Hi lovelies! It’s been way too long–I literally haven’t blogged since last year! I owe you a lot of recipes. But I will make it up to you guys, starting with these adorable little bao bites…yes, I knooow, they look incredible and more importantly, they taste just as delicious as they look–you’re welcome. 😉
If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you already know, I’ve been entirely too busy with grad school to have much time for blogging! My life has been: design, thesis, eat, and (limited) sleep. If you’re wondering, is this girl exaggerating, how time-consuming could grad school actually be?! Well, picture this: one memorable night while working on my final studio project, I gave myself a 30 minute window to work out (omg it was bliss!), and for dinner, I literally grabbed walnuts, carrots, and a green smoothie. I felt so vegan, haha. One time, I brought a taco for lunch and actually lost it. LOL. My studio life was literally a series of hilarious moments. Thankfully, my dear sister cooked a lot during the semester, and I benefitted from that. 😉
That’s the life of a landscape architecture grad student for you. Luckily, I had some great friends to share the experience with, and we celebrated the end of our semester by making these fusion bao bites together! Bao is a steamed bun, filled with meat or veggies. There are many variations of it in Chinese and Vietnamese cooking. These are inspired by gua bao (Taiwanese steamed split buns) and char siu bao (Chinese steamed BBQ pork buns). Instead of meat, we opted for young jackfruit for the filling. I love bánh bao (Vietnamese steamed buns), or baozi (Chinese), and open-faced bao is even more fun (and less work than baozi). We brought these to an international student potluck, and everyone loved them.
This recipe is dedicated to two of my closest friends in studio, Camille and Behnoud. I love them so much! This semester, I made great progress in claiming my personal boundaries and self care. I’m thankful that my friend Camille (also a fellow veghead!) was a huge advocate of these things, and despite the never-ending demands of studio, we always encouraged each other to make our mental and emotional health a priority. For me personally, that meant saying “no” to most social invites, refusing romantic entanglements, finding quiet spots on campus to eat my lunch, making time to meditate, and making myself go to the gym to do cardio, to clear my mind. All of this helped me rejuvenate my personal energy, which is so essential for creative work.
Camille’s friendship has meant a lot to me, as we are both empaths and we often find ourselves forgetting to put ourselves first. We validated each other’s emotions, walked together across campus for vegan food (!), encouraged each others’ strengths and skills, and fully supported each others’ personal “me time.” Camille and I are always making each other laugh with our delirious musings in studio. Never underestimate the power of supportive female friendships!
Whenever I had free time, I tried to focus on how to use that time to recharge, instead of depleting myself just to please others. Naturally, my time on social media was greatly reduced, and this was actually refreshing–but I have truly missed sharing fresh vegan content, in hopes to inspire people.
Speaking of inspiring people, my friend Behnoud has literally become my favorite person to work with ever. I can’t say enough about how much I have enjoyed working with him as a team leader. He doesn’t believe me, but I’m telling you, he’s the best. He’s super positive and encouraging, but also he’s seriously savage AF, I love it! Due to our graphic standard goals and his honest feedback and advice, I learned a lot and improved my rendering skills (digital illustration) beyond my preconceived notions of my own capabilities.
I’m not always confident in my skills, so when I would show Behnoud something I wanted to do visually, with uncertainty in my voice, “Can we do this?”, he would respond with “Yessss! We’re gonna do it.” We were both insanely dedicated and we always pushed ourselves to do our very best. Yet, Behnoud also made sure we took care of ourselves, urging our team to take coffee and tea breaks, LOL, because that also affects our work. I remember one time, he asked me if I had dinner, and I said “no, I’m just eating walnuts!” and he was like “Nooo, you need to eat a meal…this is going to affect our renderings!” Hahaha.
What I loved most about working with Behnoud was that we visualized our goals, stayed determined and focused on those goals, believed in each other, thought positively, and thus, we ultimately blew our final project out of the water. Every time something stressful happened, he would re-assure me “It’s going to be alright. We’re fiiine!” It was so calming, although sometimes the situation felt like this. LOL. Even though we skipped Thanksgiving to work on our project, we had a blast throughout the entire design process, and the results were absolutely worth it. We’re actually still working on our project, to improve it for a competition, but eventually I would love to share it with you on the blog!
Now that I’ve rambled enough about my dear friends who helped me make this dish, it’s time for me to tell you about the actual dish! Camille is half Peruvian and half Austrian, Behnoud is from Iran, and I’m Vietnamese, so of course, these bao bites have a fusion of flavors. For the jackfruit marinade, we went for a sweet, savory, and spicy Asian BBQ marinade. The marinade was defined by the aroma of Chinese five spice (or ngũ vị hương in Vietnamese), and it was further enhanced by Behnoud’s precious Persian thyme he got from his mom! The kitchen smelled wonderful from our combined efforts.
Initially, I wasn’t too sure about combining the Chinese five spice and the Persian thyme, but the results tasted gorgeous. I think this dish exemplifies the value in embracing other cultures, and it captures the beauty of international friendships. Instead of building walls, let’s make fusion bao, shall we? 🙂
I’ve tested this recipe three times now. In the recipe below, I made my own BBQ sauce using dates, because most BBQ sauces have soo much refined sugar, and I try to avoid that as much as possible. But if you’re in a pinch, you can do what we did for the first iteration of this recipe–use Korean BBQ sauce, and add some liquid smoke, Chinese five spice, and Persian thyme (or store-bought thyme, if you don’t have special Persian thyme from your friend’s mom, LOL). 😉
I wanted to make the bao bites more colorful, and I felt we needed to add another dimension of flavor, so I suggested adding quick-pickled radishes, cilantro, and green onions as a garnish. The combination was perfect–do not skip the green garnishes, as they provide a refreshing contrast to the savory jackfruit filling.
Fusion Jackfruit Bao Bites
- 1 cup medjool dates, soaked
- 2.5 teaspoons liquid smoke
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 teaspoons garlic powder
- 5 oz fire roasted tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
- a pinch of black pepper
- 3/4 cup hot water
- 3 tablespoons low sodium tamari (to taste)
- 3/4 teaspoon dried Persian thyme
- 1 can of young green jackfruit, in water (15 oz)
- 10 oz mushrooms, sliced (or another 15 oz of jackfruit)
- 12-15 open bao buns (most Asian grocery stores will have this–and they’re usually vegan. I use the Lotus brand; it comes in neon green packaging. If you have time, you can also DIY)
- a handful of radishes, thinly sliced
- juice of a medium lime
- coconut sugar/maple syrup
- chopped cilantro
- sliced green onions
- Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender, like a Blendtec or Vitamix, for best results. A food processor also works, but the sauce will be much smoother with a powerful blender.
- Rinse and drain the jackfruit.
- Shred the jackfruit—with your hands or a fork. During this step, you will see that the tips of the jackfruit pieces are not really shreddable—I cut off the tips, set those aside, and slice them thinly.
- Mix the marinade with the shredded jackfruit. Set aside to marinate for at least thirty minutes.
- While the jackfruit is marinating, make some quick pickled radishes! I usually just go by taste, starting with some vinegar or fresh lime juice, a sweetener like coconut sugar, a splash of water, and some salt and pepper. I mix those things together in a glass jar and adjusting according to my taste, and then I add the radish slices. If you need one, here’s an exact recipe for quick pickled radishes.
- Saute the jackfruit in a cast iron or ceramic pan for 5-7 minutes on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and continue to saute until they are cooked through. I sometimes add some vegetable broth or oil to help it not stick.
- Taste and adjust seasonings—I usually end up padding another splash of tamari, and some cayenne pepper if it’s not spicy enough.
- Assemble the buns (ideally, do this right before serving). Heat up the bao buns in a steamer or in the microwave—if doing the latter, make sure to put a damp paper towel over them so they will stay moist. Spoon some jackfruit filling into the buns (I use about 1.5 tablespoons of filling per bun, give or take), insert pickled radishes, and sprinkle each bun with sliced green onions and chopped cilantro.
- Enjoy while warm!
I hope you enjoyed reading this recipe post, and please let me know what you think if you try the recipe!
I hope 2016 was kind to you, and I hope 2017 holds wonderful things in store for you! What would you like to see on the blog this year? Keep your eyes out for more recipes, including some Vietnamese Tết recipes to celebrate the Chinese New Year–it’s coming early this year!
PS: The color of the jackfruit in the buns is different from the marinating jackfruit because I took these photos in stages–the last time I made these buns, I forgot to add the fire roasted tomatoes to the marinade! Still delicious, but I recommend leaving that in.