Today is the fourth Virtual Vegan Potluck or VVP (November 16, 2013) and this is my second time participating in the VVP in the Appetizer course. It is a one day event that brings participating food bloggers together to share a cruelty-free and animal-free virtual potluck from appetizers to desserts. The greatest gratitude goes to Annie of An Unrefined Vegan, my mentor for the Appetizer course, Rachael of Rubber Cowgirl and the fabulous host site, Vegan Bloggers Unite (VBU).
For the VVP’s Appetizer, I am sharing my Salt + Pepper Tofu Gua Bao. “Gua bao” (pronounced gwa-bow) is a Taiwanese steamed buns or in my best description, your Taiwanese-style “gorditas” or hamburger, often packed with slowly braised “meat” (won’t reveal it here), pickled cabbage, ground sweet peanuts, coriander, and occasionally hoisin sauce. The gua bao are a popular Taiwanese street food and are currently among the popular trends at food carts and restaurants in the U.S and around the world. The Salt + Pepper Tofu Gua Bao contains salt & pepper tofu with sesame seeds, ground sweet roasted peanuts, pickled cucumber salad, and loads of julienned scallions – it was a very tasty appetizer!
making the vegan gua bao
You can find some frozen gua bao at your local Asian supermarkets, however most of them contain dairy (i.e., whey or milk powder), lard or animal fat. I would recommend making the whole batch (about 40-45 pieces) and freezing the rest of them. The gua bao can be frozen for up to 6 months! You can layer the gua bao with anything from BBQ tofu to grilled seitan instead of just salt + pepper tofu (I love this with my gua bao, it’s mildly spicy and savory with the mildly sweet fluffy buns). I can list a few filling ideas: breaded Gardein chick’n, crispy panko-crusted silken tofu, savory soy curls, blackened tempeh, etc. Think of it as a sandwich or taco that goes with these Asian fluffy buns. Make sure you have something pickled (i.e., kimchi or pickled Chinese cabbages) and loads of sugary crushed roasted peanuts, since they both play a major role in the gua bao filling.
** I am re-working my own guan bao recipe, stay tuned! Please use store-bought gua-bao **
Salt + Pepper Tofu Gua Bao
Yield: Makes 10 gua baos or 2 servings
- 10 store-brought steamed buns
For the pickled cucumber salad:
- 3 Persian cucumbers or 1 ½ English cucumbers, thinly sliced in small rounds
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¾ teaspoon raw cane sugar (Turbinado)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- ½ tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon dried chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon cilantro leaves, rinsed, patted dry and coarsely chopped
For the ground sweet roasted peanuts:
- ½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 2 ½ tablespoons raw cane sugar (Turbinado)
For the salt + pepper tofu:
- 4 scallions, finely sliced lengthwise into thin matchsticks or julienned (*see Notes*)
- 1 ½ tablespoons 5-blend peppercorns*, freshly ground
- ½ tablespoon Szechwan peppercorns, freshly ground
- 4 tablespoons potato starch
- 2 teaspoons fleur de sel or sea salt
- 1 (16-ounce) firm tofu, pressed overnight (up to 8 hours)
- Rice bran for frying
- 2 teaspoons garlic, finely minced
- 1-inch fresh ginger, peeled, and finely sliced lengthwise into thin matchsticks or 4 teaspoons minced ginger
- 2-3 tablespoons cilantro leaves, rinsed, patted dry, and coarsely chopped for garnish
- Toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Make pickled cucumber salad: Place the cucumber slices in a bowl and toss with salt. Let it sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well. In a small bowl, combine sugar, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil and dried chili flakes. Add the mixture to the cucumber in a bowl. Add cilantro for garnish. Refrigerate in a glass container or jar with a lid for an hour. Serve chilled.
Make ground sweet roasted peanuts: Using a mortar and pestle, crush the peanuts until they appear coarsely chopped. Add the sugar. Mix together well. Store the mixture in an airtight container and set it aside.
Make salt + pepper tofu: Using a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, grind the Szechwan peppercorns and the 5-blend peppercorns separately. If you do not have 5-blend peppercorns, use black and/or white peppercorns.
For “tofu mixture,” in a small baking dish or tray, mix potato starch, salt, ½ tablespoon Szechwan peppercorns, and 1 ½ tablespoons 5-blend peppercorns. Make sure the bottom is covered with the “tofu mixture.” Slice the block of tofu width-wise into 10 rectangular blocks. Make sure the tofu blocks are slightly wet. Coat the tofu blocks on all sides with the tofu mixture and toss well.
In a large wok or shallow pot over high heat, heat the rice bran oil until hot. Start adding the coated tofu blocks. Turn down the heat to medium so you won’t burn them. Top with ginger, garlic and scallions. Stir-fry for 4 to 5 minutes until the tofu blocks are slightly browned or before the garlic burns. If your wok is too small to fit all 10 tofu blocks, halve the tofu blocks, ginger, garlic, and scallions and make two batches. Season the cooked tofu blocks with toasted sesame seeds (*see Notes* on how to toast sesame seeds).
Set up a bamboo steamer on the stove. Do not crowd the buns (gua bao). On the parchment squares, steam the buns for about 2 to 3 minutes if frozen, or 10 minutes if made from scratch, until soft and warm. Remove them immediately and set them on a wire rack.
Once the buns are ready and warm, add the salt and pepper tofu and top with pickled cucumber salad, ground sweet roasted peanuts, chopped cilantro leaves, and julienned scallions. Do this for every bun. Serve immediately.
Julienned Scallions: Rinse the scallions, cut off the root ends and slightly top of the dark parts. Cut off the root ends and the top of the dark parts. Cut each scallion into three equal sections. Halve each section lengthwise and cut each half into thin matchsticks. Set them aside in a bowl. Keep ¼ cup julienned scallions for garnish in the end.
Toasted Sesame Seeds: You can also toast sesame seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally until slightly darkened and fragrant for 3-5 minutes, and then allow the sesame seeds to cool. You can use black or white sesame seeds.
Filling variations: Layer the gua bao with anything from BBQ tofu to grilled seitan instead of just salt + pepper tofu. I can list a few filling ideas: breaded Gardein chick’n, crispy panko-crusted silken tofu, savory soy curls, blackened tempeh, etc. Think of it as a sandwich or taco that goes with these Asian fluffy buns. Make sure you have something pickled (i.e., kimchi or pickled Chinese cabbages) and loads of sugary crushed roasted peanuts, since they both play a major role in the gua bao filling.
Go back to Becky’s appetizer at Glue & Glitter.
Go forward to Claire’s appetizer at Eat Well. Party Hard.
To go to the beginning of the potluck, go to VeganBloggersUnite. Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the rest of the Virtual Vegan Potluck!
Have you tried or made steamed buns before? What’s your favorite filling?