. Too bad I don’t think our children would ever experience anything like that in the future, by the time when we have one.

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Golden syrup, recipe as below.

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(Make 19 piglet biscuits)

Recipe referred to Hong Kitchen

(You would need a mold for this dish)

Ingredients:

500g Flour

380g Golden syrup*

120ml Peanut oil

1 tbsp Alkaline water

1 Egg york

Methods:

1) Mix all the ingredients together (except the egg york) until it forms a smooth dough. Cover with cling wrap and let it rest in room temperature for at least 2 hours.

2) Divide the dough into 19 small parts, about 35g each.

3) Dust some flour on the mold (to prevent sticking), press the dough in and flatten the surface. Turn it around and then gently beat it out from the back side of the mold. Repeat until all the dough is used.

4) Place all the piglet biscuits on a baking sheet, bake in 160 celsius oven for 15 minutes. Take it out and brush the biscuits with beaten egg york. Bake for another 10 minutes in the oven.

5) When it is done, take it out from the oven, let it cool completely. Store them in container. Let it rest for at least 3 days before serving.

PS: I know. This is weird but it really works like this. You need to let the biscuit to ‘mature’ for at least 3 days until it is eatable, otherwise they are hard as rocks. I wanted to cheat but it was really not eatable on the first or second day, you can feel it with your fingers. But after 3 days, the biscuits have softened and developed this beautiful, syrupy aromas that make them so irresistible! It really tastes like the one I got back home.

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This is the same golden syrup to make traditional Cantonese mooncakes.

*Recipe for Golden Syrup 转化糖浆

(Make just enough for this piglet biscuits recipe)

Ingredients:

400g Sugar

200ml Water

50ml Fresh lemon juice

Methods:

1) In a saucepan, add sugar and water, stir and bring to boil. Add lemon juice and bring to boil again. Turn the heat to the lowest.

2) Let the syrup to cook at low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour (without stirring it). When the syrup becomes dark brown in colour and its density is similar to honey, remove from heat. Let it cool completely then store in a clean, air tight jar.

PS: It is suggested to let the golden syrup to ‘mature’ for a certain time before using it, e.g. the longer the better it brings out the aroma, like wine. This golden syrup could keep well in room temperature for up to a year. 

My beautiful, lovely Grandmother/ 外婆的咸肉粽/ Glutinous Rice Dumpling Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves

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I only started to appreciate traditions and festival foods after I came to live in Finland, a place that has winter more than 6 months, celebrates to the midnight sun during the summer that lasts no longer than 2 months. It is clearly different than where I came from, Malaysia. As Malaysian Chinese, we carried out many practices originated from China. Some food and cultures have been also created only in Malaysia partly influenced by the Malay, Indian and European cultures. To name, black pepper crabs, pork ribs in herb tea, fish head curry are becoming some of those signature dishes of Malaysia.

This dish I’m introducing today is one of those festival dishes originated from China. Making glutinous rice dumpling or ‘Zongzi’ in Chinese, during the Dragon Boat Festival remains one of those practices carried on from generation to generation. There is a nice story about the history of making glutinous rice dumpling. You may go ahead and google, all I will tell you is that this dish was supposed to be for fishes not human. 😀 Well, now it does not sound as tempting anymore, does it? No worries, this is not the same anymore compared to how it started. It is safe to be consumed by human and super delicious!

My grandmother, who I love to death used to make Zongzi every year. She would make countless bundles of these and hang them everywhere under the ceiling to cool. We always have too many Zongzi and enough to hand out some to the neighbours and relatives, it made me so proud. My grandmother used to have all the energy for it. But she stopped doing all these fun stuffs after she got that terrible stroke that made her body half paralysed. Before that she used to be out going, travelling to China, playing Ma Jong everywhere, running after me with bamboo stick real fast. I have been really sad to see that terrible change in her life. For over 20 years, she has been hiding from the society in her empty house, avoid meeting relatives and feeling ashamed of how she looks, not capable to walk properly. When me and my Finnish husband got married, I was excited to bring him back to the village I grew up in Johor Bahru and to meet my grandmother. I remembered while this white guy walked into her home, my grandmother immediately said that, ‘Oh no… there is nothing to see here, I’ve got nothing to show in my house, I’m a shamed!’

Should have correct her immediately that she is the only one and the most beautiful thing to be seen in that empty house.

I tried to call her every week and if not, I feel guilty and regret that I didn’t. Too bad there is a thing called time zone differences in the world. It makes it rather difficult to reach her before her bedtime. I’m sure my grandma would be very proud of me for making these rice dumpling all by myself. Oh well, my sister helped a little. 😉 I can’t see but next time when I tell her this, I’m sure she will be smiling like this.

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I did not realise that Popo, my grandmother looks much older than the picture in my head. 😦 Last phone call she said that she has a reason to feel happy again because she heard my voice. (Cried…)

Here is to my Popo, my beloved grandmother.

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(Make 50-60 bite sized Zongzi)

WARNING! THIS IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND TIME CONSUMING DISH!

Ingredients A:

1 kilo Glutinous rice

400g Peeled split mung bean

200g Dried chestnut

200g/ 1/2 pack Dried bamboo leaves

15-20 pieces Dried shiitake mushroom

4 Tbsp Oyster/Mushroom sauce

4 Tbsp Seseme oil

4 Tbsp Soy sauce

2 Tbsp Deep fried shallot (optional)

Several salted duck eggs (optional)

Plastic stings or hemp, cut into 50cm long and tight into bundles (I used wool thread :-P)

 

Ingredients B for Carnivores:

500g Pork belly, cut into biteable cubes

100g Dried Shrimp (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Oyster sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1 Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Ingredients C for Vegetarians:

300g Seitan, cut into biteable cubes

150g Peanut, soaked in water (Can be replaced by canned peanut)

50g Chinese preserved kale/ vegetable (optional)

2 cloves Garlic, minced

2 Tbsp Mushroom sauce

1 Tbsp Soy sauce

1Tbsp Dark soy sauce

1 Tsp 5 spice powder

 

Methods:

1) (Ingredients A) Soak glutinous rice, peeled split mung bean, dried chestnut, dried bamboo leaves and dried shiitake mushroom in water separately overnight. Washed and drained. Mix glutinous rice and mung bean together with 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp soy sauce and deep-fried shallot in a bowl. Set aside.

2) Heat up oil in wok pan, stir fry mushroom and chestnut separately with the rest of the sauces, place also separately.

(The reason to place ingredients separately is to make sure that you get a piece of everything wrapped into every rice dumplings one by one.)

For Carnivores (Ingredients B):

2) Fry pork in oil with garlic, add oyster sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder until cooked. Meanwhile, toast dried shrimp in hot pan with a little bit of oil until fragrant. Set aside.

For Vegetarians (Ingredients C):

2) Fry seitan in oil with garlic, add in mushroom sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder and mix well. Meanwhile toast peanut with a little bit oil and salt. Set aside.

3) To make a rice dumpling, placed 2 bamboo leaves together horizontally and put both ends together to make a pocket. Put in 1 tbsp of rice-mung bean filling, add one piece of everything on top: mushroom, chestnut, pork/seitan, peanut, some Chinese preserved kale (optional) and salted duck egg (optional). Top up more rice-mung bean filling to cover up. Fold the leaves to closure, wrap the dumpling tightly with strings.

4) Cook rice dumplings in a deep cooking pot with enough water that covers them. Add 1 Tbsp of salt. Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium low, cook the dumplings for 4 hours. Enjoy as breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.

I froze most of the dumplings in freezer and whenever I feel like it, I take it out and steam it for 10-15 minutes. I have let my Finnish, Chinese and Russian friends tried too, some said that one is definitely not enough! 😀

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It is important to tight the rice dumpling well and firm in order to prevent leaking during cooking process. FYI, 2 of mine leaked.

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 Here is my vegetarian version of Zongzi.

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With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes to cook the glutinous rice dumpling (Zongzi) ready.

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There are many ways to wrap a rice dumpling. Be creative and make your own style! No stress.

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If you may wonder, the main flavour of this dish comes from the fragrance of the bamboo leaves: woody, tea like aromas, hard to describe, very unique indeed!

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 Now you may understand why I think my Popo would be proud of me for making this dish. 😉

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Nasi Lemak with Vegetarian Acar /Memoir of the 90 years old granny

IMG_2730It was year 1993, in an old village where I used to live in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. A 90 years old Malay granny walked by my grandparents’ house.

‘Naaa…si Lemaaak…’, ‘Naaa…si Lemaaak…’ she dragged the vowels and sang so vulnerably.

Her voice was so hoarse and weak, sharp but harsh. I could hear her from far away especially in the early morning, right after our neighbor’s rooster woke everyone up. Just before I walked to my primary school at 6:45am, that was when she came to sell her Nasi Lemak.

As a kid I was already wondering why she needed to sell Nasi Lemak at her age. Instead of walking too slow, it seemed like she was basically trying to move forward like a turtle (my description as a kid), carrying a basket full of Nasi Lemaks wrapped in newspaper. Her back was bend and there was never anyone coming with her. My sister and I had always felt so pity for her. We even had a serious discussion about this. As a 7 and a 9 years old, we made up all kinds of reasons to help us understand why this thing would happen to her.

‘Her children must have had abandoned her!’

‘She must have been really poor!’

‘Maybe she is all alone in the world and she needs to take care of herself.’

How horrible. We always felt sad whenever we heard her calling for Nasi Lemak buyers on the street. My sister and I would spend our 50 cents, which was half of our daily meal allowance to buy her Nasi Lemak in order to support this poor old granny. We never understood what on earth had happened to her. Back then my grandmother was about 50 years old and she had never worked. How could anyone let this 90 years old work at this age in this condition? The little me realized that life was so unfair. Imagine that she needed to wake up around 4 or 5 am in order to prepare for Nasi Lemak, a traditional Malaysian dish that requires a lot of work. It would not do her any good. Once my uncle bought off all her Nasi Lemaks when he came visiting Johor Bahru. The granny was so happy, that she even graciously gave some discounts for my uncle. 4 Malaysian Ringgits for 10 packages, which made only 40 cents per package. I didn’t think that it was a good deal because I thought that the granny would have needed that money more than we did.

Need not to think, I’m sure that she is no longer selling Nasi Lemak anymore… But I still remember how she made her Nasi Lemak different than others.

This recipe is dedicated to her.

You can make Nasi Lemak in many ways and it usually turns out as delicious as it supposed to be. Most Nasi Lemak served with coconut rice, sambal, cucumber slices, fried anchovies and hard-boiled egg. You may easily find fancier ones that come with beef or chicken Rendang as well. I remember that the 90 years old granny used to make hers with a thin layer of omelet that was quite sweet and savory, which I have not seen anyone does it like that elsewhere. Today I’m making the egg her way just for remembering her. Her Nasi Lemak was always simple and plain, just sambal, peanut, anchovies, omelet and cucumber, and the rice was packed with flavor and fragrance from the coconut milk and banana leaf. It was always worth the 50 cents we have got on our hands, those shillings that we might have stolen from our grandfather’s pocket.

Nasi lemak has a strong flavor, especially the sambal. Sambal is something that you hate or you love, because it has a strong pungent flavor that comes from shallots and fermented shrimp paste. Surprisingly my Finnish husband loves Nasi Lemak, despite the combination of pungent taste, saltiness and sweetness of it. He loves it so much that once he ate only Nasi Lemak as breakfast, lunch and dinner in Malaysia! It is so easily found anywhere. We liked to take-away our Nasi Lemak from 7-eleven and ate it on our way in the bus from Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur and the other way around. In Malaysia, the Malays make it, the Chineses make it and so as the Indians. But I have never seen a vegetarian version so far. Therefore I thought that it would be interesting to make it vegetarian this time especially for my vegetarian followers out there (hello and waves). And it turned out just GREAT. My husband loved it, as we all can predict already. 😉

Here are the main components for Nasi Lemak:

A: Coconut Rice

B: Sambal

C: Omelet /Boiled eggs

D. Salted peanuts

E. Cucumber slices

F. Fried Anchovies (omitted for vegetarian)

G: Vegetarian Acar /Pickled mix vegetables (Eva’s Special for vegetarian :D)

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(Make 4 servings)

A: Ingredients for Coconut Rice:

320g Jasmin rice

300ml Coconut Milk

180ml Water

1 tsp Salt

3 Pandanus leaves, knotted

Method:

1) Wash rice at least twice. Add in all the ingredients into a pot and bring to boil.

2) Turn the heat to medium high, cook for 5 minutes.

3) Stir to prevent sticking from the bottom, covered with lid. Turn off the heat and let it steam for 20 minutes.

4) Break the rice with chopsticks or fork, set aside.

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B: Ingredients for the Sambal:

4-6 Shallots (depends on size), chopped

4 Dried chilies, cut and soak in hot water for 10 minutes

2 Fresh chilies, chopped

3 Garlic cloves

1 stalk Lemongrass, chopped

1 Onion, sliced

1 tsp Tamarind paste and 2 tbsp hot water, squeezed out the juice and discard the residue

1 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Soy sauce (optional)

Methods:

1) Put shallots, dried chilies, fresh chilies, garlic, lemongrass into food possessor, blend into a paste.

2) Heat up 2 tbsp oil in a sauce pan. Fry paste and onion until fragrance. Add in tamarind juice. Stir.

3) Add in sugar, salt and soy sauce. Turn to low heat and cook for at least 40 minutes. Keep stirring to prevent burning. Set aside.

Note: Making sambal is very challenging. It is crucial to cook it with low heat for a long time in order to allow the shallots to transform its pungent taste into sweetness. Keep tasting, if it does not taste right, it is not done yet! 😉 For non-vegetarian, mix in fried anchovies at last and cook for another 5 minutes before serving for more authentic version. It is wise to make a bigger batch of sambal since it takes a lot of work. It goes extremely well with fried noodles, fried rice and even with the curry for Roti canai (Malaysian-Indian bread). It stays well in a sterilized container for up to a week in the refrigerator.

C: Ingredients for the 90 years old granny’s omelet:

4 Eggs

1 tsp Sugar

2 tsp Soy sauce

Dash of white pepper

Methods:

1) Beat up eggs, whip in sugar, soy sauce and white pepper.

2) Heat up pan and add 1 tbsp oil. Pour in half of the batch, move the pan around to make thin layer of omelet. Flip if preferred.

3) Repeat for another batch. Cut ready omelet into serving size.

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G: Ingredients for Vegetarian Acar ( Pickled mix vegetables)

100g Cabbage, sliced

100g French Beans, cut into 4 cm length sticks

100g Roasted peanuts, grounded

2 tbsp Roasted sesame seed

1 Cucumber, cut into 4cm length sticks

2 Carrots, cut into 4 cm length sticks

1 pack /250g Tofu, cubed

150g Pineapple, cubed

1 Lemongrass, chopped

2 Red chilies, seeded and cut into 4 cm length sticks

3 Shallots, sliced

3 Garlic cloves, chopped

3 Dried chilies, cut and soak in hot water for 10 minutes

1 tsp Turmeric powder

1,5dl Vinegar

3dl Water

2 tbsp sugar

Methods:

1) Mix cabbage, french beans, cucumber and carrot together and mix with 2 tbsp of salt. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Squeeze out excess water and wash the salt away. Drain dry.

2) Blend shallots, garlic, lemongrass, dried chilies and chilies in food processor into a paste.

3) Heat up oil in a sauce pan and fry paste until fragrance. Add in vinegar, turmeric powder, water and sugar. Bring to boil.

4) Pour liquid over the mix vegetables, mix in tofu and pineapples. Covered and let it sit in refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

5) Mix in ground peanuts and sesame seed, stir well before serving.

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To serve an authentic Nasi Lemak , prepare a piece of banana leaf on top of a piece of newspaper. Place one portion of coconut rice in the middle, assemble all the other components around it and top up with Sambal on a small piece of banana leaf. Wrap and fold the edges to the bottom. Served. Eat with your clean right hand.

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For her.

Maybe she just loved to share her Nasi Lemak with others.

Chinese Vegetarian Steamed Bun/ 素食叉烧包

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In Malaysia there is a wide range of foods selection for all meal types, some are even available 24 hours. You name it and we got it, and that is one of the things I’m proud of my homeland. Today I’m gonna introduce something that I used to eat as breakfast or snack for anytime of the day. It’s Char Siew Bao, or Barbecue pork bun in direct Chinese translation. Our Chinese ancestors have brought it to Malaysia long time ago from China. But the Malaysian people like them with more dough, whereas in China it is crucial to keep the dough thin, which they also call it Jiao Zi/饺子.

Since I am recently into the ‘eating less meat’ mode, thanks to all the TED Food Matters documentaries about meat industry and health issues, I’m twisting the recipe to a vegetarian version to satisfy my needs and desire for eating these buns.;-) FYI, this is the third time I made it because the first 2 times were complete failures. Wrong yeast, wrong technique, tasted good though, but looked ugly. It takes a lot of practice to get it right especially in the wrapping part.

You can use any type of vegetables for the filling, or with meat if you like as Char Siew/Barbecue pork is the original recipe. Sweet version of the steamed buns are also very popular in Malaysia, normally found in red bean (豆沙包) or lotus-seed paste (莲蓉包), and those can be easily made or found in ethnic stores too.

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(Make 16 medium/ 3” wide buns)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups All purpose flour + 1/2 cup for knitting

1 cup Warm water

4 tbsp Sugar

1 tbsp Sesame oil

1 tsp Instant yeast

1 tsp Baking powder

1/2 tsp Salt

Methods:

1. Melt instant yeast into warm water until it bubbled up.

2. Put flour, sugar and salt into a deep bottom bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour, gradually stir in the yeast water to form a dough. Slightly knit and cover with wet towel. Let it raise for 2 hours. (You can put it into the oven with a bowl of hot water beneath it to raise the temperature)

3. When the dough has doubled its size (that’s when it should be really soft in texture), knit the dough on a floured table and add in baking powder and sesame oil. Cover and let it raise for another 30 minutes.

4. Roll dough into a long cylinder shape and cut into half. Each halves can be rolled again and cut into 8 equal pieces, that makes a total of 16 pieces. Make them into balls by hands, and then flattened with wooden roller into round-flat sheets. ( You can also cut the dough into a total of 8 to make 8 big buns).

5. Place about 1 tbsp of the mushroom fillings (see below) into the middle of the sheet and fold it to closure. (There is a video I found teaches you how, click here.) Place each buns on cupcake papers or shaped baking sheets.

6. Let buns rest for 10 minutes and place them to steam with cold water. When the water starts boiling, let it boil for 10 minutes and then remove from heat. REMEMBER: Let the buns to be in the steamer untouched for at least 2-3 minutes before opening the lid. It will prevent the skin of the buns from wrinkling. Served immediately.
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Mushroom fillings:

7-8 Mushrooms, diced

1 Carrot, diced

2 Spring onion stalks, diced

2 Garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp Hoisin sauce

2 tbsp Soy sauce

2 tbsp Sesame oil

1 tbsp of Minced ginger

1 tbsp Shao Xing wine/ cooking wine

1 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Five spice powder

1,5 tsp Corn starch/ potato flour

150 ml Water

Methods for Mushroom fillings:

1. Heat up oil in wok, fry garlic until slightly brown. Add in ginger and all the vegetables, cook until softened.

2. Season with Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, wine, sugar and five spice powder. Cook the vegetables through (10 min).

3. Mix corn starch with water and stir gradually into the wok to make gravy. Set aside and let it cool before wrapping.

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It helped me when I practiced the wrapping with a piece of kitchen paper! 😀  I didn’t waste any of my precious dough.

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My amateur bun making ❤

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