Banh Xeo (Savory Vietnamese Crepe)
I’ve finally started cooking the foods I grew up with. For the longest time, I never bothered to learn because my mom took such joy in feeding us. After she passed away, I didn’t have her to advise me. Everyone has a slightly different way of making things (and also a different way they adapted to the products available in a new country) and really, I just wanted to make mom’s version of things. Even my mom’s five sisters had different spins on the same dishes.
Luckily, I have my mom’s recipe notebook. It was always in our kitchen growing up. She loved recording recipes from friends and neighbors and somehow she never ran out of pages:
Some of her notes date back to 1975/76, the years she spent in Guam after fleeing Vietnam. Some recipes are American curiosities gathered from PTA events (like jello molds and tuna casserole) but thankfully most are Vietnamese recipes from friends and family. Her original recipe for banh xeo (a savory Vietnamese crepe stuffed with shrimp, pork and lots of bean sprouts eaten with veggies and herbs dipped in fish sauce) called for a box of Farina (rice flour), some sort of rice powder, powdered eggs, water, and turmeric. Over 30 years later, ingredients have evolved. Powdered eggs were a fixture in our household growing up (my aunt got these government rations through San Francisco’s grey market) but I would have no idea how to get any these days and I know there’s a better way.
There are pre-mixed batters for banh xeo widely available in the Asian grocery, but the ingredients outlined by Rasa Malaysia were simple enough and I prefer knowing exactly what goes into my food. The only modification I made for the batter was the addition of beer.
When I told the ladies doing my nails that I was making banh xeo for dinner, one advised me to swap some beer for water to help the crepe get crispier. Only then did I remember my mom sometimes pouring a crappy lager into her batter. We only stock craft beer at my house, so I had Joel select an IPA (Bell’s Hopslam) which worked great. Just make sure you use a lighter colored beer and not a dark or sweet beer.
Traditionally, banh xeo uses thinly sliced pork shoulder or belly. These cuts are more easily found in Asian groceries but are harder to find in my neighborhood, so I just chopped a pork chop. I remember my mom using ground pork once in a while as well. I also didn’t have small shrimp, so I just chopped some larger shrimp. Adapt–it all tastes the same!
Finally, Banh xeo isn’t a good dish for parties unless you want to spend all your time cooking and not hanging out with your guests. When Joel & I made this, we made one at a time, split the banh xeo in half and sat down immediately to eat it. Once that was done, we’d get up and make another one. These are best eaten immediately…every second counts!
Banh Xeo Batter (thank you Rasa Malaysia)
Makes about 4 banh xeo. We had two each for dinner.
- 2 cups rice flour
- 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup water
- 1/2 cup light-colored beer
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced on extreme angle, about 1/4 inch thick
- Whisk together all the ingredients until smooth (no lumps!!) Make sure the batter rests for at least 30 minutes.
I’ve read the longer the batter rests, the better (even a day or two prior though I haven’t tried it). I also skipped the green onions this time but would highly recommend it for next time.
Nuoc Mam Pha/Nuoc Cham
This is the dressing or dipping sauce. I like to keep some at the ready in the fridge. It lasts a while.
- 1 part lemon/lime juice, or rice wine/white vinegar (I prefer lime juice)
- 1 part nuoc mam (fish sauce)
- 1 part sugar
- 2 parts water
- Add to taste: minced garlic, minced jalapeno or serrano peppers, or sambal oelek
All of this is adjusted to personal tastes…and everyone mixes theirs differently.
Banh Xeo Filling & Assembly
- vegetable oil
- 1/4 lb thinly sliced pork shoulder or belly (ground pork or diced pork chop works too)
- 1/4 lb peeled/deveined/sliced lengthwise small shrimp (or larger shrimp cut smaller)
- 1 lb bean sprouts
- salt & pepper
- fish sauce to taste
- 1/4 thinly sliced onion or 2-3 thinly sliced shallots
- steamed mung beans (my mom used to sprinkle cooked mung beans into her batter but I didn’t figure that out this time around)
- serve with: lettuce cups, nuoc cham, fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, basil, whatever)
- Season pork with salt, pepper & a dash of fish sauce. Season shrimp with salt & pepper.
- Heat up a large non-stick skillet. Sautee pork & onions/shallots until almost done. Sautee shrimp until almost done. Set both aside. Make sure all of your ingredients are lined up before you get going because this all happens fairly quickly.
- Now, if you’re nervous about cooking banh xeo, do what I did: watch a few videos on YouTube first.
- On high heat, add 1 Tbsp oil, scatter 1/4 of the pork, shallots and shrimp evenly throughout the pan. Stir the batter well and add 1 ladle to the pan. Swirl the pan so the batter is evenly distributed.
- Put lid on pan and cook for ~1 minute (until center is no longer runny). While you wait, put two handfuls of bean sprouts into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.
- Remove cover and continue to cook until edges begin to brown. At this point, you can add a little extra oil to the edges to help it brown and crisp. Put the bean sprouts on half the crepe and fold other edge on top.
- Serve immediately or it will get soggy! Places pieces of cooked banh xeo inside a lettuce cup, add herbs (mint, cilantro, basil), dip in nuoc cham and eat. If you’re lazy like me, it’s a bit untraditional but, I make mine into a giant salad.