Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Vietnamese Sizzling Rice Crepe with Pork, Shrimp, and Mushrooms

I've been very into Vietnamese food lately, with the help of Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen. I love the abundance of fresh herbs and the delicate balancing of sweet, tart, spicy, and salty flavors. I first tasted banh xeo, or sizzling rice crepes, at Long Provincial Vietnamese Restaurant in Seattle, and I immediately fell in love with it. The outside is crispy and the inside is soft and chewy, with some crunch from the bean sprouts. I like it best filled with shrimp and pork. As is traditional, I serve it with nuoc cham and a plate of fresh lettuce and herbs.

This dish should be started ahead of time to allow the batter enough time to soak, but it doesn't take  much time at all once you begin cooking. It looks more complicated than it is, since the batter and dipping sauce can be made ahead, and the garnishes need nothing more than to be placed on a plate.

Banh Xeo, or Vietnamese Sizzling Rice Crepe with Pork, Shrimp, and Mushrooms

1 cup raw jasmine rice (or other long grain white rice)
2 tablespoons leftover cooked rice or 2 tablespoons rice flour (you can omit this if you don't have it)
1/4 cup packed steamed mung beans (steam dried mung beans, preferably peeled, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until soft)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup coconut milk
1 1/4 cup water
2 scallions, thinly sliced 
     Filling and Cooking:
3/4 pound pork shoulder, sliced into matchsticks
1/2 pound small shrimp (leave the shell on for an authentic crunch, or if that weirds you out, peel them)
1 cup thinly sliced shitake mushrooms (or substitute 1 can straw mushrooms, drained and cut in half lengthwise--this is more authentic, but I love the flavor of shitakes)
1 small onion, thinly sliced from root to tip
3/4 cup ground steamed mung bean (see above)
4 cups bean sprouts
vegetable oil, for pan-frying 
Herb and Vegetable Garnish Plate, see below
Nuoc Cham, see below

For the batter: Soak the rice in cold water for 3 to 5 hours. Drain the rice, transfer it to a blender, and add all the rest of the batter ingredients except the scallions. Blend for 2 or 3 minutes, or until the batter is very smooth. Stir in the scallions. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 1 hour at room temperature or up to 3 days in the refrigerator (ideally bring it back to room temperature before cooking)

Filling and cooking the crepes: Mix together all the filling ingredients except the bean sprouts and the oil. Divide the mixture into 8 even portions (this will make frying the crepes simpler).

In an 10 inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of oil over medium-high to high heat. When the oil is hot, add one portion of the filling. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, or until the meat is seared. Spread the filling out evenly in the pan, leaving one line down the middle of the pan empty (this will be where you fold the crepe over--you want this part empty to make the folding easier).

Stir the batter to reincorporate anything that has settled to the bottom. Ladle in about 1/3 cup of batter to the pan, and swirl it around until the batter covers the bottom of the skillet. After about 1 minute, add a handful of bean sprouts to one side of the crepe. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for 3 minutes, or until the sprouts have softened.

Remove the lid from the skillet and drizzle a bit of oil around the edges of the crepe to add crispiness. Continue to cook until the edges pull away from the pan and reach a golden brown. The bottom should also be crispy. Using a spatula, fold the crepe over on itself and slide it out of the pan. Cover and place in a warm oven until serving time. Repeat with the remaining crepes, using two pans at once if you can to make it quicker.

To serve and eat: Serve the warm crepes with the herb and vegetable garnish plate and the nuoc cham. Cut a piece of crepe, wrap it and some herbs in lettuce, and then dip it in the sauce before eating.

Herb and Vegetable Garnish Plate:
1 small pickling cucumber or 1/2 an English cucumber, halved lengthwise, seeded if necessary, and thinly sliced
1 small head butter lettuce
1 bunch mint
1 bunch Thai basil
1 bunch cilantro
other herbs, such as lemon balm, shiso, cinnamon basil, lime basil, Vietnamese coriander, sorrel, etc.

Arrange all these ingredients on a platter, tearing up the herbs into smaller pieces and separating the lettuce leaves.

Nuoc Cham (basic Vietnamese dipping sauce):
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar (or use more lime juice)
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup warm water
5 tablespoons fish sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 to 3 Thai peppers, to taste (keep in mind these tiny peppers are incredibly spicy)

Stir together all the ingredients until the sugar dissolves. Taste the sauce, and adjust the flavor balance as you like.

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