Taiwanese "Meat ball" (Bawan)

>>  Monday, September 28, 2009


Bawan is the quintessential Taiwanese street snack. Steamed or fried, it literally means "meat ball" and is a dumpling of sorts filled with meat, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. The semi-translucent chewy outside is made with rice flour and sweet potato flour, giving it this unique texture that's super fun to eat.

Taiwanese-style Bawan
This recipe is adapted from Homestyle Cooking of Taiwan by members of NATWA
For a printer-friendly version of the recipe please click here.

Long Grain Rice FlourOuter Covering
 8 T long grain rice flour (see picture at right)
12 T sweet potato flour
5 2/3 cups water
1 lb sweet potato flour

2 T vegetable oil
2 bunches of scallions, chopped

11 dried black mushrooms
1 lb pork tenderloin, sliced (or ground pork)
1 can (8 oz) bamboo shoots (sliced)
1 lb shrimp (about 22)
3 T soy sauce
1 T sugar
Sweet Chili Sauce1 T salt
1 tsp pepper
Sauce (sweet rice paste)
1 cup long grain rice flour
3 cups waster
1/2 cup sugar

Cilantro, chopped
Soy sauce
optional: sweet chili sauce (see picture at right)

Precooking preparations:
1.  If you purchased fresh shrimp, devein the shrimp, remove heads and tails.  I bought one pound of raw frozen shrimp, so I just defrosted it and removed the tails.

2Soak dried mushrooms in hot water until soft (about 10 minutes), and cut each one in half

Making the Covering
1.  In a large pot, combine the long grain rice flour, 12 T of sweet potato flour, and water.
2.  Cook at high heat, stirring CONTINUALLY!
3. After it has come to a boil, remove from heat and let cool.
4.  Add 1 lb of sweet potato flour and mix thoroughly.  Set aside.

Making the filling
1.  Heat wok at high heat and add the vegetable oil.
2.  Stir fry the scallions and the mushrooms briefly for about a minute.
3.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir fry until the meat appears done (shrimp turns pink, pork is opaque)
4.  Add flavoring agents (soy sauce, sugar, salt, and pepper).  Mix thoroughly

From top left, left to right: 1. Chopped scallions & mushroom 2. Saute scallions & mushrooms first in hot wok!  3.  Add meat and bamboo 4. First step in making the bawans - put on a cabbage or napa leaf!

Constructing the Bawan
You have 22 pieces of shrimp, 22 mushroom halves.  This is no accident.  You will fill each dough piece with one piece of shrimp, one mushroom, and a little bit of bamboo and pork. Warning, this stuff is really sticky!  It sort of has the consistency of gooey paste.  I find it's a bit easier to work with if you hold the bawan on top of a cabbage leaf (see pictures above).  It's easier to handle the gooey paste if you wet your fingers constantly.  I ended up putting a plate full of water nearby just so I could constantly wet my fingers.

Bawan Collage 2From top left, left to right: 1. Second step in making bawans - add filling! 2. Third step - cover with dough 3.  White, gloppy paste-like bawan covering 4.  Bawans resting, not yet steamed

1. Put a circular dollop of dough onto a leaf. Using wet fingers, push in the middle a bit for the filling.
2. Add the filling (1 shrimp, 1/2 mushroom, etc)
3. Put another smaller dollop of dough on top
4. Using wet fingers, try to pinch the edges together to form a ball
5. Set aside

Cooking the Bawans
Steam bawans in a 2-tiered steamer.  Ideally, you would have a multi-layer Chinese bamboo steamer.  However, if you don't, a normal steamer works fine too.  I just lined the steamer with cabbage leaves and placed the bawans on top.

Steam for about 10 minutes.
Steaming Bawans
 Bawans about to be steamed  . . . nooooo!!!! Save us!

Making the Sweet Rice Paste Sauce
1.  combine long grain rice flour, water, and sugar in a small sauce pan.  Bring to a boil (remember to stir!) and then remove from heat. 

Garnishing the Bawans
 For each bawan, add a bit of soy sauce (about 1 tsp), cover with some sweet white paste sauce, and garnish with cilantro.  If you have access to sweet chile sauce, you can use that as well.


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Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: A Stroll Through the Night Markets of Taiwan

Shilin Night Market
Shilin Night Market is by far the most famous night market in Taiwan. This crazy, bustling market in Taipei is HUGE, spanning block after block after block. There is a large food area where street vendors, most of whom specialize in just one type of food, sell their delicacies. Another section is full of stuff: ceramics, kitchen wares, clothing, plush toys, fake hand bags, you name it.
I had the privilege of visiting Taiwan this past spring and we spent an evening at Shilin Night Market. The food at the night market alone was fascinating. We saw exotic things being sold such as duck tongues, "frog eggs" (not sure what it really is), things that looked like insects, and stinky tofu. We also saw a lot of delicious classic street snacks.

When Foodbuzz asked for proposals for 24, 24, 24, I thought it would be fun to try my hand at Taiwanese street foods. It would be like hosting a little night market in my dining room, halfway around the globe.

Of course, the first thing I did was called my mom.  My parents are Taiwanese and moved to Ohio over thirty years ago.  In the Midwest at that time, they did not have access to much Chinese (much less Taiwanese!) food.  As a result, she had to learn how to cook Taiwanese specialties herself.  Because of her (and other Taiwanese moms') hard work, I (and now you!) can enjoy making these very authentic Taiwanese dishes at home.  Thank you Moms for translating the recipes into English!
Shilin Night Market Fruit
My meal is merely inspired by the night markets, and is no way representative of even a fraction of the foods you can find in a Taiwanese night market.  However, I tried to keep with the spirit of the night market by making simple, casual dishes you would normally not see in fancy sit-down restaurants.

Enjoy these super classic Taiwanese street dishes!

Here is the spread of dishes that I made for this dinner (which served 7 people):
Taiwanese Street Food Dinner
click on image for larger photo
From left to right: Tea eggs, Pork Mushroom and Bamboo Soup (Bah Genh/Ro Gen Mian), Meat Sauce over Rice (Lo Ba Bng/Lu Ro Fan), Taiwanese Meat Ball (Bawan/ro yuan), Asian Cucumber Salad, and Taiwanese Meat Ball again (this time garnished with cilantro and hot sauce).

Tea Eggs ("Ca Ye Dan" in Mandarin)

Tea eggs - close up
Tea Eggs with Shells

I love tea eggs. They are hard boiled eggs slowly cooked over low heat in black tea and spices for hours. The resulting egg has a wonderful salty and tea-infused flavor that's addictive. Furthermore, the eggs take on a beautifully intricate marbled design from the tea.
Tea Eggs

You will often see tea eggs at the cashier's counter at convenience stores.  For example, most 7-11 stores in Taiwan have a rice cooker full of tea eggs at the counter.

For a step by step tutorial plus recipe for how to make tea eggs, please click here.

Meat Sauce over Rice (Lo Ba Bng)
Taiwanese Meat Sauce Over Rice

Lo Ba Bng ("Lu Ro Fan" in Mandarin) is a very classic Taiwanese dish. It's a dish comprised of ground pork, shallots, and spices stewed in soy sauce. The sauce is intensely fragrant and tastes delicious with rice.  This dish can be enjoy alone, or, more often than not, it is served with other side dishes as well.  One very classic Taiwanese dish includes a deep fried pork chop, meat sauce with rice, and a side of pickled vegetables. For the full recipe on how to make this dish, click here.

Pork and Bamboo Shoot Soup (Ba Genh/Ro Gen Tang)

Pork, Mushroom, & Bamboo Soup

This soup ("Ro Gen Tang" in Mandarin) is one of my husband's favorites.  The thick, starchy soup contains "meat balls" which are made out of fish paste and pork.  These nuggets are dropped into boiling water and cooked with bamboo, mushrooms, and a host of soup flavoring agents.  The resultant soup has a deep, umami flavor and is the perfect, hearty dish to enjoy when it's cold out.

For a tutorial and recipe, please click here.

RoGengMian (4 of 6)
Pork, Mushroom, & Bamboo Noodle Soup

Bawan (Taiwanese "Meat Ball")
Bawan is the quintessential Taiwanese street snack. Steamed or fried, it literally means "meat ball" and is a dumpling of sorts filled with meat, bamboo shoots, and mushrooms. The semi-translucent chewy outside is made with rice flour and sweet potato flour, giving it this unique texture that's super fun to eat.

"Bawan" - Taiwanese Meat Ball

This dish is usually topped with a bit of soy sauce, sweet rice paste, a sweet chile sauce, and chopped cilantro. I will post a tutorial on how to make these (plus recipe!) later on this week. Please check back soon!

Update!  Click here for the recipe!
"Bawan" - Taiwanese Meat Ball

Asian Cucumber Salad
This dish is not strictly a Taiwanese "street food." In fact, it is more often served as an appetizer at a restaurant.  However, it is still popular in Taiwan, and I wanted to balance out the meal with some veggies, so I also served this light and healthy salad.  For the recipe, please click here.

Asian Cucumber Salad

Dessert: Mung Bean Soup
Mung Bean Soup
Mung Bean Soup

Unlike Westerners, Asians really like to eat various sort of sweet bean or nut soups for dessert. A favorite is mung bean soup, which consists of mung beans boiled in water and then sweetened with sugar. Mung beans are considered "cool" foods (in the yin and yang of Chinese foods) and, accordingly to Chinese medicine, restores balance if you are "hot" (e.g., canker sores, warm body temperature, ruddy complexion).

This soup can be enjoyed either hot or cold, and is refreshing and healthy.  Click here for the recipe.

In Conclusion . . .

This meal was really fun to make.  It was fun recreating some dishes I had made before and also fun experimenting with some new recipes.  Thanks so much to Foodbuzz for sponsoring this event.  Thanks also to my mom, who gave me lots of tips on how to make these dishes.  Finally, thanks to my husband (who endured a crazy messy kitchen for the entire afternoon), and to my guests, who generously showered me with praises about how delicious the food was.

Please enjoy these recipes and stay tuned for the Taiwanese Meat Ball (Bawan) one.  It will come soon! 
Tea Egg and Cucumber Salad

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Mung Bean Soup

Mung Bean Soup

Mung bean soup consists of mung beans boiled in water and then sweetened with sugar. Mung beans are considered "cool" foods (in the yin and yang of Chinese foods) and, accordingly to Chinese medicine, restores balance if you are "hot" (e.g., canker sores, warm body temperature, ruddy complexion).

This soup can be enjoyed either hot or cold, and is refreshing and healthy.

Note: you can soak the beans in water overnight (or at least for 3 hours) in order to shorten the cooking time. However, even with dry beans, the soup can be make in about an hour to an hour and a half.

It's hard to write an exact recipe for this dish, since so much of the ratios are personal taste. Please use this as a ROUGH guide, but feel free to adjust accordingly.

1 bag of dried mung beans
water (about 3-4x the volume of the beans)
sugar to taste

Put 1 bag of mung beans and about 2 L of water in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 1 hour. Add sugar to taste.

TinyUrbanKitchen Tip:  When I was in college, I used to keep a rice cooker in my dorm room and I would sometimes make mung bean soup in the rice cooker!  Depending on the size of the rice cooker, you probably need to reduce the amount of beans (e.g., the whole bag might not fit inside!)  Remember, the beans expand!!

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Tea Eggs

Tea Eggs
I love tea eggs. They are hard boiled eggs slowly cooked over low heat in black tea and spices for hours. The resulting egg has a wonderful salty and tea-infused flavor that's addictive. Furthermore, the eggs take on a beautifully intricate web-like design from the tea.
You can buy pre-made tea-egg packs at Asian supermarkets.  However, my mom has an even easier recipe that still tastes fantastic and requires just a few ingredients you may already have on hand.  Note - if you can't get star anise, you can try substituting with 5-spice powder and/or cinnamon.

For a printable version of the recipe, click here.

1 dozen eggs
2 tea bags (I used Lipton's black tea bags)
1 star anise
2 tsp salt

Make hard boiled eggs. There are several ways to make this. My mom recommends filling a pot with 12 eggs and adding enough water to comfortably cover the eggs. Bring to a boil and cook for 3-5 minutes. Then let the eggs cool.

Once cool, lightly tap the egg on a hard surface all the way around the egg. You want to lightly crack the shell but not remove it. The cracks will allow the tea to infuse even more into the egg.

Put the eggs into a clean pot and fill with water, comfortably covering the eggs. Add salt, tea bags, and star anise.
Tea Eggs With Tea Bags
Cook at medium heat for about 30 minutes, and then let soak overnight or let simmer for at least 2-3 hours. Alternatively, you can make this in a crockpot and cook at low setting for 8-10 hours. 
Tea Eggs In Pot
Sometimes, over time, the pot will start to lose water and the tops of the eggs will peek out.  Make sure to turn the eggs around so that all sides get exposed to the tea.


Tea eggs - close up

Tea Egg and Cucumber Salad

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Tomato, Basil, Mozarella and Corn Salad

>>  Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Friday everyone!

Though summer has officially ended, we are still enjoying the bounty of vegetables from the late summer harvest. I wanted to share with you the lovely salad I had earlier this week.  It's like a simple chopped Insalata Caprese with corn.  :)  Fresh butter & sugar corn is one of my favorites, and it's totally in season right now.  I love it.

For this salad, since I was eating alone, I just lightly cooked one ear of corn in the microwave using this super easy method.  I cut off the kernels and mixed them with baby roma tomatoes (chopped in half), chopped mozarella, and fresh basil.  In general, for chopped salads such as this one, it's nice to chop the ingredients so that they are similar sizes.  Bite-sized, ideally.

I tossed everything with a few splashes of balsamic vinaigrette and extra virgin olive oil.  I then topped it with a few dashes of sea salt.

It was a wonderful way to experience the fresh tastes of late summer.  The slight sweetness of the balsamic vinaigrette really brings out the flavors in this dish.

Good-by Summer.  I feel like you just arrived and now you are gone.  I'm glad I got to experience so much of your fresh produce from farmers markets this year.  I hope to continue doing so in the summers to come.

Here are the most popular posts this summer (in order of popularity):

Oven to Pan Seared Prime Rib-eye Steak
Prime Ribeye steak from Costco

FroYo (Frozen Yogurt) Popsicles
Froyo Popsicles

Foodbuzz 24,24,24 - Kyaraben On Steroids
Inarizushi and Onigiri

Vietnamese Spring Rolls
Vietnamese Spring Rolls

Enjoy! And thanks so much for reading. :) Looking forward to a great autumn full of yummy food.

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Dry-Fried Eggplants

>>  Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I love simple, healthy dishes that stand firmly on the flavors of the fresh produce, not fancy sauces or seasonings. You enjoy the dish because the flavors of the in-season vegetables stand out, not because some heavy sauce is trying hard to cover up the bland, tasteless supermarket veggies.

This dish is just that. The ingredient list is simple, and the vegetables, which came straight from the garden, are as fresh as can be.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently had a chance to forage my pastor's garden for many sorts of delicious vegetables, such as Chinese hollow heart greens (kong xin tsai), eggplant (Chinese and American types), bell peppers, and green beans!
Pastor Chuck's Garden Bounty

I found a simple recipe in Fuchsia Dunlop's book, Land of Plenty, which included two out the four veggies in my bounty: eggplants and bell peppers.  Score!  I like this recipe because the ingredient list is surprisingly simple, yet the end result is surprisingly flavorful.  Fresh eggplant is delicious when sauteed, and I think it's the simple flavors of the eggplant which are coming out in this dish.  This recipe uses the dry fry method, a Sichuan specialty. What's cool about the dry fry method is that very little oil is used, and the eggplant ends up sort of being toasted on the wok instead under lower heat.

Dry-Fried Eggplants adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop

1 lb eggplant (preferably Asian long eggplant - see note below if using normal eggplant)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 green bell pepper
peanut oil (I used canola)
1 tsp sesame oil

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, and then slice thinly at an angle, about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the peppers into thin slices.

Smear the wok with a layer of oil just enough to coat it to prevent sticking.  I used a paper towel to do this.  Heat the wok at medium high and wait until the wok is quite hot and the oil is smoking.  Add the eggplant slices and stir and toss around for about 3 minutes.  Try not to overload the wok otherwise the pieces will not cook evenly.

Then add the pepper slices and 1-2 more tablespoons of oil.  Continue stir frying for another 2 minutes or so until the pepper is cooked.  Season with more salt if necessary.

Remove from heat, stir in sesame oil, and serve.
Dry Fried Eggplant and Peppers

Kitchen Notes
1. The ratio of vegetables is quite flexible, and you can vary it according to your preference. In my case, I did not have a pound of eggplant, so my ratio has more green peppers than the original recipe

2. I found that adding just a bit of minced garlic really makes this dish stand out. The second time I made it, I sauteed about a tablespoon of minced garlic (which I conveniently got from the freezer due to this method!) in a small amount of oil before adding the eggplant.

3.  If you plan on using normal eggplant instead of the thin Asian kind, you should soak the eggplant slices in a bowl of salt water (add about 1-2 tsp of salt to the bowl) for about 15 minutes before cooking.  This draws out the bitter compounds in the eggplant. The water will look a little brownish yellow after about 10-15 minutes.  Asian eggplants do not have this problem.

4.  I can't tell whether this recipe is an authentic dry-fry method or is a hybrid version.  I guess you do stir the eggplant around in the wok for several minutes, but the later addition of 2 T of oil has me a bit suspicious.  Maybe the eggplants are being "dry-fried" but the bell peppers are not.  In any event, the dish is yummy.  :)

Enjoy! And happy Autumn to everyone!
Summer Bounty

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Jo Jo Taipei

I remember the hype of Jo Jo Taipei when it first opened. Word of mouth about the restaurant spread like wildfire throughout the Chinese community - especially among the Taiwanese - and crowds of people frequently lined up trying to get into the restaurant.

_MG_1414I think the hype has died somewhat, maybe partly due to the recession.  At 6:30pm on a Monday night recently, only two of the tables were filled. By 8pm, however, the place was about half full, completely with Asians.  Last night I visited with my Taiwanese friend.  After seeing the menu, we went a little berserk and ordered three dishes plus the infamous shaved ice dessert. Needless to say, we were stuffed.

Over all, JoJo Taipei is definitely one of the best Taiwanese restaurants in Boston.  The menu has a lot of uniquely Taiwanese dishes, such as 3-cup chicken, stinky tofu, duck tongue, and ba genh (pork, bamboo, and mushroom soup).  They also have several Sichuan dishes such as spicy bean vermicelli with ground pork (ant up a tree) and mapo tofu.  What really sets them apart, however, is their awesome dessert menu.  The shaved ice is phenomenal and better than any I've had in Boston.  More on that below!
3-cup Eggplant ($9.99)  Similar to its more famous cousin, the 3-cup chicken, this dish is also made with the namesake sauce that consists of 1 cup soy sauce, 1 cup sesame oil, and 1 cup rice wine stewed together with tons of garlic, ginger, and glorious amounts of basil.  This magical combination of ingredients creates spectacular flavors, and this dish was no exception. It was flavorful, fragrant, and delicious.  The eggplant pieces were also tender, moist, and full of flavor.
Salted Crispy Chicken ($6.99).  This is a very typically Taiwanese "snack" - crispy fried chicken with hot peppers and basil.  The flavors were good -(love that salty mix of hot peppers and basil - YUM!) though the dish is a bit greasy.  Careful!  The chicken pieces include bones!
The mapo bean curd is actually a Sichuan dish, but I thought they did a good job on it.  The dish was quite spicy and had the unmistakable flowery and numbing notes of Sichuan peppercorn powder (which I LOVE!).  The dish leans on the salty side, so I would definitely eat it with a lot of rice.  Other than that though, the flavors were fantastic and I actually couldn't stop eating this one.
Boba Shaved Ice
Small Bow bin ($4.95) This is truly the BEST part about this restaurant - the desserts!  I absolutely love, love, love their "bow bin," a massive shaved ice dessert.  Essentially, you get this huge bowl of shaved ice sweetened with condensed milk and topped with a generous array of condiments such as boba (tapioca balls), mung beans, red beans (azuki), sweet boiled peanuts, mochi balls, and gelatin.  The mix of textures and flavors is incredible.  You crunch on the ice, chew on the bobas, munch on the sweet beans, and slurp the slush. So satisfying.  This is super refreshing on a hot summer day, though honestly, I could eat it any day.  It's so good and it's so Taiwanese - sigh - reminds me of the amazing shaved ice I had in Taiwan.

But I digress . . .

Definitely try this place out, if nothing else at least try the shaved ice!!!  Mmmmmmm . . . .

JoJo Taipei
103 Brighton Ave
Allston, MA 02134
Jo Jo Taipei on Urbanspoon

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Sauteed Hollow Heart Vegetable with Chinese BBQ Sauce

>>  Monday, September 21, 2009

This vegetable, known simply as "kong xin tsai" (空心菜) in Mandarin Chinese, is called so many other names in America that I get really confused. I've seen it called water spinach, water convulvulus, Chinese watercress, and ongchoy . . just to name a few.  It's called hollow heart vegetable in Chinese because the stems are characteristically hollow. The hollow stems have a unique crunch that makes them fun to eat.
Hollow heart vegetable is prolific in Asia, and does not even need soil to grow, profusely thriving in marshy wetlands, rivers, and streams.  In parts of the US, it has become so prolific that the USDA has official designated it a "noxious weed."  It grows THAT easily.
We recently had a fun filled afternoon collecting bounty from our pastor's garden. Instead of apple picking, we went "kong xin tsai" picking. It was hard work! . . bending over with scissors cutting stalks and stalks of this "noxious weed."
This stuff is so easy to grow, my friend Emily from Emily Ku Photography bought some from the supermarket, stuck some in a cup of water, and grew her own! Remember how I said it just grows in rivers in Asia?
Kong xin tsai is delicious and has nutritional benefits similar to spinach. It's my husband's favorite Chinese leafy green, and we order it at restaurants all the time.  The vegetable is prepared in countless different ways in Asia.  You can cook it with shrimp paste (Malaysian), fermented tofu (Cantonese), or simply saute it with some garlic, which is classic. Here is another one of my favorite ways.

1 bunch of kong xin tsai
2-3 cloves of garlic (smashed)
1 T Chinese BBQ Sauce (Satsa - see photo to the right)
salt to taste

Note: my veggies came from the garden so they were pretty clean. If you buy these in the market, they can be pretty dirty. You might have to wash multiple times. Soak, drain, soak, drain, etc. Treat it like you do fresh spinach.

Step 1:
Remove the thicker stems from the leaves and cut, diagonally, into 1 inch pieces.  [If you see super thick stems that seem really tough, discard those!]
Step 2: Add ~ 1T oil to wok and heat on high until the oil is almost smoking.  Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 30 second or so - don't let it burn!).  Add the stems first and saute until softened, maybe 2-3 minutes or so.
Step 3: Add leaves in and then quickly stir around until leaves are wilted (this won't take too long - maybe like 1 minute).  Remove from heat.

Step 4: Stir 1 T of Chinese BBQ Sauce (or more, to taste) into the cooked veggies.  Add salt to taste. Enjoy!

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you can contact me at: jen[at]tinyurbankitchen[dot]com
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