Life isn’t complete until you’ve had a baozi. Also known simply as bao or Chinese steamed buns. They. Are. So. Good.I first had these buns as a child. We bought them frozen from some local store (or Costco, maybe?) and I remember getting home from school and throwing them in the microwave for a quick snack. Several years ago, I was in Chicago and discovered an entire bao eatery in one of the large malls there. Utterly overjoyed to be reunited with my love for all things baozi, when I returned back to Alaska obviously the only thing to do was to go on a great bao search. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find them anywhere! So sad. 

Before you shed a tear for such a tragic tale, you should know…I have been reunited once more with my beloved bao. By making my own! Not being able to find frozen baozi within 60 miles of my home may be one of the greatest culinary things to have ever happened to me. Like pretty much all things in life, baozi are better made from scratch, with love. Even if they do come out with a few imperfections. 

They’re fairly easy to make too, albeit a wee bit involved. I’ll say though, it was a great little Saturday food project. Lots of people do crafts or whathaveyou on their days off. Not me, give me ALL the food! I will make more food. Besides, crafts = lame. You can’t eat crafts…usually. I’m coming to the realization I’d probably be much skinnier if I did craft projects instead of food projects…you might be seeing more crafts on the blog henceforth.

Anyways, what I am trying to tell you is that the baozi I stuffed my face with in my youth were BBQ pork. I’m making a really gross and disgusted face right now that I wish you could see. Who needs pig muscles…besides pigs? Lentils and sweet potatoes did the trick perfectly in a sweetass homemade BBQ sauce, all nestled inside a warm and pillowy soft steamed bun. What’s better than a baozi? Not much. If you’ve never had one, you’re in for a real treat. 

BBQ Lentil Baozi

Makes 12 steamed buns

  • Dough:
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. malt barley sweetener (optional)
  • 2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • Filling:
  • 1 cup dry red lentils
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium sweet potato, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

Notes: There’ll be a little bit of the filling leftover but it’s fantastic on its own. 

To start the buns, whisk together all the dough ingredients in a small bowl except for the flour, until there are no more yeast clumps and the sugar is dissolved. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes in a warm place, until foamy.

In a large bowl, add the flour and then pour in the yeast mixture slowly while stirring to combine completely. 

Knead the dough on a floured surface for a few minutes, until smooth and soft. Form into a ball.

Wash out the flour bowl (or don’t if you’re lazy like me), dry, and coat with a nonstick cooking spray. Place the dough ball in the bowl and cover loosely with a dishcloth. Place in a warm spot to proof for about 1 hour, until it’s doubled in size. 

Meanwhile, prepare the filling by bringing a large pot of the lentils, water, salt, and 2 whole garlic cloves to boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce to low and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain very well, extracting all the water.

While the lentils are simmering, heat the oil over medium in a large frying pan and add the onion, minced garlic, chipotle chili powder, and ground ginger. Allow to saute for about 5 minutes, or until the onions begin to brown. 

Add the sweet potatoes and saute for 10 additional minutes, until they begin to soften. 

Add in the rest of the filling ingredients and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are done simmering. 

Once the lentils are done, drain them very well and add to the sweet potato mixture. Cook over medium, stirring occasionally, until all or most of the water is gone. It should be a pasty consistency, not soupy. Ensure it doesn’t stick and burn at the bottom of the pan. Remove the two whole garlic cloves and remove from heat when the water is gone.

Once the dough is done rising, punch it down and roll out into a large, flat rectangle on a floured surface. Now, form into a 1-2 inch wide log. Cut log into 12 slices. 

Prepare your steamer. I use an electric steamer/rice cooker. Fill the pot with a few inches of water, put in the steamer basket, shut the lid and bring to a boil. My steamer basket only allowed four buns to steam at a time, so I did them in batches of three. Be sure to add more water as needed throughout the batches.

Meanwhile, roll out four dough slices into circles. Place about 2 Tbsp. of the filling into a lump in the middle of the circle and then pull up all the sides and pinch completely closed. Repeat with the remaining three. Flip so the seam is on the underside and place on a flat surface to rest for 10 minutes. 

Once the water is boiling and the buns have rested, coat the steamer basket with a nonstick cooking spray and place the buns, seam down into the steamer basket. Try not to let them touch if possible, as they will puff up when steaming. 

Allow them to steam for 15 minutes. In the mean time, prep your next batch of buns. When they are done steaming, unplug the steamer and crack the lid just a teensy bit. Very slowly, like over the course of one minute, open the lid. If you open it all at once, the difference in the ambient air temperature versus the steam temperature will cause the buns to collapse and they won’t be pillowy, but instead dense, hardened and sad. Take the time to very, very, slowly open the lid. I also peek inside to make sure that they aren’t falling as I open the lid.

Remove them with a spatula and set aside to cool. Repeat with the two remaining batches, ensuring that they are allowed to rest for 10 minutes prior to steaming and that the lid is opened slowly once done steaming. Add more water as needed and bring back to a boil before steaming.

Serve warm. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. Pop them in the microwave for 20 seconds prior to eating, if refrigerated. 

Pillowy, BBQ deliciousness. 

Funkin’ out groovy style. [soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500&auto_play=false&show_artwork=true” width=”100%” height=”166″ iframe=”true” /]

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