I often forget to appreciate the basic things in life until I actually experience it. While making bánh tráng (rice paper) from scratch, I realized how time consuming it is for a person to sit next to a steamer all day to produce one thin rice paper at a time. For most of us, it's not worth our time since rice paper is so inexpensive. You can get a thick stack in store for under $2. But that's what many people who live in the countryside of Vietnam still do for a living. Making rice paper is absolutely simple, but it does require many tedious hours constantly working with your hands in repetitive mode every second. Hats off to all the people who do this kind of work day in and day out. It's simple, but not easy. Every time I munch on a rice paper cracker now, I will appreciate it so much more.
A few weeks ago, a friend invited me over for lunch. Mì Quảng gà (Quang style chicken noodle) was what she fed me. I was fascinated to see her making the noodle from scratch. What can be better than having a meal with freshly made noodle. Yum! I had a big bowl of it and wished I had a bigger tummy for seconds. It was so delicious that I had to pack a bowl and deliver it to my husband right away so he didn't miss out anything while at work. lol.
A civil engineer who gave up her career as soon as her first daughter was born to become a "domestic engineer." She has been putting her skills to work in her own kitchen, home and garden. I had learnt from her how to create a fabric ring that fits into my steamer to make the rice paper and noodle.
Armed with this knowledge and tool, I've been cranking out rice papers, noodles, bánh cuốn (rice paper roll), and bánh ướt (literally "wet rice cake").
Obviously, spending time in the kitchen is one of of my joys. I can stand in the kitchen all day long if I have the luxury of doing that. Hence the reason why I greatly enjoyed making the rice papers. My first time making sesame rice paper was a success beyond my expectation. Once the rice paper is toasted, the texture turns crunchy but not hard and the wonderful aroma of roasted sesame seeds brings out the flavor of the rice paper cracker. It's all worth it when you hear the cracking sound of the rice crackers once they're off the oven and the next minute your family ask for more.
Here is the recipe for you to try. If it doesn't turn out the way you had envisioned on your first attempt, don't despair. Learning to cook means never being afraid to mess up.
RECIPE: Sesame Rice Crackers
3 cups of Rice
4.5-5 cups Water, depends on the type of rice you use
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 cup Black Sesame Seeds
Making Ring and Cloth for the Steamer/Pot
2 pieces of Metal Straps, 6.5 in diameter, available at Home Depot
1/2 yard of 36" wide Cotton Fabric
Measure your pot for the size.
Screw one end of the metal ring to the other with the nut provided and then bend it into a circle. Measure the diameter of the ring to ensure it's the same size as the pot. Screw the second nut on to complete the circle.
1/2 yard of 36" wide Cotton Fabric can make 1 round cloth with double layer like this. 1 layer cloth would work too.
Place the metal ring in the center of the damp cloth. I find it's a lot easier to stretch the cloth when it's wet. Pull the two strings tightly until the cloth is stretched tight and smooth. Tie the strings to secure.
Instead of using the metal ring, you can also use the bamboo ring, or a large cotton cloth to cover the top of a tall pot. Use an elastic wrap to secure the cloth to the pot. Be sure to stretch the cloth really tight.
Making Drying Mat
1/2 in Black Plastic Hardware Cloth, 3ftx15ft
2x2 Redwood, 8ft
8-10 Zip Ties
Cut wood into two pieces the same size as the two end of the mat. Use zip ties to fasten the wood onto the mat. Wash the mat with soap thoroughly before use.
As for rice, I used Homai California Calrose Rice. I just happened to have this brand of rice in my pantry but you may try any type of rice you prefer. You might need to adjust the amount of water depending on the type of rice you use.
Rinse rice a few times until water is clear. Soak overnight. I usually soak my rice in the morning, grind it it in the evening, and use it the next morning.
Rinse it for the last time. Drain the rice. In a Vitamix blender or a high-powered blender, add rice with 4.5 cups of water. Let your blender run at maximum speed of 10 on high for about 30 seconds or until blended. You want to blend the rice as smoothly and finely as possible.
Strain it with a strainer to remove bubbles.
Add salt. Mix it well. Let it sit for at least half an hour or overnight to allow the batter to absorb the liquid and the air bubbles to settle before steaming.
Add sesame seeds into the batter and stir it well.
Steaming Rice Paper
Fill the bottom steamer with 2/3 water. Place the fabric ring inside of the top steamer. Make sure it's straight.
Bring the steamer to a rapid boil.
Ladle about 1/3 cup of the batter onto the fabric screen. The size of the rice paper depends on the portion of the batter you pour onto the fabric screen and how big you spread the batter.
Use the bottom of the metal or coconut shell ladle like the one I used to help spread the rice batter thinly and evenly over the stretched fabric. Be sure to spread this quickly using a circular motion. Cover it up with lid and let it steam for about 3-4 seconds.
Remove the lid and spread another layer of batter on top of the cooked one. The rice paper for rice paper cracker needs to be thick, therefore, pouring two layers of batter is a must.
It will take a few more seconds for the steam to cook the smooth rice batter. The rice paper will puff up when it's ready. Use a flat and long bamboo stick to remove the rice paper, then place it directly on a drying mat.
If you have a wide roller like the one in the picture, use it to roll the rice paper up and then unroll intact onto a drying mat. This roller simplify this process compared to the flat bamboo stick I used. This roller will be my next project.
If you don't have enough space to put the drying mat in your kitchen while making the rice paper, place the rice paper on the small rack then flip it over on the drying mat at your convenience.
Repeat the steaming process until done.
Drying Rice Paper
Dry the rice papers on the mat or the bamboo screen like the way people do in Vietnam in full sun for a couple of hours, then move to a shaded area. Drying too long in the full sun will cause the rice paper to warp.
I placed my drying screen on a long table. Another way is by suspending the mat/screen by tying the ends to the trees or chairs.
Place one rice paper in a microwave and cook it for 1-2 minutes until it puffs up and turns slightly brown.
Enjoy it by itself or break into pieces and use it to scoop your favorite Vietnamese salad or cerviche.
It's definitely a must-have for Quang noodle dish as seen below.