Back from China…

September 21, 2007 at 10:34 PM (Cantonese, China, chori/adzuki, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, grains and grain-like, legumes/pulses- whole or split, sugars-sweets, wheat)


Well, no…actually I was just browsing through one of my cookbooks and came across this recipe for steamed buns with a sweet red-bean filling(ma yung bao, for those interested). I recall making them a few years back for one of my ex’s, but perhaps you know how things like food become associated with past moments and people, and how you can find yourself “forgetting” certain dishes for awhile…well, I see no need to deprive myself of these any longer. Time goes on. Time heals all wounds, and, as my granny used to say, “Time wounds all heels…”

Unfortunately, granny wasn’t Chinese, so Confucious, you need not worry dear- your position is safe! But grandma-ma did take a Chinese cooking class several years ago, though I don’t think she was able to use her new-found skills much, as grandpa was a sworn “meat-n-potatoes”-kind-of-guy, but… I think she would have loved these! Truly. Perfect with tea, or an anytime-little-treat. Travels well too.!

Ma Yung Bao

(Chinese steamed buns filled with sweet red-bean paste)

For the red bean paste:

1 C adzuki/red chori (more info here)

3 lumps of gur/jaggery, crushed- or any sugar of your preference to taste

a pinch of salt

1) Take the adzuki/chori, rinse them in a few changes of water, then cover well with water and soak for 4 hours or so (this step can probably be skipped). Place beans and water to cover an inch or so in a pressure cooker and cook (at 15 lbs of pressure) for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and the pressure to fall.

2)Then, remove the cover and bring to a gentle boil and evaporate as much water away as possible, stirring gently now and then. When it begins to catch, remove from heat.

3)Puree the beans in food processor until a smooth paste is achieved, or, if you like, you may take small portions and bang away in a mortar-and-pestle or sill-batta to achieve a paste.

4)Return the paste to a pan, set it over low heat and add the sugar and salt. Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely*. This can be stored for a very, very long time in the refrigerator without spoiling.

5)Alternatively, sweet red bean paste may be purchased in a can, but I’ve tried it and trust me, this is way better and not too difficult.

For the buns**:

1 t active dry yeast

1 T sugar (some recipes use more- up to 1/4 C)

1/4 C lukewarm water

3 1/2 C all-purpose flour/maida

1 T solid fat (I used ghee, but Chinese recipes traditionally use lard)

3/4 C lukewarm water

1)Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 C of water. Set aside.

2)Rub the fat into the flour until crumbly and well-mixed, then add yeast mixture and remaining 3/4 C of water to form a slightly sticky dough. Adjust with flour/water as necessary.

3)Turn out onto a floured work-surface and knead for 5 minutes. Dust more flour if it is too sticky. At the end it should be smooth and springy. Set in a large bowl, cover with a damp cloth, and place in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours- until it has doubled in size.

4)Punch the dough down and re-cover it for about 30 minutes to rise and double in size again. At the end of this return the dough to the work-surface and knead 5 minutes again.

5)Take the dough and roll it into a long “log” about 2″ wide. Cut this in half, and then cut each half into portions that, when rolled into a ball, will be about 2″ in diameter. I didn’t do this… I just pinched off balls of dough; you get a feel for the appropriate size.

6)Take each ball of dough and flatten them between your palms and then roll out to about a 4-5″ circle, dusting top and the rolling surface with a pinch of flour.

7)Place a heaping tea-spoon of filling in the centre.

8)Then, make pleats along the outer edge as shown, pinching each to seal; gather the set of pleats and pinch while turning and slowly releasing the dough as you go. It takes some practice; I didn’t really get it right until the last few were produced, but no matter how they look, they’ll taste fine in the end!

9)Set these on grease-proof/waxed paper, laying the damp cloth gently over, to rise for 30 minutes or so.***

10)Line a steamer tray (or heat-proof plate within a steaming apparatus) with a damp cloth and place the buns within, leaving ample room around each to allow for furthur expansion during steaming. Steam for 15 minutes.****

11)Remove the steaming container from the steam underneath (carefully to avoid steam-burns) and allow the buns to cool and the remaining steam to escape before lifting the lid. (A sudden temperature change will cause the buns’ surface to crack). Then remove and serve. These can be made ahead and re-heated in the steamer for a few minutes if you wish, though I find they are still delightful at room temperature.

Here are pics of the rolling and filling:

*Some recipes for this paste require heating a small amount of roasted sesame-seed oil (3 T) in a pan before adding the paste, and also adding preserved cassia blossoms (2 t) as a flavouring, but I am unable to locate this in my city.

**This seems to be the preferred dough for this, but when I made these previously, I used a “quick” method that incorporated baking soda or powder instead of yeast. Some writers even suggest ready-made, refrigerated ”Parker house roll” dough (such as Pillsbury brand) as a quick substitute, but you know me…

***Some recipes invert them- pleats down- after this point.

****Some recipes brush the buns with roasted sesame-seed oil.

Oh! And before I forget…I discovered a very good way to use spent coffee-grounds and the juice from salted cucumbers! It’s my own little invention. [assumes a smug expression]

Take a large spoonful of moist coffee-grounds, add some juice that was squeezed from salted cukes, and a little yoghurt…voila!

A chemical-free, energizing facial-scrub! Just be careful not to get any in your eyes, as it doesn’t feel very good. (I know this from experience, perhaps.)



  1. bee said,

    pel, i was craviing this so bad. now i see this here. you are mean, mean mean. 🙂

    i love this red bean paste in anything. will make it for sure one of these days when i have the energy to cook. right now, i’m not cooking much.

    do they make the lotus seed paste in a similar way?

    Oddly enough, I was just reading a recipe for sesame-seed balls filled with lotus-seed paste, but the recipe failed to give a method to make your own…..but here are some I think the “alkaline/lye water” would be slaked lime paste dissolved in water- available at Chinese and Thai grocers. I don’t know how necessary it is though; probably makes the skins easier to remove.

  2. Manisha said,

    Those pleats are beeyootiful!
    As are your blue eyes
    That goop on your face though – yeow!

    Pray, enlighten this ignorant soul: What is adzuki/chori?

    Well….they are these cute little red beans. I suppose I ought to find some more names for them, but I’m fairly sure they are labeled as “chori” or “red chori” at the Indian grocers and “adzuki” (Japanese name) at the big supermarkets…but really almost any legume could be made into a sweet paste- like moong and chane dhals- but I’ve had pastries with pinto beans and baby limas that were fantastic too.

    Pleats? Thanks… Eyes? Fake…coloured contacts. The goop? Might be a touch of thalia there… 😀

  3. Zlamushka said,

    You went to china, coolio I am so jealous !!! I know you didnt but this was the first thing that popped into my mind after seeing your title,
    I spent two years of my young life there and cannot complain. Red bean stuffed stuff, yummy…

    The buns look great, I usually make them ´in a hurry´style (=crappy looking)….
    anyway, seeing guys cooking, that is unusual but sexy. Not that I havent, it s just they dont usually blog about it. And definitely do not put on a facial scrub. Cucumber and yogurt, aaah, good for the skin, indeed,….

    Well…I was never the uh…usual sort of guy! But very sexy…yes indeed! So much so that I can’t take seeing my own raw image… hehehehe

    I’m totally with you on red-bean-stuffed anything. Two years in China eh? Do tell…

  4. Anita said,

    That was a long trip to China…Hmmm…sounds fun the bun-coffee…

    I have always wanted to try the pork-filled steamed buns that I read about a long time ago…seemed like quite the delicacy. You’ve tried those?

    Salt on the skin!!! Never heard of that!

    Adzuki – some kinda kidney beans? Substitute with local?

    Nope..much smaller than rajma; just a tad larger than urad, moong, moth, but red-coloured. The Indian grocers here sell tham labeled as “red chori” I think. If you can’t find them, moong or chane dhal are both excellent for sweets as well.

    The pork-filled ones? Yep…the Thai/Laotian crowd is fond of them as well, and sell them here in the shops, usually with a dipping-sauce.

    Salt on the skin? Oh yes… much like a Dead Sea bath, but on a smaller scale! 🙂

  5. Manisha said,

    By the way, Pel, your buns look good.


    [tries to look bashful] Want a bite? 😆

  6. musy said,

    Those pleats are perfect, Pel! Artistic genious!
    A friend once prepared steamed red bean paste and dates cakes! Very mellow!
    Love your face mask!

    Aw…shucks… but really, I didn’t show the first ones! 🙂 Dates and red bean paste sounds marvelous- a good friend you have.

  7. musy said,

    Those pleats are perfect, Pel! Artistic genious!
    A friend once prepared steamed red bean paste and dates cakes! Very mellow!
    Love your face mask!

    We simply must stop meeting like this Musique; people will talk! 😉

  8. lakshmi said,

    I think the red paste will go very well as a Modhak filling. Dont think I can find “red chori” at a local store in Madras. What would be an approximate decription of taste?

    I had to look up modhak- wow! quite similar! Possibly it was brought to China with Buddhism long ago… interesting.

    Red chori has a naturally sweet taste, with a hint or “earthiness” like white lobia/chola/black-eyed peas.

  9. Zlamushka said,

    Haha, thanx Pelicano,

    you made me laugh… well, two years … that would be a lot of stories. But what I learned for life was a `suibian´atitute. (sui bian means whatever)… China is so shocking for the first timer that sui bian is a word that comes handy ALL the time. Like when eating out: *Pock-Marked Mother Chen or Ants Climbing The Tree, madam ?* (I now actually know what they are and even how to cook em).
    Now i am experiencing another cultural shock! After comming to Sweden, nothing is Sui Bian. Everything is sooper orderly neatly in order, bleh….

    Well, what can I tell, YOU look like a traveler (you have that Backpacker´s LOOK!!!) That I mean without the facial mask 🙂

    Ma-Po of my favorite dishes ever, and I’ve made this too. Ants climbing the Tree- I’ve seen a recipe and description for this dish somewhere, but I can’t recall where or what it is…oooh! Just found it! Mayi Shang Shu… moong-starch noodles with ground pork. Looks divine! I’ll have to attempt it sometime. Such romantic names eh?

    “Suibian” sounds like a good attitude to take at these moments when we realize how pampered and homogenous things in our countries are. Truly I would enjoy backpacking for a few months, but I have such a demanding domestic side. However, I did take a trip to Mexico a few years back and mingled quite a bit with the local populace- enough to wake up at dawn to a chorus of roosters… 😉

  10. Nupur said,

    The pleats really are picture-perfect. These buns are so tasty! I would love to make them with a savory filling.

    I was thinking the same- lots of possibilities as the dough is so neutral. Let me know if you create something, and thanks for the compliments.

  11. Susan said,

    Beautifully done, adorable little bundles. Love the bean paste. The Japanese have something similar, but the dough is gummy (and yummy, too).

    That brown goop, Pel, sure brings out the blue of your…eye! ; )

    Nothing beats good accessorizing! Are the Japanese kind made with rice flour? I’ve also read about these beans cooked in syrup, left whole, served atop a mound of shaved ice with green tea syrup (thanks to Madhur Jaffrey).

  12. musy said,

    Blame the WordPress, Pel! Doesn’t allow to me leave comments otherwise! and then double posted my comment!!

    A double-dose of music is always welcome…

  13. bee said,

    manisha, you can see a pic of chori here.

  14. Manisha said,

    It’s chawli in Marathi – and yes, red chori, of course! I thought it was a Chinese bean.

    This legume is a definite backpacker of the world… 🙂

  15. Rina said,

    nice to locate your blog

    Good to see you here!

  16. musy said,

    Nupur, you echoed my thoughts! We must try this :).

  17. Cynthia said,

    You know, you made a really good thing here to show us – The Chinese steamed buns which I love and have not had in ages but then, but then, you had to go and do the facial scrub, could you not leave it to our imaginations? 😀 you had to show us? (lol)

    Oh…”why not?”, I told myself. 😀 I figure it’s all part of that “15 minutes” Andy Warhol promised us years ago… hehehehehe

    Glad to hear you’re a fan of these too! Handy little things to have around for a quick snack I must say, but I’m still waiting for a certain someone, who’s mad about her tea, to scold me for not using half ata for the dough… 😉

  18. Raaga said,

    I saw these everywhere in Singapore… never had the chance to eat them… maybe I can now try making them at home.

    I can so relate to what you said about food becoming associated with past events and people!!

    Glad to hear I’m not alone in that! I recall a fellow-blogger stating at one time: “…what is food without context?” She was so right!

    I hope this recipe finds itself materialized in happy moments for you!

  19. Anita said,

    Who am I to dictate things in this bindaas world (Bumbaiyya for Chinese suibian)… to fry or to steam 😉 50-50 or 100% AP…chilli or chili. Bindaas.

    No…it’s CHILE!!! 😀 I was wondering if you’d catch that that little word-dribble…hehehehehe…just checking to see if you’re paying attention over there in Delhi!

  20. Susan said,

    The Japanese do use rice flour a great deal, with or without cornstarch. I’ve read about the Jaffrey recipe, too. My sweet heaven!

    That’s one great book I must say! Unfortunately my copy has long-ago fallen apart; I had to re-set the pages into a binder. Have you tried your hand at any of the Thai sweets yet?

  21. sharmi said,

    the dough folded into pleats look too good. these beauties might have tasted great. you are very fond of doing facials don’t you?

    I enjoy looking my best you know… 😀
    Thank you for complimenting my pleats; that is quite nice to hear that from you, for of all food-bloggers, it is you that I truly admire for doing delicate hand-work- quite inspiring! 🙂

  22. outofthegarden said,

    OK, I have had a rough few weeks. I come in here for some culinary relief only to find you brought back coffee grounds and cucumber from China, where you never really went???? 😉

    My daughter might like this face pack. I had better turn on the parental controls 😉

    Good idea! Wait a minute… who told you I never went to China?! 😉

  23. shilpa(aayisrecipes) said,

    Ahhh..I wondered for a long time how the flour was folded into pleats. Silly me..Now I know :). It looks like a very interesting recipe. When i read title, I thought u r just back from China….

    Well…do u have to apply things to your face and take pictures always?? It scares the hell out of me when I see such faces (including mine..if at all I apply any face pack…) :D.

    Much like modak isn’t it? I went to China in my head! 🙂 Scary? That would be without the paste on my face… 😉

  24. neroli said,

    little darling bun
    pleated pale around dark:
    echoes enso


    acerbic in eyes
    assumes a smug expression
    is one eye more blue?


    Hehehehehe… [claps…with both hands] Very nice- in fact, that’s the first poetry ever spewed here; congratulations!!!

    I’m thinking of going back to my natural colour soon… 🙂

  25. Manisha said,

    Dude! Where are ya? It’s that day of the year, y’know!

    What day? Which? What? Where?

  26. Manisha said,

    Happy Birthday, you nut! Hope you have a wonderful day!

    😀 I definitely will! Tanksh…

  27. Roopa Amit said,

    Good website.. and a good blog.. saves me a lot from my daily worry of what to prepare… I always pick one from Aayis recipe and one from yours.. I wanna make authentic Chinese fried rice ( the normal one ) and shezwan too could you share the recipe please?? Not sure if you are aware cause when I talk about this Manchuri (dry one) my hubby goes.. that kind must be available in Bangalore ( I am from there) and not here in mumbai.. which irritates me to the core… so am hunting for an authentic Chinese food stuff as we both love chinese.. my hubby loves thai chinese and what not.. somehow I am ok with chinese have not tried thai food.. could you please suggest some good chinese recipes to start with..

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