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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bánh Bèo (Steamed Rice Cakes)

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Being the youngest, I've always been spoiled by my family. Since elementary school, getting snack money every morning was my daily treat. I basically could eat anything my tummy desired.

Pleiku, where I grew up, was food heaven for me. It's a small town that attracted wonderful food vendors representing various regions of the country. I still remember all the stands I used to frequent for breakfast, afternoon and late night snacks.


One of my favorite afternoon snacks was bánh bèo (steamed rice cake). And my favorite bánh bèo stand was located right in front of this one house near Chợ Nhỏ, a small market that's located in an alley. It's been so many years but I still recall a huge stone grinder that they had. Whenever we needed to grind rice to make bánh xèo (savory shrimp and bean sprout crepe), we would come here and paid a small fee for the service. The rice was poured along with water into a tall stone grinder which is pulled in a circular motion by hand to produce a milky batter.

Their bánh bèo was served in small ceramic plates, topped with shrimps, fried shallot, and drizzled with sweet savory fish sauce. Those little bánh bèo was packed with enormous flavors. They were irresistible especially when you are sitting and counting every minute for them to come out of the steamer. I ate every little morsel and even drank every drop of fish sauce on that plate. What precious memories huh?

A few years ago, I posted a recipe of bánh bèo (click here) using the dried flour from the store which I am not too fond of as it has the smell of old flour. I didn't know why I waited until now to make my own batter for bánh bèo. The first time I experimented with my own batter using both types of white rice and sweet rice, the result was spectacular. The bánh bèo was so fresh and soft with a big dimple in the middle. It will make you happy just looking at it.

So, I am giving away my bánh bèo recipe. You can purchase the small bánh bèo dishes at World Market (click here). I got 60 of these dishes as gifts from Vietnam. If you can, I recommend soaking both types of white and sweet rice together and grind yourself a fresh batter . The bánh bèo will taste heavenly. The next time when your tummy calls for bánh bèo, I am sure you won't want to use dried flour again.
RECIPE: Bánh Bèo

For Batter 
3 cups Rice, Homai California Calrose Rice
1/4 cup Sweet Rice
6 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt
1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) Oil
For Toppings
1 pound Shrimps, shell on
1/4 cup Dried Shrimps, optional
3 Slices Sandwiches or Bread, for croutons, optional  or 
1 pound Pork Fat, for fried pork fat, optional
1 bunch of green onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of Garlic, smashed
3-4 Shallots, thinly sliced or
store-bought Crispy Fried Shallots
a pinch of Salt
Olive Oil
For Fish Sauce Dip
recipe 1
1 1/2 cups Shrimp Broth
3 tablespoons Fish Sauce 
2 tablespoons Sugar
1-2 fresh red chilies, thinly sliced
recipe 2
1/4 cup Fish Sauce
3/4 cup Coco Soda
1/4 cup Sugar
2-3 tablespoons fresh Lime or Lemon juice
1 Red Chili Pepper
3 cloves of Garlic

Preparing Bánh Bèo Batter

As for rice, I used Homai California Calrose Rice and Koda Farms Sho-Chiku-Bai premium sweet rice. I just happened to have these brands of rice in my pantry but you may try any types of rice you prefer.

Combine the rice in a large bowl.  Rinse a few times until water is cleared.  Soak for at least one hour or overnight. 

Rinse it for the last time.  Drain the rice.  In a Vitamix blender or a high-powered blender or a stone grinder if you have one, add rice, salt with water. Let your blender run at maximum speed of 10 on high for about a minute or until blended. You want to blend the rice as smoothly and finely as possible. 

Slowly pour the batter into the trainer and train it to remove bubbles.  

Add oil and mix well.   Let it sit for at least half an hour to allow the batter to absorb the liquid and the air bubbles to settle before steaming.
Preparing Shrimp Paste Topping

I like the combination of both aromatic and taste of fresh and dried shrimps but using fresh or 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. You can reserve the water that you soaked the shrimps to make dipping fish sauce. Pound shrimps into a coarse paste with a mortar and pestle.

Preparing fresh shrimps - bring 2 cups of water to a boil (use water from soaking dried shrimp). Add shrimps and cook for a couple minutes until shrimps turn pink. Remove shrimps then peel and reserve the shrimp broth to make dipping fish sauce.

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.  Set aside.

Preparing Croutons or Fried Pork Fat

Cut bagel, bread or sandwich into small cubes. In a frying pan toss 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and bread cubes. Bring to a medium-low heat. Stir croutons occasionally. Remove the croutons when they are turning golden. Place croutons on a paper towel to absorb the excess of oil.

Another method to make croutons is tossing these pieces of bread with olive oil.  Place them on a tray and toast it in the oven until golden.  Make sure to keep your eyes on it occasionally as they can get burnt quick.

If prefer Fried Pork Fat (Tép Mỡ), click here for recipe.

Preparing Fried Shallot and Green Onion Oil

In a small bowl, add green onion and a pinch of salt.  Set aside.

Bring cooking oil to a medium heat.  Once it's hot, add shallots and cook until it slightly turns brown. 

Turn off heat.  Let it cook for a couple minutes until shallot is golden brown.  Don't wait for shallot to turn golden brown and turn off heat as the oil is still very hot and it will burn the shallot very quickly.  Remove fried shallot with a strainer. Set aside.

Pour the hot oil into the green onion bowl. Mix it well. Set aside.

If you use store-bought crispy fried shallots, cook oil in smashed garlic until garlic is just starting to lightly brown. Turn off the heat. Pour the hot garlic oil into the green onion bowl.

Preparing Fish Sauce

recipe 1

recipe 2

Mix all the fish sauce ingredients. Set aside.
Steaming Bánh Bèo

Fill a steamer with 2/3 water and bring to a rapid boil. Place a layer of plates into the steamer for about 30 seconds or until hot. Stir the mix before each use. Fill each plate with 2/3 batter. Cover and steam for about 3 minutes.

Remove rice cakes. Repeat this process until batter is finished.


Top bánh bèo with scallion oil, shrimp paste, crispy shallots, croutons or fried fat pork.

Drizzle or flood with fish sauce. Scoop it out with a teaspoon and thoroughly enjoy!
Eat well.  Stay healthy.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bún Bò Huế (Hue Style Beef Noodle Soup)

One of my favorite Vietnamese cooking ingredients is lemon grass. It's versatility allows it to be used in so many dishes and for many purposes such as marinating meats or enhancing the flavor of a variety of sauces. But nothing brings out the essence of lemongrass better than bún bò Huế. I love this uniquely fresh, soft citrus scent and fragrance of lemongrass in the bún bò Huế's broth. And it's nice to have a constant supply because we actually grow lemongrass in our vegetable garden! 

Bún bò Huế is my older daughter's favorite noodle soup. Often time, she would request for a pot and she would eat this for a few days in a row. I gotta make sure the broth is spicy as requested otherwise "if it's not spicy, it's not bún bò Huế", she emphasized. I like to introduce my daughters to various types of food to make their life and mine a lot easier; this gives them an opportunity to try other foods without being afraid. So their food are generally garnished with herbs and vegetables and occasionally a little spice.

Bún bò Huế is one of the dishes that many of my Facebook readers have been requesting the recipe for.  It took me this long because when I cook, I normally don't measure the ingredients. In order to post this recipe, I have to make sure I remember and jot down every detail.

Bún bò Huế usually includes thin slices of beef shank, pork leg and cubes of congealed pig blood.  The broth of Bún Bò Huế is usually prepared by cooking beef bones for a long period of time. So to speed up the process a bit  I use only oxtail, pork leg and beef shank to make the broth instead.
* * *
RECIPE: Bún Bò Huế
Printable Recipe
Make about 9 quarts of broth 


1 Oxtail, about 3 lbs, ask the butcher to cut into chunks of about 1 inch
1 Beef Shank (bò bắp), about 3 lbs
1-2 Pork Legs, ask the butcher to cut into round chunks of about 1 inch
6 Lemongrass Stalks
3 tablespoons Salt
1/2 tablespoon Monosodium Glutamate (msg)
1 Rock Sugar, about the size of a tablespoon (regular sugar would work too)

For Spicy Chili Sauce

4 tablespoons finely chopped Garlic
1 tablespoon Chili Pepper Flakes
2 tablespoons Paprika
1 tablespoon Cayenne 
1 tablespoon Shrimp Paste (Mắm Ruốc)
1/4 cup Olive Oil
3 tablespoon finely chopped Lemongrass (use white part)
4 stalks Lemongrass

2 bags of Bún Bò Huế Noodle
Bean Sprout
A bunch of Mint
Banana Blossom, optional
Spring Onion, finely chopped, for garnish
Sweet Onion, thinly sliced, for garnish
Cilantro, finely chopped

Preparing Lemongrass

Cut lemongrass into 2-3 long segments and wash to remove dirt. Use a meat tenderizer to smash the lemongrass to release the fragrance.  Set aside.
Preparing the Meat

Rub some salt on the oxtail, beef shank and pig feet.  Wash and rinse.
As for the pork leg, beside rubbing with salt, I also use a knife to scrape the pork's skin thoroughly.  In a small pot bring water, a dash of salt, and half of an onion to a boil. Add pork legs and bring to a boil again.  This process is to eliminate the odor on the pork's skin.
Cook for about a couple minutes. Remove from heat. Wash and rinse. Set aside.
Simmering the Meat

In the meantime, in a large stockpot, bring water, lemongrass, oxtail, and beef shank to a boil and add pork leg when it's done with blanching.
Lower heat and let it simmer. Make sure to skim the surface to remove fat and other residue. Occasionally stir from the bottom of the pot. 
In about an hour, remove the pork leg and oxtail from the broth to prevent them from being overcooked.

Let it cool down and cover it up to prevent it from turning dark. Set aside.

Continue simmering the beef shank for another hour or until soft.
Sauteing Seasoning

In the meantime, bring a large pan to a medium heat.  Add oil. Once the oil is hot, add garlic, chopped lemongrass, and lemongrass stalks.  Saute until fragrant.

Set lemongrass stalks on one side of the pan.  Add paprika, cayenne, chili pepper flakes, and shrimp paste on the other side with the remaining sauteing ingredients. Mix it well and set it aside. Do not saute these peppers too long as it will become burnt and bitter.

If you can't take the heat, add less cayenne and chili pepper flakes or leave out chili pepper flakes. Paprika is the least spicy and is often used to enhance the color. This gives the broth its rich, beautiful reddish color.
Preparing Vegetables and Herbs

Lettuce - wash and cut into half an inch thick. 
Mints - pluck the leaves, and rinse.
Bean Sprout - wash, set aside
Banana Blossoms - In a large bowl, mix water with lime juices (about 3 limes).  Remove and discard the outside layer of the banana blossom leaves that are wilted.  Slice banana blossom thinly.  Soak sliced banana blossoms in the lime water mixture for at least 5 minutes.  The lime juice will prevent the banana blossoms from turning brown.  Rinse with with cold water.  Set aside.

I also like to serve bún bò Huế with a dish with shredded purple cabbage, assorted herbs, and bean sprout.

In a bowl, mix green onion, onion, and cilantro.  Set aside.

Cutting the Beef Shank

Once the beef shank is soft, remove it from the broth.  Let it cool down before slicing.  Cut beef shank into slices. I actually prefer to slice beef shank about 1/4 inch thick as the meat will not dry as quickly as the thin slices that you usually see at the restaurants. You can also taste the juiciness and flavor of the meat when you bite into it.
Making the Noodle

Click here for fresh homemade noodle recipe.

If using dried noodle, soak noodle in water while waiting for a pot of water to boil. Place noodle and a teaspoon of salt in the boiling water and bring it back to boil.

Reduce the heat to medium. Make sure to stir the noodle time to time so it won't stick to the bottom of the pot. Give it a taste to see if the noodle is soft enough. It should be ready in about 10 -15 minutes. Rinse it with cold water and drain.
Cooking the Broth

Remove the lemongrass from the broth and discard.  Fill the broth pot with more water to make 9 quarts.  Add sauteed seasoning and lemongrass stalks and bring it back to a boil.

Place the meat back into the broth pot.  Add salt, sugar, msg, if used, and the sauteed ingredients.

Continue simmering for another half an hour.  
Presentation of Bún Bò Huế

In a serving bowl, place noodle; top with beef, oxtail, pig feet; ladle the broth over; garnish with assorted herbs and onion.

Serve immediately with a dish of vegetables, lemon wedges, and fermented shrimp paste (mắm ruốc).

I like to dip the meat in my "specialty" dipping sauce while eating the noodle soup. To make the dipping sauce, in a sauce plate, add a bit of shrimp paste, a teaspoon of broth and chili sauce then squeeze a little bit of lemon juice. Mix it up. Voila!