Take Another Look


At a glance, today’s entry looks to be an omelet, doesn’t it?  No eggs were involved this week, though.  Instead, we have a rice-flour crepe, lightly thin and pan-seared to crispy perfection, barely able to contain all the goodness within its grasp.  This is Bánh Xèo (in English, pronounced “bun sale”), a street food made popular in Vietnam and described in Food & Wine‘s September 2018 issue.

It starts with a good rice flour, which is finer and smoother than is AP flour:Rice Flour

After adding a sufficient quantity of water, thinly-sliced scallions are mixed in, along with coconut milk.  This last ingredient is a supplement to the original recipe and is what makes this a bánh xèo in the Saigon style.  Finally, a dash of dried turmeric joins the party and the batter is complete:Banh Xeo Batter

As you can see, the turmeric barely colors the batter.  Only as the heat puts the spurs to it does the turmeric activate, lending a yolky yellow shade that offers the incorrect assumption eggs are involved.

Meanwhile, thinly-sliced pork, shallots and mushrooms accompany shrimp in a skillet and are lightly sautéed.  Just enough batter is poured in to cover the bottom of the pan, hence the name “xèo,” in imitation of the batter’s sizzle when it hits the hot skillet.  The pancake is thin enough to crisp quickly.  Bean sprouts are sprinkled on, then the bánh xèo is folded in half, over itself, and is served.

The result is light, crunchy and is bursting with all sorts of savory excellence.  However, the bánh xèo hasn’t yet reached the summit.  The idea is to cut (or tear) off a bite-size section, wrap it in some the greens served alongside, then to dip the package in a bit of the spicy-tangy sauce made just for that purpose.   Then…rapture.  Incredible.

This may look like an omelet, but bánh xèo is lighter, crispier and so much tastier than that.  Never was unmasking disguises such delicious work.

*****

Bánh Xèo

(Vietnamese Sizzling Pancakes)

For the sauce:

  • 2 Thai chilies, thickly sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thickly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar (*1)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the batter:

  • 2 cups rice flour
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cups cold water (*2)
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk, optional; read Note 2 below

For the filling:

  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more to replenish supply as each new pancake is cooked (*3)
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, sliced thinly crosswise
  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 cups shitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced (*4)
  • 1 cup thinly-sliced yellow onion (*5)
  • salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 and 1/2 cups bean sprouts

Make the pancakes by whisking together in a medium bowl the rice flour, water and coconut milk, if using.  Whisk in the turmeric and scallions until well-blended. (*6)

Make the dipping sauce by grinding the chilies, garlic and sugar in a mortar and pestle, until it forms a thick slurry.  Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the fish sauce, lime juice and 2 tablespoons of water.  Set aside.

Make the bánh xèo:

Place a nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium flame.  Pour in the oil.  When it shimmers, add 3 slices of pork, 3 shrimp, some of the mushrooms and some of the onion.  Season with salt and pepper and saute until lightly-browned, one minute, flipping the meat halfway through (i.e., after 30 seconds).

Push the meat to one half of the skillet, while leaving the mushrooms and onion in place.  Pour in a about a third a cup of the batter, swirling the skillet so the batter evenly coats the pan bottom.  Cover and cook, undisturbed, until the pancake edges begin to brown and curl.

Turn off heat and sprinkle about 1/4 cup of bean sprouts over the pancake.  Fold the pancake in half over itself.  Slide the bánh xèo onto a warm serving plate and repeat the above paragraphs (everything following “Make the bánh xèo:”) until the ingredients are gone. (*7)

Serve with the dipping sauce and various leafy greens of your choosing.  Bibb lettuce, mint leaves, cilantro, Thai basil and mustard greens are good ideas.

NOTES:

1 – Though I still have palm sugar in the fridge, granulated sugar is better in this case, as its grainy structure helps to grind the other ingredient while preparing the sauce.

2 – This ratio, 2 cups of water and 1/4 cup of coconut milk, is good for making Saigon-type bánh xèo.    If you want to do without the coconut milk, increase the water to 2 and 1/4 cups.  The pancakes won’t be quite as savory, though.

3 – Vegetable oil is fine, but as I chose Saigon-style cooking, and consequently used coconut oil, as it complements the milk in the batter.

4 – This works out to about ten ounces of raw shitakes, which when stemmed and the caps are sliced, yields about two cups.

5 – Naturally, I used shallots, about two large bulbs.

6 – It’s best to let the batter sit for at least half an hour, to allow the flavors to blend and the batter to smoothen.  Therefore, I made it the first step in the recipe.

7 – In between batches I wiped out the skillet with paper towels, to remove any residue and to give each pancake a “fresh start.”

 

36 thoughts on “Take Another Look

  1. yum that pancake and sauce works for me only have to leave out the pork and shrimps and replace them with a few more vegetables … but not browsing around empty shelves for special ingredients for a few more months yet I’m guessing. Just purchasing what I know to make a good healthy meal … and fallen into my old retreat habit of cooking at least four meals worth 🙂

    Allows me more time for those important things to do at home 😎

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Good leads, Kate, promising something scrumptious. Just in the version above, the mushrooms, bean sprouts and greens are sufficient to satisfy a shellfish-lover. Making your substitutions would improve things and would add your signature. That’s the whole idea of cooking, isn’t it?

      I really lucked out in my trip to the store last week, as the mob had cleared half the shelves, it seems. Fortunately, they avoided the fish and only depleted some of the produce, leaving me what I needed, actually. Plus, I already had rice flour, soy sauce, turmeric and bean sprouts on the pantry shelf.

      Once the markets replenish, may they fuel similarly your own ideas!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. our supermarkets now have permission to work together = price gouging! Prices have skyrocketed so those hoarders were smart, painful but smart …

        I’ll be shopping fortnightly and just pray that some things are back on the shelf … mind you it’s probably good to have a compulsory diet 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks great! You can probably substitute a lot of the ingredients if you wanted to. I’m glad you’re cooking… when does your garden produce?

    Love, light, and glitter

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Definitely, Eliza! I know pork and shellfish challenge culinary principles for at least a couple readers. Fortunately, innovation suggests many satisfying workarounds. You could splurge on the mushrooms if you’d wish (I would). Chicken thighs also would be a winning substitute, but they may not be to your taste. No worries. The wok dances here to your imagination’s tune.

      Thanks for asking about the kitchen garden. I planted the arugula and mustard greens last week, and they should sprout soon. If all goes well, and we get the cool nights they love, the first harvest should be well before April ends. The other crops await warm weather’s more definitive return, which still is a month or so away. Collections will start a couple months after that (let’s say, by mid-June).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks much for your interest, Eliza! It really makes me feel good.

        I could take pictures of the plants, sure, but working them into recipes would be even more interesting, don’t you think? And here’s the finished product…

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my goodness! I happen to have a bag of that rice flour in the downstairs freezer and I did not know what to do with it. It is same brand from Thailand and everything. I guess I have an idea for it now, huh? Hahaha

    I’ve made omelet-type dishes with pureed chana dal in the past, so why not rice flour? With the pork, shrimp, and mushroom filling, I’m sure it tastes amazing.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Got mine on Amazon (of course). And you?

      Just a pinch of turmeric is all it took for these to do a pretty spot-on omelet impersonation. In appearance, at least. In taste and in texture there’s no mistaking them for anything other than thin, crispy crepes.

      Take a slightly larger than bite-size section of crepe, gather it with some greens, and dip it in the sauce. Talk about “amazing!” About every element you thought it’d be possible to taste, and then some.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I picked up my bag at a local supermarket that specializes in East Asian foods. This was back when I would leisurely roam the aisles, searching for interesting new ingredients to cook with.

        I know in France they often use buckwheat flour in savory crepes. I had to stick with the sweet crepes when we visited since buckwheat is an ingredient that I am allergic to. I’m definitely keeping this in mind as an alternative to the buckwheat!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s unfortunate, Summer. No buckwheat crepes in France, buckwheat pancakes here in the US, or soba noodles in Japan. Double the reservations, as I plan a buckwheat-related post one of these months or another., I’ll miss your comments!

        We’ll strive to make up for it with an entry or two that proves to be particularly satisfying. Fingers crossed.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I still look forward to seeing what you end up doing with the buckwheat! It’s a really versatile ingredient that is underappreciated here. I feel like my biggest loss was when we visited the creperies, something that is fairly rare locally.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Oh, I can imagine, Summer. Even if you’re allergic, to miss out on something from a genuine French specialty kitchen. oh my. Especially too, as you observe, it’s a treat not often replicated on this side of the Atlantic.

        Sounds as though you and your husband are real travelers. Even so, France certainly qualifies as a special experience. As such, how often do you come deliciously close to defying an allergy?

        Ay, pobrecita! Wrong language, genius. Yeah, I know, but it still makes the point.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. I’ve only had the privilege of spending time in France once. We backpacked (with the help of trains and planes) from Greece to Italy to France to the Netherlands and then to the UK. I could not risk any sort of allergic reaction in the middle of what was likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. So no galettes, but France has marvelous macarons and a lot of other delicious things to sample! I’d say it was a sacrifice worth making! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      6. What a beautiful adventure, Summer! Experiences galore. Most of which, no doubt, you’ve added to your life’s narrative. The food being just one highlight among many.

        On that measure, the experience clearly enriched your current culinary sense, with France playing a disproportionate role.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. I do truly adore French cuisine and their culture in general. If there were no language barrier, I could happily spend the rest of my days in the country. When traveling throughout Europe, people often made the assumption that my family was French (this was before we spoke, of course). At least on initial appearances, apparently we’d fit in!

        Liked by 1 person

      8. As do I, Summer. As do I. Reminds me of joke I heard once – Heaven has an English cop, a German engineer and a French cook. In Hell it’s a German cop, a French engineer and an English cook.

        Actually, that’s too dismissive of my ancestors’ culinary acumen, as I’ve found a few English offerings worth celebrating on these pages. About a year ago it was scones, and before that, pot pies. Two different varieties, at that.

        That’s so funny, about you being mistaken for having French relatives. Maybe it’s your appreciation for the finer points of French cuisine (which encompasses, in turn, the finer points of world cuisine)? “That woman knows her way around a patisserie. Ah, how could she be anything but French?”

        Liked by 1 person

      9. On the recommendation of British foodie friends, I have recently discovered the culinary wonder that is toad in the hole. Kitchen Sanctuary has a fabulous recipe with a rich onion gravy if you haven’t tried it. It’s definitely a gem in British cuisine (also not making any health claims about it, considering it’s mostly sausages and white flour lol). Maybe try a turkey or chicken sausage since I believe I recall you saying you disliked sausage?

        We had some really excellent fish and chips as well in London. They have better malt vinegar than our common brands here. I ended up ordering a UK brand online so I could recreate the chips experience at home!

        I guess what I’m saying is that I agree that the UK has some nice culinary offerings. However, considering my British favorites, I think my overall diet (health-wise) might fare better in France. 😂

        Liked by 1 person

      10. No, Summer, I never have tried toad in the hole, though your description just might overcome what you correctly recall as an indifference to sausage.

        You also are quite right in your description of other English dishes. Fish and Chips, meat pies, scones, etc. may be wonderfully savory, but they also exact their wages when we tally up the damages on the bathroom scale later that week. That said, look for Fish and Chips to stop by later this year. A guilty indulgence, sure, but they and the desserts satisfy us deeply as we resolve to be better…starting tomorrow.

        As you know, French cuisine collects supremely delicious (and steep) wages too, what, with all those butters and creams, but somehow the indulgence shows up less at the waistline. Could it be the wines? Both in the recipes, as well as that taken alongside, le vin certainly confers more than one benefit.

        Liked by 1 person

      11. My experience in France tells me that there are a few factors at play. For one, they don’t really snack in France, though it is fine to enjoy some dessert at the end of a meal. I guess it is considered a faux pas to mindlessly graze on food all day. Also, though the meals are very rich, the portions are much smaller than what you’d find in U.S. restaurants. That combination makes it much easier to consume fewer calories in general.

        Also, at least as tourists, we spent hours each day walking in French cities. Here we have to make an effort to schedule in some exercise. I think that the UK is far more like America in ways that extend beyond a common language. The portions were large in Britain and snacking was perfectly acceptable. I remember one evening we purchased all of the British candy bars we’ve never tried before and made that our meal. LOL I wonder if some British families come over here and do the same. haha

        Liked by 1 person

      12. Fascinating details, Summer! Would you believe I never heard the phenomenon explained so well before? Makes a lot of sense, actually, and I’m grateful to you for providing information I didn’t have until now. Our challenge here in the Anglosphere is eating frequency and portions, as well as the fact we don’t walk anywhere.

        We arrange our municipalities a bit differently down here than you do in New England. Here we have urban cores, designated as cities or boroughs, and the surrounding suburban/rural areas, that make up distinct municipalities and which are called townships.

        The reason I mention this (aside from my being pedantic and feeling the need to show off my PoliSci degree) is that the town near where I grew up is a happy exception to the rule about people not walking anywhere. Despite having a population of only 5,000, it boasts a thriving downtown, featuring five restaurants, a few dozen businesses of all sorts, and even a movie theater that also features live entertainment. As a result, the town bustles with pedestrians who are on the thin side. Of course, it help the population skews young, with disproportionate shares of singles, just-marrieds and couples with young children.

        All this is in nice contrast to most other areas, where people don’t walk anywhere. They don’t even visit malls, which have been mostly-vacant for years. Now, it’s just drive somewhere and sit.

        Liked by 1 person

      13. That sounds really great! Where I live, the nearest grocery store is 5-6 miles away, so taking the car is a necessity. Also, there are not that many sidewalks in town in general. They were thinking about putting some in at one point (it would have connected my street to the library- so nice!) but the plan never came to fruition.

        Most of the shoulders of the roads in New England are extremely narrow. As such, they are far less friendly to walking than the places I’ve lived in upstate New York (and I think many parts of Pennsylvania). Walking on the extremely narrow shoulders on the twisty roads here is not an entirely safe undertaking. We do have a lot of nice biking and hiking trails, but time needs to be scheduled to use them. Otherwise, they don’t really fit into the course of daily life.

        Now they are telling us they may be closing many of these places as the weather warms, so I guess all workouts will need to be done at home anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

      14. When you mention the narrow New England road shoulders being dangerous, I immediately thought of Stephen King. Didn’t a driver in Maine hit him when he was walking along the road several years back?

        Our current circumstances aren’t quite as restrictive as those your area is contemplating. Not yet, at least. Still see plenty of joggers/walkers out and about You’re right, tough, worsening conditions could force such activities inside.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. This looks a bit complicated for the likes of me, but nevertheless, it’s another magnificent recipe to try, especially while we are stuck inside. (But, even if we weren’t inside, we could come inside, and make this)! xxxooo

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Much appreciated, Tamara. Thanks a million!

      Maybe the recipe intimidates (though you may surprise yourself once you get cooking), but it also inspires, one hopes. Let the dreams begin!

      That’s the first step. The second is to wonder, and the third, is to experiment. Once you’re at that stage, you’re on your way. Pretty soon, you’ll be trying this, and adding that. Before you know it, you’ll be encouraging someone who doesn’t think she can do it.

      And to think, it all began with a sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. oh wow at first it did look like eggs to me! What a perfect gluten free or low fat and vegan alternative to eggs! Since i like to eat GF as much as I can, I tried once rice tortillas but they were way too dry! I think I’ll give them another try with this recipe! I love that it has coconut milk and the filling sounds irresistible!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, Daniela!

      You’ve identified the secret, I think – coconut milk. It gives the pancakes a savoriness that makes them supple even though they’re thin and crispy. Ten more, please!

      You aren’t the only reader who’s interested in the vegan option. Mushrooms really do fill nicely for the pork and shrimp. When a dish can get a confirmed shrimp-addict such as myself to admit the equivalency, those must be some pretty awesome mushrooms!

      Not only that, but the meat-free version also is authentic to Saigon. You figure, most South Vietnamese were Buddhists. While most ate meat anyway, mushrooms provided a delicious way for them to remain true to their principles. In addition, the significant minority who were Catholic also searched for meatless alternatives on Fridays.

      Like

  6. I love making pancake and crepe type stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever had one made from rice flour. The way you describe it sounds delicious. On a side note my gluten-sensitive sister-in-law makes chocolate chip cookies out of a rice flour mixture. Its very light and crispy. Just divine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can imagine, JoAnn! This was the first time I worked with rice flour, and the result was pleasing. Of, as we discussed in another exchange elsewhere in this entry, the coconut milk really added something special to the pancake. Leave it to your beloved coconuts to enable the culinary distinction!

      Liked by 1 person

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