On vacation in Vietnam I kind of missed being in the kitchen. I especially missed cooking for myself and tinkering around. In Hoi An I got a chance to dabble a bit when I took a cooking class at the Red Bridge Cooking School. The class combined demonstrations with hands-on learning. Much of the prep work was done ahead of time so I knew that once I got home I'd have to test the recipes again.
One of the simplest recipes I got a chance to make was banh xeo, pronounced bahn sow. This is a delicious crunchy chewy crepe that seems like it's made from eggs, but never is. The yellow color comes from a sprinkling of turmeric. It's filled with a combination of pork and shrimp, scallions and bean sprouts. In Vietnam it's served with sheets of rice paper but at home I've always just wrapped chunks of it up in lettuce leaves with herbs. It's messier than rolling it up in rice paper, but I think it stays crunchier that way.
In the South of Vietnam the crepes are enormous, in other parts of the country they are much smaller. While we learned to make a peanut sauce to dip the crepe in, which is typical in Central Vietnam, I prefer using nuoc cham sauce. The great thing about this recipe is that you can tweak it. Use whatever dipping sauce you like, add other vegetables to the filling like radishes or jicama, make it vegetarian, add mung beans or coconut milk to the batter--whatever. But the technique and cooking couldn't be easier. Note: you can serve this as a one dish meal or as a starter. If you make it as a starter one crepe is enough for two people.
Banh Xeo Vietnamese Crepe
makes 2 crepes
1 cup rice flour (Thai versions are fairly easy to find)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
pinch of salt
vegetable oil for frying
4 ounces small shrimp
4 ounces sliced roast pork
4 scallions, sliced
2 cups bean sprouts
leafy lettuce leaves
fresh herbs such as mint, Thai or Vietnamese basil (optional) and cilantro
dipping sauce (see below)
In a bowl mix the rice flour, water, turmeric and salt.
Heat a little oil in a 10 inch non-stick pan and cook the pork and shrimp. When cooked through, add the scallions. Add a little more oil, you may need a tablespoon or two to make the crepe very crisp and chewy. Pour in 1/2 cup batter on top of the fillings and tilt the pan to spread the batter into a crepe. Top with bean sprouts and cook for several minutes until the bottom of the crepe is beginning to turn brown and very crunchy. Fold the crepe in half and drain on paper towels. Serve with lettuce and herbs and dipping sauce.
Nuoc cham dipping sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon chili paste or a chopped red chili
2-3 Tablespoons fish sauce
1-2 T lime juice (or lemon juice)
1/4 cup water
1 clove garlic, minced
Mix all the ingredients, taste and make any adjustments you like.
FOOD + VIETNAM