I actually never had a real bao bun until last year. Me and Ellen decided to meet in a cafe for some coffee and some work (more like a lot of coffee and little work). We ended up staying there for lunch (the usual) and decided during lunch that we wanted to go to the spa in our fitness center. While relaxing in the spa we discussed that going out to eat for dinner was a really good idea to end our spontaneous girls day. We didn’t wanted to go downtown because we were already relaxing in our pajamas so decided to go to a pop-up restaurant that served bao’s and I was blown away. I wasn’t vegan at the time so decided to try one of all the bao’s they served. One of them was vegetarian and made with a delicious marinated aubergine and all I remember is that specific bao. I have been dreaming of these little buns ever since (it has been 2 years..), so when I was walking around in an Asian grocery store and my eye caught frozen bao bread buns in the freezer, I took it as a sign and brought home a bag. Or two.
These bao buns are inspired on the ones I had that day in the pop-up restaurant. They are heaven. They are the perfect little taste explosion in your mouth. I wouldn’t recommend to skip any ingredient. I know it is not super quick and you are going to spend some time in the kitchen but don’t let this discourage you since it is so worth it. The leftovers are super good on top of rice too.
Bao buns with aubergine, cashew and quick pickled cabbage
Bao buns (3-4 per person)*
3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 tbsp rice vinegar (or any other vinegar)
1 tbsp cashew nuts, toasted and chopped
100 g marinated tofu (we used a chilli marinated version)
few spoons of gingered cucumber salad (recipe below)
few spoons of 1 quick pickled cabbage (recipe below) or use kimchi
6 tbsp chilli mayo*
few sprigs of koriander/cilantro
Start by slicing the aubergine in 1cm chunks. Add them to a bowl and add the soy sauce and rice vinegar. Stir so everything is coated and set aside to marinate. We recommend to already do this a few hours before for best taste.
Bake the tofu in a pan until crisp. For the bao buns you will need a steam basket, I don’t own a traditional asian one but own a stainless steel basket that you can fit into any pan and it worked perfectly! The important thing is that the buns are not touching the water and just steaming in the hot air. This will take between 5-7 minutes.
To cook the aubergine, add them to a pan with all the liquid and some extra (1-2 tbsp) oil. Cook on medium heat until soft. Be careful not to burn the soy sauce.
To assemble, open up the bao bun. Spread on a little bit of chili mayo, followed by the cucumber salad, some chunks of aubergine, few pieces of tofu, cashew nuts and finish with a little bit of pickled cabbage. Heaven!
* You can make these yourself or be lazy like me and buy them in the frozen section of your Asian store. All you need to do then is steam them for a few minutes, perfect!
* We used a vegan sriracha mayonnaise. You can also use normal mayo and mix in some chilli sauce.
Gingered cucumber salad
2 cm fresh ginger
Slice the cucumber in really fine slices with a (cheese) grater. Transfer into a bowl and grate in the ginger. Juice the lemon into it as well and season with some salt. Mix and set aside.
Quick pickled cabbage
Depending on how much you want to make of this, you are going to need some red cabbage. We made a small jar and used about ⅛ of a red cabbage. Slice the preferred amount in thin slices and transfer into a glass jar. Add 1 tsp of (cane) sugar and a pinch of salt. Now add vinegar until almost everything is covered. Use a spoon to kind of smash everything down into the liquid. Close the jar and leave on the side. Mine seemed ready in about 15-20 minutes but the longer you wait the tastier it gets. You can keep this in the fridge for about a month.