Following from the crepe post, I give you more crepe. Didn’t see that coming did you? My friend Alison Cheng, who has written for Dear HK, has taken some lovely photos for bánh xèo that she’s let me use today. Watch out for more of the Ms. Cheng’s contributions on the HK numb, or feel free to contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org if you like what you see.
Heavily influenced by French cuisine, Vietnamese food is full of French-inspired gems like the increasingly popular banh mi, and bo kho (similar to a French beef stew, even served with a chunk off a baguette!).
Banh xeo is another a favourite of mine. This Vietnamese version of a savoury crepe is too darn delicious, especially when the shrimp is freshly caught and the beansprouts are only just-cooked, still maintaining that delicate crunch with the rest of the sizzling cake. I felt so high on life the first time I had a banh xeo in Vietnam – I think I was in Hue – that I ended up getting inked like an idiot straight after. Might have had something to do with the red wine too…
Alison is half-Vietnamese, which is probably why she still remains in my phonebook; any questions I have when it comes to recreating Vietnamese dishes, and she asks her mom for me. She’s the best.
I am terrible with measurements (probably why I’m so terrible at baking), but the batter is the only thing that really needs to be quantified. Taste recommends (for a serving of 8):
- 1 1/4 cups rice flour
- 400ml can of coconut milk
- 1 1/4 cups of iced water
- 1 tsp of turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp Salt
For the Filling:
- Mung beans
- Lean pork
- Bean sprouts
And to serve, with sauce:
- Mustard greens or lettuce
- Lime or lemon juice
- Fish sauce
Add some chopped spring onions for taste and a little diversity in colour and texture. Like it’s French cousin, the consistency of the batter is very important. For French crepes, I like to leave the batter aside for an hour at room temperature, or even overnight, just to help the process. Alison says: “Expect to fail on the first few attempts.” Thanks for the leap of faith, buddy.
For the filling, we keep it authentic with mung beans, shrimp and lean pork. Boil the mung beans in a pot and cook it as you would rice or similar to couscous – but richer, nicer, and fluffier in texture.
Lean pork works nicely for the pancake, and can be cooked in a variety of ways – broiling, steaming or even pan-frying, depending on your diet constraints. To ensure that the pork doesn’t dry out too quickly, marinading the meat for a few hours prior to cooking can break down its protein, and consequently help it retain moisture. The longer the better, really – but don’t push it past 5 days! The marinade is entirely up to you, but I think a Vietnamese inspired combination of lemongrass, soy sauce and fish sauce would add a great depth of flavour to the whole dish. Once cooked and cooled, slice thinly.
Like the French crepe, the batter of the banh xeo must be spread thinly, in a hot pan or wok. The crepe is referred to as the ‘sizzling cake’ so it is vitally important to make sure the oil in this pan is almost smoking hot and adequate to achieve the crunchy exterior of the pancake. The sound of the sizzle should scare you almost. Like The Wok-ing Dead.
Layer the ingredients couragously into the spitting cauldron and add a handful of raw bean sprouts and chopped spring onions. Fold it in half and let the battered beast feed on the fry.
“Patiently!” says Alison.
In Vietnamese cuisine, nước mắm pha is the cultural equivalent of soy sauce to the Chinese, used in virtually everything. Made from equal parts of lemon or lime juice, fish sauce and water (some chopped fresh chilies and sugar wouldn’t hurt either), this sauce is a harmony of sweet, sour, salty and spicy, and gets doused over all of your crepe.
Wrap and enjoy.