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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bánh Ít Kẹp Bánh Ram (Steamed and Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings)

One of my favorite parts of putting a recipe together is photographing the food through the lens of my iPhone camera.  I have to admit I go crazy when comes to capturing food. My daughters probably question my sanity sometimes seeing how consumed I'm with the whole process from preparation to the presentation.

For an example, to execute the photo of Bánh Ít Kẹp Bánh Ram, I had to make a trip to stores to purchase a black plate to contrast with the soft white steamed and crispy golden fried dumplings; ingredients such as micro rainbow mix, and radish for visual contrast.  After shooting over 100 photos, I ended up settling with a few of the best ones for this recipe.   Now onto the recipe . . .

Bánh Ít Kẹp Bánh Ram are steamed rice dumpling stuffed with sauteed shrimps and pork that is stacked on top of a crispy, fried glutinous rice cake. It's a mingling of two textures - a crispy, crackling, golden brown base with a soft, chewy but tender white steamed dumpling packed with wonderful flavors to satisfy your palate. 

After several experimentation with various types of potato, tapioca, rice and sweet rice flour - and a severe burn on my hand to show off -  I am satisfied with the dumpling's texture.    
RECIPE: (Steamed and Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings)
make 12 pairs of dumplings

for dough
3 cups sweet rice
1.5 cups water
1/4 lb shrimp, shell off, cut into small pieces
1/4 lb pork, cut into small pieces
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced or 1 tsp garlic powder
1 green onion, used only the white parts, minced
1/2 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 cup dried shredded wood ear mushrooms, soaked, cut into shorter strings, optional
green onion oil, for topping
1 tablespoon oil
1 green onion, finely minced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
a pinch of salt
minced shrimps, for topping, optional
1/4 lb shrimps, shell off
1/4 cup dried shrimps, optional
for fish sauce dressing
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons coconut water or water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/4 Thai bird's eye chili pepper
1 teaspoon finely diced red bell pepper, optional
1 teaspoon finely diced green bell pepper, optional
24 banana leaf circles or aluminum foil circles


Preparing Dough

In a mixing bowl, combine glutinous rice flour and water. Wear latex disposable gloves to keep hands free of sticky dough. Mix well. Knead until smooth and soft. If the dough happens to be wet or dried, add just a little bit of flour or water as appropriate. You can test for the right texture of the dough by shaping it into a small ball and flatten it down.  The dough is good when it doesn't break apart. Cover and let it rest. 

The glutinous rice flour I used in this recipe is made in the USA and it doesn't have the smell of old flour.  If you use other brands that are made in Thailand or Vietnam, they tend to carry the smell of old flour; you might want to try this method below that I learned from my mother to get rid of that smell.

Place a double layer of good paper towel on top of the colander. In a large bowl, place a small rice bowl inside it. Then place the colander on top of the large bowl. Pour glutinous rice flour into a colander.

Add about 3 cups of water into the flour. Use a spoon to mix it until the water mixed well with flour. Cover the colander and let the water drip into the large bowl for about a couple of hours or until flour is no longer liquidy.

Remove the paper towel. Use another paper tower to blot the dough to remove any remaining water on it.

Sauteing Pork and Shrimps Filling

I like the crunchy texture of the dried wood ear mushroom in the filling.  In this recipe, you don't see this ingredients combined in the filling as I didn't have it available at that time.

In a skillet, bring a tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add in sugar, white part of onion, garlic, and shallot, stirring until fragrant. Add pork, mushroom, if used, and stir a few minutes until the pork cooks half way. Add shrimps, fish sauce, and ground pepper, stirring well. Saute for a few minutes until the sauce becomes thick and coats the pork and shrimps and the color changes to brown, remove it from heat. Taste and adjust the seasoning for a good balance of sweet, and salty.

Cooking Shallots and Green Onion Oil

In a small saute pan, bring oil over medium heat. Add shallots, stirring occasionally until the shallots begin to turn golden brown. Turn off the heat. Remove shallot from the hot oil and set aside. Shallots will lose its crispiness if combined with green onion. Add green onion and salt into the oil pan, mix well.
Preparing Minced Shrimp Topping

I like the combination of both the aroma and taste of fresh and dried shrimps but using fresh shrimps alone is good too. 

Preparing dried shrimps - rinse shrimps a few times. Soak it in water for 10-15 minutes until soft. Drain shrimps. Pound shrimps into a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle.

Preparing fresh shrimps - bring water to a boil. Add shrimps and cook for a minute until shrimps turn pink. Remove shrimps, peel, and smash shrimps with a meat tenderizer or the back of the knife. You can also pound shrimps into a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle.

Place a frying pan on low heat, add the crushed dried and fresh shrimps. Use a spatula to mix the shrimps for about 5 minutes or until shrimps are completely dry and bluff.  Season it with a dash of salt, or fish sauce, if preferred. Set aside.
Mixing Fish Sauce Dressing

Combine all the ingredients for the fish sauce dressing and mix well. The purpose of adding finely diced red and green sweet bell peppers to the fish sauce dressing is to add sweetness and appeal.
Forming Dumplings

Rub a little cooking oil on your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Divide dough into 24 balls for steaming  and frying.

Forming Dough for Steam Dumplings - roll each ball into a smooth ball in the palm of your hands and flatten into a thin flat round. Put about a teaspoon of filling onto the center of the dough and bring up the edges of the dough to cover the filling completely. Roll it gently in circular motion with the palm of your hands to smooth out the surface of the ball. Set the ball on a banana leaf circle.

Forming Dough for Fried Cakes - roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball in the palms of your hands. Place it on a banana leaf circle and flatten into a 1/4 inch flat round.

Cooking Dumplings and Cakes

There are two methods of cooking dumplings and cakes.

Boiling - it is not necessary to use banana leaf circles in this boiling method. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the dumplings and cakes into the boiling water and cook in gentle boiling water until they rise to the top. Let them cook for another minute to ensure they are cooked through, then lift out with a slotted spoon. Place dumplings and cakes onto a lightly oiled plate to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the plate.

Steaming - In a bottom layer of a steamer, add water, about half of the pot, and bring to a boil.  Steam dumplings and cakes gently for about 20 minutes until they are cooked and have a nice and soft texture.

Making the Crispy Cakes

In a pot or a skillet, bring oil over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the steamed flat cakes to the hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides.  It's important not to fry it too long to maintain a soft center and a crispy cover. Remove and drain on paper towels.


Place a steamed dumpling on top of a crispy cake. Top with green onion oil, fried shallots, and minced shrimps. 

Serve with a sweet and tangy fish sauce dipping. I also like to serve sweet and tangy pickled cucumbers, cubed daikon or radish on the side to help cleanse the palate. Enjoy!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mì Quảng (Quang Style Noodle with Pork and Shrimps)

Growing up in Pleiku, Vietnam, I was fortunate enough to experience wonderful food from many regions in Vietnam. Being the youngest of six children, I was usually spoiled by my generous and loving eldest sister who would always buy food for me every time she came home from the market.  

Pleiku is a small city. We can practically walk or ride a bike to anywhere. There were some great eating places that you can only find in corridors and alleys, so the best way to get there was by walking.  The Quang noodle house was one of those places. In Vietnam, it's common to see people live and operate a business in their homes. This Quang noodle place is a small house. We would sit down on cheap plastic small stools with a small plastic table similar to the table set that the kids here in the U.S play with. But what draws me here time and again was the noodle.

Mì Quảng (me wang) - Quang Noodle originates from Quảng Nam, Đà Nẵng - a province in central coastal Vietnam. This dish is a staple of this region, but due to its popularity can be found in most regions of Vietnam today. I always remember this wonderful mì Quảng dish. It has a distinguished look, texture, flavor, and it is served with very little broth unlike other kinds of noodle soup. The beautiful wide yellow turmeric noodle - covered with vibrant orange shell-on shrimps, fatty thin slices of pork belly, big chunks of spare ribs, sesame rice crackers, roasted peanuts, fresh herbs, and shredded banana blossom - is so appetizing. When served right, it's a thing of beauty . . . and for the people of Quang Nam, it's poetry.

 Thương nhau múc bát chè xanh, 
Làm tô mì Quảng anh xơi cho cùng

(literal translation: a woman saying to her lover: "To love is to fill a cup with green tea and enjoy together with a bowl of Mi Quang in each other's company") ~anonymous
RECIPE: Mì Quảng
make 10-12 bowls
***Don't be overwhelmed by all the steps, I am just extremely thorough with my recipes.


for pork stock
2-3 lbs pork neck bones or spare ribs
1 onion, cut in half
1 head of garlic, peeled

for mì Quảng broth
1 lb medium sized shrimps, head-on or headless
1 lb pork belly
1 tbsp paprika, for color, and mild spicy flavor
1 tbsp annatto seeds, for color
1 tbsp onion powder or dried chopped onion
1 tbsp garlic powder 
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp msg or 1 tbsp mushroom seasoning
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 shallots, thinly sliced 
1 head of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of dried shrimps
5 quarts water

Banana Blossom
bean sprouts
perilla leaves 
mint leaves 
lettuce, coarsely chopped
cilantro, coarsely chopped
green scallions, thinly sliced
roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
black sesame rice crackers
fish sauce
red chili peppers

Mixing Dried Spices

In a small bowl, combine paprika, sugar, salt, msg or mushroom seasoning, onion powder, and garlic powder. Paprika gives the characteristic red colour and a mild spicy flavor. Omit it if you can't tolerate spicy food.
Blanching Pork Neck Bones

Ask the butcher to chop the pork neck bones into 3 inch chunks. If you use spare ribs have them chop them into 2 inch pieces.

This step is to be done before boiling to remove any impurities from the bones.  In a stock pot, cover the pork with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes before draining.  Remove the pork. Rinse under running cold water. Discard the blanching water. 
Cooking Pork Bone Stock 

Cover the pork bones again with cold water. Add onion and garlic, Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until the meat is cooked through, at least an hour. Frequently skimming any additional g foam, and debris from the surface. Add more water if needed. You can make the stock a day ahead.  

Half way through, place the dried shrimps in the tea ball strainer and drop it in the pot with the hanger hangs from the side of the pot.  If you don't have the tea ball strainer, adding shrimps straight into the stock pot is okay.  The dried shrimps add a bit more depth and complexity to the flavor.
Sauteing Pork Belly and Shrimps

In the meantime, slice pork belly.  Trim the legs and tails of shrimps.  If using head-on shrimps, remove heads from shrimps and set aside for later use.

In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and annatto seeds over medium heat, and cook, stirring constantly, until the oil becomes a rich, orange-red color, about 3 minutes. Discarding the seeds.

Add minced garlic, and cook until fragrant while stirring constantly, about 30 seconds. Add pork belly and stir-fry until the fat is translucent, about 2 minutes. 

Add shrimp heads, if used, then press the shrimp heads with your spatula to bring out the flavor and color. Add shrimps and dried spices, stirring constantly, until shrimps turn pink. Remove skillet from heat.  

Cooking Mì Quảng Broth

By now, the pork neck bones should be cooked and the meat is soft. Transfer the sauteed pork belly and shrimps into the pot of pork bone stock. Bring it back to a slow steady boil. Remove the shrimps from the pot to prevent them from overcooked. Set aside.

Add a tablespoon of fish sauce to boost up the flavor of the broth. Simmer the broth for a little longer, about another 20 minutes.

Preparing Noodle

You can make the noodle from scratch by following this recipe (click here).

You can also get store-bought fresh white noodle. To make the noodle yellow, bring a pot of water and a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a boil. Then add noodle to blanch it for a minute. Drain and set aside.

Dried pre-made mì Quảng noodle or dried wide rice noodle would also work.  Follow the instruction on the package for how to cook the noodle.
Preparing Accompaniments

Banana Blossom: prepare a bowl of water with juice from a lemon. The acidity of lemon will prevent the banana blossom from discoloration. Cut banana blossom lengthwise, peel purple leaves and discard the small flowers in between the leaves. Wash the leaves thoroughly then stack and roll leaves together and finely cut. Place in bowl of water. When you are ready to serve, remove shredded banana blossom for the water bowl and gently squeeze it to remove the access water.

Bean Sprouts, Perilla Leaves, Mint Leaves, and Lettuce: you can keep them separately or mix them together. 

Black Sesame Rice Crackers: untoasted black sesame rice crackers can be found in Asian markets. It can be microwaved for about 2 minutes until crispy. They also sell pre-toasted ones as well.

Fish Sauce and Red Chili Peppers: Mix cut chili peppers and fish sauce in a dipping saucer.  

Roasted Peanuts: coarsely crush the roasted peanuts.

Green Onion and Cilantro: in a bowl, mix thinly sliced green onion and  coarsely chopped cilantro.

In bowl, add noodle, pork neck bone, or spare ribs, slices of pork belly and shrimps. My daughters love fried fish patties so I always add it to mì Quảng bowl. Serve this dish with less broth than other kinds of noodle soup. Therefore, the broth for mì Quảng need to be tasty.  Ladle the hot broth over the noodle bowl (about 1/2 of the bowl). Garnish with green onions and cilantro, then top with roasted peanuts. 

Serve mì Quảng with shredded banana blossom, lettuce and herbs and black sesame rice crackers which you break into small pieces. Mix everything together and enjoy - perhaps with a cup of green tea!
Eat well. Stay healthy.