Steamed Buns with tempeh ragu or braised frisée

One of the first things you notice when biting into a good steamed bun is the neutrality of the bready puff. But I t’s not lacking anything in its subtle sweetness and soft wheaty aroma. In fact it can be good empty. A well made bao is like the most elegant and fertile blank canvas you can imagine. Just about any juicy flavorful filling will make it a masterpiece. Here is a recipe for the bun and two different fillings.


4 tablespoons sugar
1 cup warm water
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

Mix the sugar, water and yeast. Into the bowl of a standmixer, sift the flour. Using the dough hook, mix on low until it becomes a single shaggy mass and drizzle in the oil. Mix for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft. lightly oil a large bowl and plop in the dough. warp in plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. Punch down the dough and knead in the baking powder until it’s well incorporated. cut the dough into approx. 50g pieces. roll the dough into a ball and then roll it out into a disc. spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling into the center of the dough discs. pull the edges of the dough up and around the filling. pleat and twist the dough to enclose the filling. place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap for about 30 minutes. follow the directions on your steamer to set it up. cut out parchment squares large enough to fit the buns. put each bun on a parchment square and into the steamer. steam the buns for 20 minutes.

Filling 1 (tempeh ragu)
1 block tempeh
2 large onions, small diced
1 large parsnip, small diced
5 slices dehydrated porcini, small diced
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 small bunch kale, chiffonade
2 cups fruity dry red wine
4 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds

For the tempeh ragu, grate the tempeh on the 2nd largest side of a box grater. Pour 1/3 cup of oil into a searing hot, preferably cast iron, pan. Drop the grated tempeh in and season it with salt. Cook, stirring every couple of minutes until the tempeh is browned all over. Pour the contents of the pan onto a paper-towel lined plate and reduce the heat in the pan. Refill the oil and drop in the vegetables. Season them with salt and cook on medium, stirring often, until they are thoroughly cooked but have not browned. Add the tomato paste and kale and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the red wine and reduce until the pan is dry. Add the seared tempeh back in along with the sachet and cook over low heat for 30 minutes or so, until the flavors are well developed and savory,

Filling 2 ( frisée)
3 heads frisée, root removed but greens attached
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon fermented black beans
Pinch of Aleppo chile flakes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons black vinegar

Heat a cast iron pan with a sheen of oil. Add the frisée and season with salt. cook down until its just wilted. Add the garlic, fermented black beans, chile and cook for another 2 minutes, until the raw garlic aroma is gone. Deglaze with the soy sauce and black vinegar. Cook 2 more minutes and put the contents of the pan into a colander. Let it drain and cool while you prepare the dough.

Rice Dumplings, Coconut Curry, Tempeh, Persimmons

Their texture is more like rice gnocchi than rice dumplings or rice cakes. And their flavor is concentrated like nothing else - if you use jasmine rice you really do taste jasmine. This recipe is from the Dumpling book, and even though I wasn’t a fan of the Indian stew they made these with, the dumpling recipe was spot on. I have some plans to make these italianish sometime soon, but for now, here’s a nice red curry, based on one I found in David Thompson’s uncompromising book: Thai Food.  In this picture, I used Chinese black rice, which has it’s own unique flavor. And although I used a perfectly ripe hachiya persimmon - a fuyu one or pineapple chunks or pomegranate seeds would also work.

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Red Wine-Braised Tempeh

This dish takes a pan, a pot, a cutting board, knife, and an hour, 35 minutes of which you can spend playing with your cat while everything‘s cooking. It’s my go-to dish that I don’t have to think about. You can substitute any kind of onions for the leeks, other herbs for the thyme and bay leaf, any pink or red wine, any mushrooms, even other root vegetables for the carrots if you‘re daring. Either way it’s called braising - to sear, then cook through in simmering liquid. Like sex, tempeh is only gross if you do it wrong and most people do it wrong. But if you insist, seitan works just fine. And if you think Italian food demands tomatoes - this is just one small but delicious part of what you’ve been missing. This kind of dish has innumerable ways to be refined and I would if I were to serve it at a restaurant - strain and reduce the sauce, add some roasted nuts and fresh herbs at the end, put a light and peppery salad on top, make the orechiette myself and maybe flavor it with cocoa or toasted flour, etc. but this here is a good, filling, comforting, and ridiculously delicious dish any time of year. And it lends itself to freezing so make a shit-ton.  


¾ cup dried porcinis
2 t coriander seeds
2 t  mustard seeds
3 small carrots, cut into ¼ in rounds
4 small leeks, cut into ¼ inch lengths
8oz tempeh – cut into 3/4 inch cubes
6 bay leaves
¼ bunch fresh thyme (10 sprigs-ish)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 cups of dry red wine

2 cups orechiette
Olive oil

Set your wine in a small pot and cook it over a medium flame until it’s reduced by half, about 15 minutes.  While that’s cooking, gather two containers that fit inside each other, like two of the same kind of bowl, or two deli cups. Put your mushrooms in one. Rehydrate your mushrooms by bringing 1 cup of water to a boil, adding ½ t of salt, and then pouring over your mushrooms. Cover with the second container so that the mushrooms are fully submerged. Let sit for 10 minutes while you cut up your tempeh and vegetables. Strain the mushrooms, reserving the liquid.
Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Cook for 30 seconds, rolling the seeds around, till the mustard seeds start to pop. Turn the heat up to high. Add the carrots, leeks, and mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook on high heat, stirring every 2 minutes or so until the vegetables get good and seared. Pile up your veg over in one small area of the pan. Now replenish your oil so it coats the bottom of the pan and then some, and add your tempeh cubes. Spread them out into one layer and season with salt and pepper. As they get brown on the bottom, begin turning them one by one with a spoon or your fingers. Brown them on at least two sides but for the best results, do all six sides. While the tempeh is browning, move your vegetables around a little so that nothing gets burnt, but just know that since they’re in a small pile they’re cooking slower than the tempeh. When you’re done that, add your thyme and bay leaf. Cook for 30 seconds. Add your vinegar, bring it to a boil and cook for a minute. Add your wine, if using. Add 1 cup water and the reserved liquid from the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. When the liquid is boiling, turn the heat down as low as possible. Put up a large pot of very salty water to boil. Leave your kitchen for 20 minutes.  
Return. Drop your orrechiette in the boiling salted water. Leave your kitchen for another 10 minutes. When you return, check the pasta and drain it when it’s done. If there is very little liquid left in the tempeh pan, add some water.  If there is still a lot of liquid left, raise your heat. You want about a quarter inch of liquid in the pan - thicker than water and full of flavor. When it is of desired consistency, season the liquid - your sauce - to taste with salt and pepper. If you’re freezing some or all of it, put that portion aside, let cool and freeze. If you’re serving it immediately, add your pasta to the skillet and combine. Scoop into pasta bowls and serve.