I’ve been playing around with ways to make my favorite local Hawaii foods vegan/vegetarian/meat-free. It’s tough and I haven’t been as successful as I originally imagined, but man oh man have we got a winner! This recipe delicious… and yes it’s also unbelievably meatless (I fooled my fellow Hawaii born & raised friend Peter). You wouldn’t even know it.
In Hawaii, manapua is the local version of the Chinese char siu bao. Many Chinese migrated to the islands in the mid 1800s, which explains why the cuisine has become so integrated into local dishes. They began opening up shops and restaurants and started selling delicious steamed buns filled with sweet pork. The name manapua comes from the Hawaiian phrase “mea ono puaa” which translates to “pork pastry” or “mauna puaa” which means “mountain of pork”. Both accurate descriptions. Today manapua is most commonly known for that iconic char siu filling, but can also be made filled with kalua pig or even curry chicken.
Local foods are challenging to turn vegan with so many important ingredients being seafood/pork/chicken based. This recipe is considered meatless though there’s a bit of oyster sauce in it. If you’re a stickler you can definitely omit the oyster sauce and the taste shouldn’t change too much. However, if you’re not… add the oyster sauce because like hoisin, it’s kind of in every Chinese dish for a reason.
Recipe adapted from the Woks of Life.
for the dough
1 tsp active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (104-110°F)
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cornstarch
5 tbsp white granulated sugar
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, add the warm water and yeast. Wait for about 5 minutes to let the yeast activate. In the meantime, whisk together the flour and cornstarch. Add the flour mixture to the activated yeast along with the sugar and the oil. Turn the mixer on its lowest setting and knead until a smooth dough ball is formed.
2. Transfer the dough to a clean oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let rest in a warm place for 2 hours until the dough has doubled in size.
for the filling (pt. 1)
1 pkg pork meat substitute (I like Gardein’s porkless bites, sauce package discarded), chopped
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 tbsp sherry or Chinese plum wine
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tsp molasses
1 tbsp oil
3 cloves minced garlic
3. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
4. Add the porkless bites to a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the other ingredients together. Add the sauce to the porkless bites and toss well. Transfer the mixture to the baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes until the filling is crispy on the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool.
for the filling (pt. 2)
5-6 fresh shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tbsp oil
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce (omit to keep this dish vegetarian)
1 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 cup vegetarian chicken-less broth or vegetable stock
2 tbsp flour
5. Heat a tablespoon of flavorless oil in a saucepan. Add the shallots and cook on medium heat until translucent. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add in the sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce (if using), sesame oil, and dark soy sauce. Stir together until the mixture begins to bubble. Add in the chicken stock along with the flour and stir for a few minutes until the mixture has thickened. Remove the pan from the heat and add in the crispy porkless bites. Combine well and set aside in a bowl.
6. Once the dough has finished rising, push out all the air bubbles. Knead the baking powder until the dough until smooth again. You can add a few teaspoons of water as needed if the dough is too dry to handle. Once the dough is smooth, divide it into 10-12 equal pieces. I like using a kitchen scale to be as accurate as possible. Roll each portion of dough into a ball and set aside covered with a damp towel to proof for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, start boiling a few inches of water in a large pot that your steamer basket can sit over snugly.
7. Once finished proofing, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough ball into a disc. Add about a tablespoon of filling to the center of the disc and pinch the ends closed. Shape into a ball and set on a bamboo steamer. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough balls. You can also use a bit of food coloring and the back of a chopstick to add the red dot to each manapua. Steam for about 12 minutes. Let the buns cool for a few minutes before consuming. They taste better when they’ve had a little chance to rest.