This Vegan Gua Bao, 刈包 (guà bāo) is a cozy and satisfying snack or a meal by itself. Imagine holding a warm bun that’s stuffed with a delicious filling on a cold day. Ah… comfort food!
I first tried a vegetarian version of gua bao 刈包 (guà bāo), pork belly buns, at my Taiwanese friend’s potluck many years ago. It’s a common breakfast and street food snack in Taiwan.
Gua Bao has a signature look with an opening like a mouth—this is where you stuff your favorite filling. Traditionally, Gua Bao features braised meat, paired with sour mustard and crushed peanuts.
As I’m rounding up the recipes for Lunar New Year, I thought why not share this veganized homemade bao recipe. This recipe is perfect for any day and according to CNN Travel ‘eating Gua Bao signifies devouring bad luck…’.
Isn’t it perfect to take a bite for a satisfying meal and maybe for some good fortune too? Let’s get started.
How to cook Vegan Gua Bao
Although the steps may look long, don’t feel intimidated. You can make the filling first and refrigerate until ready to use. When ready, you can make the bao the next day.
Part 1: Gua Bao
For the dough, I’m using a recipe similar to my Sheng Jian Bao which only use a simple mixture of flour, yeast, and water. I changed the rolling method a bit and made use of my mixer for the kneading part.
Simply mix the yeast, water, sugar, and warm water until the yeast turns foamy.
Place flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then give it a quick stir to combine. Pour in the yeast mixture into the dry ingredients and turn on the mixer, stir to combine into a shaggy dough with a rubber spatula, then add in the oil.
Fit the mixer with a dough hook attachment, then start to knead the mixture. I used speed 2 to 4 and kneaded it into a soft and smooth dough, about 8 minutes.
Note: If you are kneading by hand, once you mix the dry and wet ingredients (including the oil) into a shaggy dough, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. Then, knead again into a smooth dough. This will reduce the kneading time.
Once the dough is ready, divide it into 6 portions and lightly knead and roll into a ball.
Cover and let them rest for about 5 minutes.
How to Roll into a Gua Bao shape
After 5 minutes, take out the dough and knead to make sure you have removed all the air bubbles (You probably will hear a lot of popping sounds in this step).
Then, lightly flour the surface, only with a touch of flour. Flatten the dough with your palm to get a roundish circular shape. Lightly flour your rolling pin, then starting from the middle of the dough, roll the pin away from you to flatten the dough.
Bring the rolling pin back to the middle of the dough and roll towards you. Repeat these 2 steps a few times and you’ll have a nice oval shape dough.
Brush the top with a thin layer of oil, gently fold the dough into half and place it on a square parchment paper. Transfer to the inner steamer rack (filled with water) and cover. Continue until you are done with the rest of the dough.
Let the dough proof in the steamer with no heat for 45 minutes or until they fluff up. After 45 minutes, you can gently poke the dough and if it bounces back, then, it’s ready.
If you are not using a bamboo steamer, wrap your lid with a towel. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then turn the heat to medium and steam the bao for 8 minutes.
After 8 minutes, turn off the heat, and let the baos stay inside for another 8 minutes before removing the lid.
Part 2: Make the Sour Mustard
You can start making the filling while you are proofing the dough to save time.
If you can’t get sour mustard (made from mustard greens), you can use any pickles that you like. Normally, sour mustard is stir-fried with a bit of sugar to turn it into a sweet-sour pickle.
I typically soak my sour mustard in water for at least 30 minutes before using. This removes the extra salt and make it easier to blend with other flavors.
Simply stir-fry the chopped sour mustard with a sugar of choice and adjust the taste accordingly. The extra sour mustard goes well with a bowl of plain porridge.
Part 3: Make the Braised Tofu
To prepare the tofu, cut the firm tofu into 6 slabs and pan-fry them in a non-stick pan with oil until golden brown.
Then, make the sauce and braise the tofu until the tofu absorbs most of the sauce. This filling is so flavorful and goes with rice as well. Check out my vegan ‘oyster’ sauce if you can’t find it at the store.
Part 4: How to serve
Now, it’s the fun part – Serving! Remove the bao from the steamer and since there is a layer of oil in between, you can easily open the bao with ease. Add a layer of sour mustard, crushed sweet peanuts, tofu, another layer of sour mustard, and finish off with chopped cilantro.
Vegan Gua Bao Cooking Tips
Why do I need to knead in the mixer for 8 minutes or more? This will create a smooth dough and using a mixer saved me some time kneading with my hand. With Bao dough, what you see is what you get. If your dough is not smooth, then your bao will turn out to be that way too.
It’s still okay if you can’t knead into a smooth dough in part 1. You’ll have another chance to knead the dough into a smooth top once you divide them into 6 portions.
Remove as many air bubbles when kneading into balls – Too many air bubbles will result in dent surface on your bao after steaming. Some small ones are normal though.
Dough proofing time – Depending on the weather, the proofing time may vary. I placed my bao on the inner steamer rack or bamboo steamer then place them in the steamer filled with water. This way, I don’t want to transfer the bao too many times. To check if the dough is ready to be steamed, gently poke the dough. If it bounces back, then it’s ready.
What can I use other than tofu? – Have you tried tempeh or jackfruit? These are great alternatives to tofu.
Where can I get sour mustard? They are usually available in packets or in a big bucket at major Asian grocery stores. You can definitely use some other pickles of choice as a substitute.
Why you Need this Vegan Gua Bao recipe
- It’s the perfect party food or finger food or meal by itself
- Delicious with amazing flavors combo
- It’s a great activity for family and friends
If you try this recipe, I would love to hear your feedback and see your beautiful re-creation. Leave me a comment, rate it, and tag @woon.heng and #woonheng to your photos on Instagram or Facebook. Happy cooking, friends!
Vegan Gua Bao – 刈包
Gua Bao Dough
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water
- 245 g all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 16 oz [397g] firm tofu sliced to 6 slabs
- 3 slices ginger
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 bunch of knotted green onion
- 1 dried chili
- 3 star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegan ‘oyster’ sauce
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon thick caramel sauce for color
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 2 cups of water
- ½ teaspoon water + ½ teaspoon cornstarch
- oil for cooking
- 8 oz sour mustard soaked in water for 1 hour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 slices ginger
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 dried chili softened
- a handful of cilantro
- crushed toasted peanuts with sugar
How to make the Gua Bao
- Mix the sugar and warm water in a cup, then add the yeast. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast turns foamy.
- Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and use a rubber spatula to stir to combine. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Stir in the oil.
- Now fit the mixer with a dough hook and knead the dough at a low speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. (If there are still dry spots of flour after 2 to 3 minutes of mixing, add some water, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and divide it into 6 pieces (about 65 grams each). Work with one dough at a time and cover the rest with a cloth to prevent them from drying out.
- Knead each piece by hand to remove air bubbles. Now roll it into a ball, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut out 6 (4×3-inch) parchment rectangles and set aside.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Uncover a dough ball and flatten it with your palm. Roll into an oval about 3-inches in diameter (about ¼-inch thick).
- Brush the top with oil, then fold in half to form a semi-circle. Place on a parchment rectangle and transfer this to a steamer filled with water.
- Repeat the above step with the remaining dough balls.
- Proof the baos for 45 minutes or until they have fluffed up. To check, gently poke the dough, if it bounces back, then it's ready.
How to make the Filling
- While the baos are proofing, work on the filling.
- Prepare the sour mustard: Wash and rinse the soaked sour mustard with clean water 2 to 3 times. Thinly slice.
- Heat a large pan and add the oil. Sauté the ginger, garlic, and chile until fragrant, then add the sour mustard.
- Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the sugar and continue to cook for another minute. Dish out and set aside.
- Prepare the braised tofu: Heat a large nonstick pan and add a drizzle of oil. Pan-fry the tofu until golden brown. Transfer to a plate.
- Using the same pan, add a little more oil and sauté the ginger until aromatic. Add the garlic, scallion, and chile, and keep cooking until fragrant.
- Pour in the water and add the star anise, cinnamon stick, and season with the sauces, sugar, sesame oil, white pepper, and salt (if needed).
- Add the tofu back to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Now drop the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce is reduced to one-third of its volume.
- Remove the ginger, garlic, scallion, chile, star anise, and cinnamon. Combine the cornstarch with ½ teaspoon water, then stir this slurry into the sauce to thicken the sauce. Turn off the heat.
- Cook the proofed bao: Turn on the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and steam the bao for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them stay in the steamer for another 8 minutes before removing them.
How to Serve
- Remove the bao from the steamer, then stuff with braised tofu, sour mustard, crushed peanuts, and cilantro.
- For a homemade vegan ‘oyster’ sauce, please click here.
- It’s crucial to knead out all the air bubbles and have a smooth dough. If the dough is not smooth, you’ll likely get a wrinkled top as well, but small dents are normal.
- Check the above section if you prefer to knead by hand.
- If you are not using a bamboo steamer, be sure to wrap the lid with a towel before steaming the baos.