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Deliciously easy vegan bao buns are filled with portobello mushrooms baked in a simple homemade hoisin sauce and quick-pickled vegetables for the perfect sweet and savory bite!
Vegan Bao Buns
Bao are Chinese stuffed or filled buns that are often steamed. In many bao recipes, the dough encompasses the filling before it is cooked. For this recipe, the buns are cooked separately and then filled, and are also known as lotus leaf buns because of their shape. Lotus leaf bao are the buns used for Gua Bao which are filled with slow-cooked pork belly. Here, sweet, salty and savory hoisin glazed mushrooms replace the pork belly and are paired with fresh and tangy quick-pickled vegetables.
A note on the name: Since Chinese steamed buns have gained popularity in the West, they are often erroneously called “bao buns” which redundantly translates to “buns buns”. That said, I’ve sprinkled the phrase throughout this post to appease the search engine algorithm, which says that “bao buns” is the most popular search phrase used.
There are tons of steamed bun recipes out there and for my vegan hoisin mushroom bao I made and recommend this recipe by Seonkyoung Longest with some slight adaptations. They came out great and are light and fluffy with a slight sweetness.
The filling is super easy and made with a few simple ingredients. I prefer portobello mushrooms for this filling because of their meaty texture, earthy flavor, and perfect size after slicing them to fit into the steamed buns. The hoisin-style sauce is made with fermented soybean paste (see options explained further down) and soy sauce for saltiness and strong umami flavor. NAKANO Natural Rice Vinegar adds the perfect note of acidity with a sweet and mellow flavor and maple syrup brings a rich sweetness to the sauce which helps to turn it into a thick and vibrant glaze for the mushrooms as they cook. Lastly, a touch of fresh garlic and hot sauce adds flavor and heat to round out this homemade hoisin sauce.
I love the method of quick pickling because, well because it's QUICK! Quick pickles are made from fresh vegetables and even fruit that are covered in brine and refrigerated. The ones I make most often are quick-pickled red onions and jalapeños which I add to anything and everything. The vegetables I used for this recipe are cucumbers, carrots, purple daikon radish, red onion, and green cabbage. There's no hard-fast rule here - use whichever vegetables you like or have on hand. The brine is super easy and so flavorful. NAKANO Natural Rice Vinegar is the perfect choice for this brine because it is light and mild and lets the flavor of the vegetables shine through. Water is used to cut the acidity even further and salt is imperative for pickling to add flavor and because it is a natural preservative. A touch of sugar is added for sweetness to balance out the saltiness and acidity of the brine. Lastly, the brine is flavored with garlic, ginger, chile pepper and Sichuan peppercorns for flavor, spiciness, and heat.
Rice Vinegar That Adds Accessible & Versatile Flavor to Meals
I love keeping our home pantry stocked with every variety of NAKANO Rice Vinegar because they can easily be used in all types of dishes, from simple marinades to gourmet fare to add flavor and zest to whatever we are cooking in the kitchen. Because NAKANO Rice Vinegar is made with recognizable and real ingredients, I know and feel confident about what I am feeding my family. Each rice vinegar is brewed according to traditional practices, refined over two centuries, creating a crisp flavor that is mild and mellow. Look for NAKANO Rice Vinegar in the Vinegar aisle at your local grocery store to add a boost of flavor to your favorite dishes.
How to Make Vegan Bao Buns with Hoisin Mushrooms and Pickled Vegetables
Step 1: Prepare the Quick-Pickled Vegetables
Start by slicing vegetables into long thin strips and pack them into a quart-sized heat-safe glass jar. Make the easy brine by combining the NAKANO Rice Vinegar and the other brine ingredients and spices in a small saucepan. Then bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. As soon as the mixture boils remove it from heat and pour the brine over the vegetables in the jar and cover the jar with a lid. Once cool transfer the jar to the refrigerator. The pickles can be made days ahead and will keep for 1 week sealed and refrigerated.
Step 2: Make the hoisin sauce
To make the hoisin sauce simply stir all of the sauce ingredients together in a medium-sized mixing bowl. The sauce is made with fermented soybean paste, maple syrup, soy sauce, NAKANO Natural Rice Vinegar, garlic, and hot sauce.
Step 3: Cook the hoisin mushrooms
First, clean the portobellos with a damp paper towel and slice them into ¾″-1″ thick strips. Coat the sliced mushrooms in the hoisin sauce and spread them and all of the sauce onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan. Bake the mushrooms until they are cooked through and the sauce has thickened into a shiny glaze. This will take about 15 minutes in a preheated 450˚F oven.
Step 4: Assemble the vegan bao
To make the bao fill each steamed bun with 2-3 strips of the hoisin mushrooms and top each with the quick-pickled vegetables. Serve right away. Each component can be made ahead, and in that case, do not assemble the bao until you are ready to serve them.
I made homemade steamed buns following this recipe by Seonkyoung Longest.
What type of fermented soybean paste should I use?
Hoisin sauce is traditionally made with Chinese black bean sauce which is made from fermented black soybeans called douchi. Both of these items can be found easily online and at Asian groceries but may not be stocked on supermarket shelves. Black bean sauce can be replaced with dark-aged or red miso paste, black bean miso, or doenjang, a fermented soybean paste used in Korean cuisine, for the purposes of this recipe. While each of these has its own unique taste, they will all give deep umami and salty flavor to the hoisin sauce. I opted for dark-aged miso because that was what I could find locally.
What can I use to replace portobello mushrooms?
Feel free to swap portobellos with any type of mushrooms such as crimini, shiitake, or oyster mushrooms. I like portobellos in this recipe because they can be cut into strips that fit the buns perfectly and for their meaty texture and taste. If you want to replace mushrooms entirely, use extra firm pressed tofu or tempeh cut into 1" thick sticks.
For more easy vegan-friendly dinner ideas check out these recipes:
- Miso Eggplant
- Vegan Thai Noodle Bowls
- Rainbow Summer Rolls with Tahini Dipping Sauce
- Baked Vegan Ricotta and Kale Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Thyme Pangritata
Love this recipe?
If you made my Vegan Bao Buns with Hoisin Mushrooms and Quick-Pickled Vegetables recipe I would love to hear your feedback! Please leave a star-rating review of the recipe and let me know what you think in a comment below. This small act is a great way to show your support for the food blogs you read and love. Please tag me in your photos on Instagram so I can see your creations. I might miss it if you only tag me the caption because those notifications fall off quickly, but I can always find it if I’m tagged in the photo itself.
Look for all seven flavors of NAKANO Rice Vinegar nationwide at Walmart, Albertsons Safeway, Shop Rite, Hy-Vee, Food Lion and Hannaford and add a flavor boost to your favorite dishes. You can also follow NAKANO on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.