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Bento Food: Steamed Buns with Filling


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Steamed buns can be more than just bread. You can put fillings in them as well. Start out by following the directions for making steamed buns, but instead of rolling them up into balls of dough at the end, flatten them into rounds, put a tablespoon or two of filling on the round, pull the dough together over it, then pinch it closed and set it on the parchment paper with the seam side down. From there let the buns rise and then steam them as per the plain bun directions.

Meat: The traditional item I've heard of most often is steamed pork buns. I'm not much into cooking pork, so I often substitute beef. I had a bit of a time finding a decent recipe for the filling, though. Most of the ones I found would have required me to buy a shopping cart full of oils and spices and things I've never used before and would only need a tablespoon of now. Forget that! I searched out one that may not be all fancy, but it's still tasty. It's best to make this while the dough is rising for the first time. (Addendum: I've also made this using leftover turkey as the meat. It sounds weird, but it was plenty tasty. Just cook it for a shorter time because it's not starting out raw.)

What you'll need:

    2 tbsp vegetable oil
    2 tbsp soy sauce
    1 pound of beef, pork, or turkey, ground or finely chopped
    Chopped-up water chestnuts, if desired
    1/2 cup flour, dissolved in 3/4 cup cold water
    1 tsp sugar - or, if you prefer a more savory flavor, a finely chopped scallion or two
    A few drops of sesame oil

If you're using water chestnuts - which it a texture more than a flavor thing - or scallions, moosh them into the raw meat before cooking. Just mix them in with your bare hands until they're evenly distributed. Then heat the vegetable oil in a pan and stir-fry the meat. (The original recipe called for stir-frying roast pork for a minute. I use raw beef and stir-fried it until it changed color.) Drain some of the grease off, then add the sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir in the flour mixture, a little bit at a time, until the meat is covered and the sauce is thick. You may not need all the mixture. If the filling is too wet the buns will be gooey. Cool the mix to room temperature and use it to fill the buns.

Anko: Yes, another way to use red bean paste! Open the can and spoon some beans in, or mush them up with the back of a fork first if you want them pastelike and they are not. Buns made like this are like second cousins to an pan.

Nutella: Another good desserty filling. Nutella is like peanut butter, but made of chocolate and hazelnuts instead of peanuts.