Yotam Ottolenghi on cooking with steam
A step up from steamed greens: load your steamer basket with sticky rice, pork and prawn balls; steamed aubergine with cashew rayu; and, for pudding, a banana sponge with anise butter syrup
In the kitchen, as in life, there are some things I simply rarely get around to doing, or cooking, or using all that much. So much so, in fact, that I often forget just how satisfying and delicious they can be. Cooking food with steam is a good example: I know I love it, but it sometimes takes a whole steamed meal to remind myself of the fact. Today's recipes are unashamedly a few steps up from a simple plate of steamed greens, but they make a satisfying and delicious bank holiday project.
These sticky rice balls, which in their native Hunan region are known as pearl sticky rice balls, are a type of dim sum that are often served on celebratory occasions. Ideally, cook them in a stack of Chinese steaming baskets; if you have only one basket, however, steam them in batches and serve as they are ready. If you’d like to get ahead, make the balls a day before, refrigerate and roll in the rice just before steaming.
Prep 25 minSoak 2 hr+Chill 30 min+Cook 1 hrMakes 22 , to serve as part of a dim sum spread
25g dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 100ml hot water, then drained and finely chopped – reserve 2 tbsp of the soaking liquid1 tbsp olive oil½ tsp soy sauce300g Thai sticky rice, soaked for at least 2 hours, or overnight300g white cabbage leaves – the tougher outer leaves work best here3 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds
For the prawns11 raw king prawns (120g), each cut in half widthways2 tsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar2 tsp cornflourFine sea salt
For the pork filling260g unsmoked bacon lardons 4 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar 15g fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated4 tsp corn flour½ tsp ground white pepper1 tsp sesame oil¼ tsp soft brown sugar200g pork mince5 spring onions (or 75g chives), thinly sliced – set aside 10g of the green parts to garnish70g fine green beans, topped and finely sliced
For the dipping sauce60ml soy sauce3 tbsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar15g soft brown sugar 2 tsp sesame oil
Put the drained, chopped shiitake and a tablespoon of olive oil in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat, and cook for six or seven minutes, until dark and almost completely crisp. Off the heat, stir in a half-teaspoon of soy sauce, then leave to cool.
Put the prawns in a small bowl with the vinegar, cornflour and a quarter-teaspoon of salt, toss to coat, then refrigerate.
Now for the pork filling. Put the lardons and two tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor and blitz smooth. In a small bowl, combine the reserved mushroom soaking liquor, the vinegar, ginger, cornflour, pepper, sesame oil, sugar and half a teaspoon of salt, then tip into the food processor, add the pork mince and blitz for two minutes, to make a paste. Scrape into a bowl, add the crisp shiitake, spring onions and green beans, and stir with a wooden spoon for a minute or two, until the mixture starts to form strands.
Separate the mixture into 30g balls – you should end up with 22 or so – and place these on a tray. Put the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil in a small bowl and, with oiled hands and working one by one, pat each ball into a flat disc on your palm. Put one piece of prawn in the middle, then fold in the edges and reform into a tight ball. Return to the tray and chill for 30 minutes, or overnight.
Half-fill a steamer pan with water, cover and bring to a simmer on a medium-high heat.
Drain the soaked rice and spread it out on a tray. Roll the chilled pork balls in the rice, pressing down gently so they get well coated. Divide the cabbage between the steamer baskets, arrange the rice-covered pork balls on top, cover and steam on a medium-high heat for 20 minutes. Lift the steamer baskets off the pan and set aside, covered with the lid or a tea towel, for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the dipping sauce: whisk all the ingredients and two tablespoons of cold water in a bowl, then set aside.
Arrange the cabbage leaves and the pork balls on a platter, scatter the reserved spring onion greens and sesame seeds on top, and serve with the dipping sauce.
Rayu is a Japanese chilli oil, and this version features cashew nuts and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese chilli blend made up of seven essential spices and seasonings – look for it on the world food aisle of large supermarkets. Make double the amount of rayu, if you like: it will keep in a sterilised jar in the fridge for up to 10 days, and is a lovely condiment to have to hand for spooning over crisp fried eggs or stirred through greens.
Prep 5 minCook 40 minServes 4
60ml sunflower oil3 spring onions, whites finely chopped, greens sliced lengthways and put in a bowl of cold water35g raw cashews, roughly crushed in a mortar10g fresh ginger, peeled and grated1 tbsp white sesame seeds50ml soy sauce1 tbsp rice-wine vinegar2 tbsp maple syrup1 tsp shichimi togarashi 1 tsp paprika2 large aubergines (600g), stems removedFine sea salt
To make the rayu, put the oil, spring onion whites, cashews and ginger in a medium pan on a medium heat, bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes. Add the sesame seeds, cook for another two minutes, or until the cashews have browned, then take off the heat and carefully stir in the soy sauce, vinegar, maple syrup, shichimi togarashi and paprika (you are adding cold liquid to hot oil, so it will bubble quite vigorously). Return the pan to the heat, simmer for two minutes more, until slightly reduced, then pour into a bowl and leave to cool to room temperature.
Cut the aubergines in half widthways, then cut each half into 7cm x 2cm batons. Put these in a large bowl with a teaspoon of salt, then transfer to a steaming basket (or a colander that will sit over a large saucepan) and set aside.
Fill a large saucepan or steamer with enough water to come 4cm up the sides, then bring it to a boil. Place the aubergine basket (or colander) on top of the pan of boiling water, cover to prevent the steam escaping, then turn down the heat to medium and leave to steam for 20 minutes, or until the aubergines are very soft but still hold their shape. Lift the basket (or colander) off the pan, transfer to the sink, uncover and leave to drain for five minutes. Set the basket (or colander) over a large bowl and leave to cool to room temperature.
Once cooled, transfer the aubergines to a large platter, drizzle over the rayu, top with the drained crisp spring onion greens and serve at room temperature.
This is inspired by a dessert on traditional dim sum carts, whose sweet offering is often fairly plain, mainly to offset all the savoury dim sum you’ve just eaten. If your steamer basket isn't big enough to hold a 19cm cake tin, use ramekins or individual cake moulds instead. Just make sure to trim the bananas to fit the bases.
Prep 25 minCook 40 minServes 6-8
3 large eggs60ml vegetable oil, plus 1 tsp extra for greasing120g coconut palm sugar, or soft brown sugar1½ tsp vanilla bean paste⅛ tsp fine salt80ml whole milk20g custard powder120g plain flour2 tsp baking powder3-4 bananas (425g), peeled and cut in half lengthways200ml double cream100g Greek yoghurt 100g roasted and salted peanuts, roughly chopped
For the butter syrup100g coconut palm sugar, or soft brown sugar ⅔ tsp ground star anise¼ tsp fine sea salt60g room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Put the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, then beat on medium-high speed for 10 minutes, until fluffy and doubled in size. With the whisk still going, slowly pour in the milk, then whisk for another 30 or so seconds, until it's fully incorporated.
Put the custard powder, plain flour and baking powder in a medium bowl, mix to combine, then sieve into a second bowl. Sieve a sixth of the flour mixture into the egg mixture, then fold it in with a whisk, taking care not to knock out too much air. Repeat until all the flour mixture has been added (adding it in stages like this helps prevent lumps forming in the batter). Cover with reusable kitchen wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the butter syrup. Put the sugar, star anise, salt and 100ml cold water in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat and cook for seven to 10 minutes, until it's bubbling furiously and reduced by half. Stir in the butter, then take off the heat.
Grease and line a round 19cm cake tin. Pour in 100ml of the syrup, then arrange the bananas cut side down and slightly overlapping on top. Set aside until needed.
Half-fill a saucepan with water, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat to medium-high. Pour the batter on top of the bananas in the tin, then put it in a steamer basket. Put the basket on top of the pan, cover with a tea towel and then the lid, and steam for 35 minutes.
Take off the heat and leave to rest for five minutes, until cool enough to handle. You will now have a set but fluffy cake.
Meanwhile, put the cream and yoghurt in a bowl, and whisk for three or four minutes, to soft peaks.
Carefully run a palette knife or similar around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the tin and put a large flat plate on top. Invert the tin, tap gently to release the cake, then lift off the tin and peel off the paper. Gently reheat the butter syrup and pour it all over the top. Scatter over half the peanuts and put the rest in a small bowl.
Serve warm with the cream mix and extra peanuts on the side.25 min 2 hr+ 30 min+ 1 hr 22 , to serve as part of a dim sum spread 25g dried shiitake mushrooms 1 tbsp olive oil½ tsp soy sauce300g Thai sticky rice 300g white cabbage leaves 3 tsp mixed black and white sesame seeds 11 raw king prawns 2 tsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar2 tsp cornflourFine sea salt 260g unsmoked bacon lardons 4 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar 15g fresh ginger 4 tsp corn flour½ tsp ground white pepper1 tsp sesame oil¼ tsp soft brown sugar200g pork mince5 spring onions 70g fine green beans 60ml soy sauce3 tbsp Shaoxing rice-wine vinegar15g soft brown sugar 2 tsp sesame oil 5 min 40 min 4 60ml sunflower oil3 spring onions 35g raw cashews 10g fresh ginger 1 tbsp white sesame seeds50ml soy sauce1 tbsp rice-wine vinegar2 tbsp maple syrup1 tsp shichimi togarashi 1 tsp paprika2 large aubergines Fine sea salt 25 min 40 min 6-8 3 large eggs60ml vegetable oil 120g coconut palm sugar 1½ tsp vanilla bean paste⅛ tsp fine salt80ml whole milk20g custard powder120g plain flour2 tsp baking powder3-4 bananas 200ml double cream100g Greek yoghurt 100g roasted and salted peanuts 100g coconut palm sugar ⅔ tsp ground star anise¼ tsp fine sea salt60g room-temperature unsalted butter