Bao buns

Bao buns are so posh, a couple of years ago they were the sandwiches of multiple Michelin starred chefs, last year they began to appear in trendy cafes. Soft and pillowy, these Asian buns are not only great cooked filled with spicy pork and veges or shrimps and chives at your local takeaway, but as the fancy chefs discovered a new take on the classic ‘sandwich’.

Bao are easy to make, the whole process takes 2-2.5 hrs. I used bamboo steamers bought cheaply from the local Asian shop, but any steamer can be used, the advantage of these is that they stack and if I buy more I can cook more bao at a time šŸ˜‰


  • 525g plain flour (nb not hi-grade, many recipes substitute in some cornflour but I have not tried this)
  • 1Ā½ Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 200ml water (not cold not hot, just barely warm) 1You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guessĀ you may even find you need to add flour!

And (half way through):

  • 1 tsp baking powder


Mix the dry ingredients, except NOT the baking powder, add the wet ones, and mix. When the dough forms knead long and well (I cheated and did both mixing and kneading in our breadmaker on dough setting). As always add more flour if the dough is ‘too hard’ and add more water if it is ‘too soft’ – once the dough is in the goldilocks zone stop meddling (the reason meddling is ever necessary is because different flours and they say even the weather can throw the proportions out a little bit.

Set the dough to rise in a warm place until well doubled (1-2 hours). Tip the dough out and flatten it, sprinkle over the baking powder, knead for 3-5 mins. Roll into a ‘sausage’ and cut into 16-18 similarly sized pieces. Roll each into a ball, flatten into a circle on a floury board and with a rolling pin (or large bottle) roll outĀ  to a thin oval (rather longer than you’d think – the aim is to have enough when it is folded to make a decent bun). Brush the top with oil, fold in half and place on small squares (cut a bit larger than you expect the finished bao to be) of greased baking paper.

Place these carefully in the steamer leaving room for them to more than double again. Leave to rise, again doubling, about 1.5 hours.

Put the steamers on top of a saucepan of well boiling water, steam for 8-9 minutes. They should split easily, though a knife may sometimes help. Fill with something tasty, oily and salty. (I love bacon, lettuce and tomato with plenty of mayonnaise.)

Notes   [ + ]

1. You may need to adjust this, depending on your flour, I did, adding a couple of Tbs more water during the mix. But I guessĀ you may even find you need to add flour!

Kale Salad with Sumac Onions and Chickpeas


Kale (pick almost enough to make a vege for two when cooked this is perhaps double what you’d expect to need for a salad)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp ground sumac
i tsp toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons mustard
125g chickpeas cooked


Soak and cook the chickpeas.
Remove the thick central veins from the kale and rip oor cut into small pieces. Pour oil and 1 tsp salt over kale and stir and rub it to coat thoroughly. Leave for an hour, this with the massage, will help break down the toughness.

Mince the garlic clove (a microplane is ideal) mix with mustard and citrus juice. This will be the dressing for the kale.

Wash the onion for a minute or two in fresh water (this will remove much of the sharpness (or heat?), drain, sprinkle with sumac and sesame seeds, mix.
Finally assemble toss the oily kale with dressing and chickpeas. Top with onions.

Ciabatta Bread is simple quick and tasty

Ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads. Baking bread is so simple, just mix flour, water, and yeast. But so much can go wrong, and there are so many variations on the theme…

So, because ciabatta is one of the simplest and most nearly fool-proof breads it is a great place to start.


1000g Strong Flour (if in NZ Gilmours sell Beta brand which is perfect)
850g water
25g dried yeast
20g salt


Mix dry ingredients except salt. Make a well, pour in the water, and begin mixing. Before the dough has really come together sprinkle on the salt and mix for 3 minutes. The dough should be soft and almost runny compared to most bread doughs. (As this is a wet dough, so it will develop impressive gluten just with this mixing and standing.)

Allow to rest for 30 mins. Oil an roasting tray well (too much is better than too little), and tip the dough into the middle. Put in a warm place (e.g. airing cupboard) for 20 mins.

With oiled or floured hands (I use flour if the dough risks being too soft) fold one edge into the middle, and repeat for the opposite edge. Turn 90Ā° and repeat. Leave to rise in the warm place. (Repeat twice more, i.e. folding and rising three times).

Tip out onto floured surface and cut into three oblongs. push each one down and spread, repeat the foilding and place on the baking tray. Leave to rise 30 mins or until doubled. Dust with flour.

Bake in a 210Ā°C oven for 20 mins (turning half way through) put a pan of boiling water on the base of the oven to develop a nice crust.

NB I make bogus baguettes using this recipe (with a little higher flour/water ratio) and just cutting in half (instead of three) and folding the final time only the long sides.

Recipe for socca – or farinata

Socca is the French word for it, it is a specialty around Nice, across the border in Italy too, but there it is called farinata. As a tasty snack or starter it’s simple, quick, and nutritious. It’s also completely gluten free. Simple and made from simple things it is an ideal quick meal after Christmas when one needs no more rich food, but wants something tasty and special.Ā 

Socca is a breadless ‘flatbread’ of chickpea flour (gram flour from an Indian shop works nicely) and water with a little oil cooked in a cast iron pan. (You could use another ovenproof pan, but cast iron is great because of its heat retention.) Socca has many variants, two I love add: rosemary and onions (chopped fine and mixed into the batter prior to cooking), or some chopped fennel seeds.

Mix equal parts (one cup of each will feed two for a light lunch) chickpea flour (gram flour) and water for a not too thin or too stiff batter, add two tablespoons of oil, a little salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. (At least as much pepper as salt, but probably more. Be brave and you will find even pepper-shy people like it! Be brave, socca is a simple dish for culinary extremists as I’ll explain again below.)Ā 

When the batter is mixed, let it rest. Half an hour is great, but at least while you warm the oven and pan. Heat the oven to at least 230ā°C on grill setting and put the pan on the hob to get it smoking. This is another place to be extremist, get the pan and the grill as hot as you can, the extra crispness of the crust will repay your extremism!

Place two tablespoons of oil in the pan and tip to coat.Ā  Pour in the batter and place in the oven (probably 4-5 mins depending on the thickness of the bread and just how hot your pan and grill will go).

You could eat it with olives and small tomatoes for a healthy snack or starter. Ideal when chatting with friends.

Actually socca, like soccer, is not immune to national rivalry. The Italians call it ‘farinata’. But the name doesn’t change the taste. So, I’m content to credit both the nice people from Nice and the generous people from Genoa!

Recipe for socca

One frying pan size, serves two as a light lunch or four as a snack.

  • 1 cup chickpea/gram flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • diced onions or rosemary if you want more flavours

Mix and leave to stand. Pour into a frying pan as hot as you can, with a little oil round the base. Place under the grill, again as hot as you can. Ready when the top is nicely browning.

Vietnamese Aubergine


This recipe is deceptively simple and yet delicious (common characteristics of Vietnamese cuisine). Eat on its own with rice for makes a light Vegan meal, or as tasty vegetable dish for larger meals.


2 tsp oil (peanut is authentic)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
2 tomatoes
1 tsp lemongrass
1 1/2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar (palm sugar is authentic)
2 small or 1 large aubergine cut into 1cm chunks (the thin Asian ones are authentic, so 2)
1 spring onion (chopped)
1 red chilli (cut finely, scrape off the to make the dish less hot)
pinch turmeric
pinch pepper


Fry the garlic, add tomato and lemongrass, add 2 Tbsp water, stirring. After a couple of minutes add half fish sauce, sugar and aubergine. Add 1 cup water and rest of fish sauce and sugar, add turmeric, pepper and the stalk of the lemongrass (if you are using the real thing). Simmer for about 7 more minutes till the aubergine is cooked, garnish with chilli, spring onions and basil (or other herbs like corriander)

Healthiest Chocolate Treat Ever: Current Research

Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix
Avocado Chocolate Muffin mix

For my current research project I am experimenting with substitutions with the aim of producing the healthiest chocolate treat ever.

I am using my standard chocolate muffin recipe as the starting and reference point.

My first step is was radical, IĀ substituted avocado for the fat, milk and egg. Aiming at Vegan as well as healthy. So far results are encouragingĀ the muffins are soft, almost creamy andĀ chocolaty.Ā (Just needing a little salt – hopefully not enough t be unhealthy – to counteractĀ the vegetarian bitterness of the avocado.)

Replacing half the chocolate chips with cocoa nibs also worked well.

Now, what I need next is a sugar substitute. Would honey work do you think? And does Manuka honey retain its health benefits when heated?

Rice and curry

Rice and curry, Sri Lanka’s maximum taste, minimum animal products staple.(Wikipedia apparently photographed by “Me”)

While I’ve been here in Sri Lanka by a crude meal count I have not managed to be a ā€œRepentant Carnivoreā€. In fact even including breakfasts I have only eaten one Vegan meal ā€“ breakfast on Sunday I made for myself, Marmite in hot water and some bananas šŸ˜‰

Every other meal included meat, fish or eggs. Even today, a Buddhist holiday when Sri Lankans eat no meat, meals included fish or eggs.

And yet… Rice and curry (perhaps the Sri Lankan staple) is mainly rice, with some veges and a curry sauce with a small piece of fish or chicken or an egg. Biriyani similarly managed loads of flavour from rice with spices veges and fruit with a small piece of meat. Modern Western meals are stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs, fish… and see the carbs and veges as secondary, Fish and Chips rather than Rice and Curry.

We need to rethink how we cook. Work out ways to do more with less (at least less of those high demand animal protein rich products). Our ancestors did it, a ā€œrealā€ Cornish Pasty had half the meat a modern one does, and was just as filling and probably better for us…

Vegetarianism is cruel to animals

A bobby calf. Since he was born male he will be taken away the day of his birth so humans can drink his milk (from Veganism is the Future)

We bought a great job lot of books (gardening and vegetarian cooking) on TradeMe. They will be really useful as we extend the vege patch and should provide a different range of recipes. However, even a first look at the recipe books reveals how much milk, cheese and eggs VegetariansĀ  habitually use. Unlike Vegans (who require no animals to be killed or mistreated) or even moderate Carnivores (who only require a few), Vegetarianism on a large scale requires massive cruelty to animals.

NZ Farmers’ Weekly “anticipated 1.8 million bobby calves processed this winter”. 1“Processed” here means animals just a few days old being herded into cattle trucks and shipped to the slaughterhouse.

Aussie SPCA explained :

For cows to produce milk, they have to give birth to a calf every year. Most calves are separated from the cows within twelve hours of birth to reduce the risk of disease, and most do not stay on the farm for long….

Bobby calves are housed together and fed colostrum, milk or milk replacer, usually only once a day. They are then sold, mostly for slaughter, at five days old. Products from processed calves include young veal for human consumption, valuable hides for leather and byproducts for the pharmaceutical industry….

Because they will very soon go to slaughter, bobby calves often do not get the same standard of housing, cleanliness, care or attention as the valuable replacement heifers or the bull calves being reared for veal. For their health and welfare, bobby calves should be fed twice a day and be housed in sheltered, clean and dry environments with room to lie down on suitable bedding.

A moderate carnivore who eats only a little cheese and does not drink much milk probably requires few if any Bobby Calves to be slaughtered, we feed them up for a year or two and then eat them. But vegetarians do not eat beef, but they do drink milk and eat cheese.

It’s much the same with eggs, even the most moderate egg eater produces some cockerels thatĀ somebody has to eat. At least in their case a free range cockerel gets a decent life before the pot…

I don’t know what you make of it, but my conclusion is clear:

  • Vegans do not harm animals
  • Moderate carnivores slaughter a few animals, but after they have had a decent life and are grown up
  • Vegetarians slaughter loads of baby calves and their treatment seems cruel and malicious

If any Vegetarian can defend their morality I’d be delighted to hear it. Until then I can only plead with you, if you don’t like meat then learn to eat Vegan!

Notes   [ + ]

1. “Processed” here means animals just a few days old being herded into cattle trucks and shipped to the slaughterhouse.

Mushroom risotto

Photo by tristanf

1 Tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large or 2 small onions
3 garlic cloves
300g fresh mushrooms (I used half button, half portobello for cheapness and variety)
350g arborio rice
150ml white wine preferably dry
1+ litres hot vege stock
3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp chives, spring onions or fennel
a little more oil, Avocado is nice as well as good Extra Virgin Olive (non-Vegans can use c25g Butter)
Salt and pepper
Non Vegans can top with grated Parmesan


Cover the dried mushrooms in hot water and soak (c15 mins), drain them.

Chop the onion and garlic finely. In a heavy saucepan big enough to take the full recipe, heat the olive oil and fry chopped onion and garlic (use a low heat, the idea is to sweat them until soft, not turn them to carbon). Chop the fresh mushrooms and fry them also for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add wine and simmer, stirring often. When it has been absorbed add stock a little at a time. Keep stirring! Add stock (Remember it is important that this is hot, we don’t want to shock the poor little rice grains do we?) till the rice is tender.

Chop and add the porcini and parsley. Season and add the extra oil (or butter and Parmesan).

Breads and dips

Again the photo is not our meal, I must get in the habit of taking shots of my food šŸ™ so, photo by jbcurio

One of the most pleasant Vegan lunches is breads and dips, most often when it’s just the two of us it is bread and dips, but several breads or toasts do help make it more special. The recipes are simple, keep well in the frig, and cheap too šŸ™‚

For lunch today we had hummus, skordalia, some olive oil with a little fruity balsamic at the bottom, and Miriam’s competition recipe Guacomole.

Miriamā€™s Vegan Guacamole

  • 1 perfectly ripe avocado (you can tell itā€™s perfect when then little knobbly bit where it used to be attached to the tree comes off easily when you nudge it gently-ish with your thumb).
  • 1/4 onion/red onion or one shallot or a couple of spring onions cut into tiny little pieces.
  • 1 small-medium sized tomato cut into equally tiny little pieces.
  • lemon or lime juice
  • plenty of salt and pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 3 or 4 good shakes of your favourite hot sauce (I favour Kaitaia fire)

Mash up the avocado with a fork, mix everything else in, add more lemon juice etc to taste.

I omitted the hot sauce, though I got quite used in Africa to adding chili paste to my meals I don’t like to add a little chili to everything as so many Kiwis do, I also reduced the salt, making a healthy dip even more healthy.