For a culture that revolves around food and values a a husband/wife’s skills in the kitchen, we have a pressing shortage of easy and understandable recipes. If you want to master even just an everyday dish, the only way to get there is spending time with your elders. Lots of times you’ll see people do just that in the weeks before their wedding day, so they’ll have a decent repertoire of meals when they start a family.
Unfortunately, it means that single Chinese kids in America like me have no recipes to take with them when they leave for college, and likely never learn how to cook comfort foods like braised short-ribs, eight treasure rice pudding or pork belly until it’s too late. By the time I actually need to make it, I’ll probably have to call and ask my mom over the phone. For the record, my mother is not a domestic goddess, and has less interest in food and cooking than anyone I know. Eating has always been more a chore than diversion for her, and it was possibly her cooking, or lack thereof, that turned our family onto raw veganism (temporarily).
I can just see it now–the day I ask her for a steamed bun recipe. Without a written record and without actually cooking it in front of me herself, her instructions will go like this–
Twisted Sesame Buns
(according to what I observed as my mother made them today)
Start with flour. Use a mixture of wheat and white depending on how healthy you feel and what you have on hand. Use whatever amount it takes to fill a large pot. Unless you’re at the end of a bag–then just dump it all in there. Next, take a couple spoons of yeast and throw it in some warm water. Pour that into the flour. Add more water and mix it with some chopsticks, until the dough feels like a baby’s bottom. Let the dough rise until whenever you damn well feel like getting back to it.
To prepare the sesame paste stuffing, look for any and all items about to go bad in the pantry. That might include sesame paste, sesame powder, almond flour, crushed walnuts, raisins, nut butters, etc… You will be adding some sugar to this and mixing it to create a sweet filling. Until you discover that we’ve been out of sugar for a week. So take the remains of a huge honey container and swish some hot water around inside to get the last dredges. Add a little stevia. Them dump the other ingredients into the honey container and mix the paste until well combined.
Now back to that risen dough. By this point, grand illusions of cute little buns lined up in a row will have gone out the window. Split the massive dough ball (still expanding before your eyes–may have been too heavy-handed with the yeast) into twelve honkin’ dough balls. Roll them into flat rounds and place some of the sesame filling inside, then fold up the sides to contain the filling. Twist them around to create some layers within the dough. There is no right or wrong way. As long as it all fits in the steamer, you’re good. Steam for however long it takes for the buns to look done.
Alternative lazy method: Skip the twisting to make normal buns.
Alternative DGAF method: skip the filling altogether, and dump the entire piece of dough straight from the pot into the steamer. No rolling pin, board, flour, kneading or extra cleanup necessary. Yield: one frightening lumpy loaf of steamed bread.
Lastly, eat, taking comfort in the fact it’d be impossible to make or taste this exact dish ever again.