Vietspices Search

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bánh Nậm (Flat Steamed Rice Dumpling)

While my hands were busy wrapping bánh nậm with the banana leaf, this experience somehow triggered my mind to recall Gifted Hands, a book written by the famed neurosurgeon Ben Carson. Dr. Carson says, “God has given us more than fourteen billion cells and connections in our brain. Why would God give us such a complex organ system unless he expects us to use it?”  Isn't it amazing how we human beings can skillfully come up with thousands of recipes using the same ingredients? I suppose when it comes to food, all of my culinary neurons are fired up and connected.

Most of the time I take things for granted but in very rare moments of deep meditation, I ponder on our own human ingenuity. Consider the rice grain. It was a wild plant. We domesticated it, cultivated it, harvested it and multiplied its purpose. We transformed the grains into a variety of foods that people eat every day all over the world - bánh nậm being an example.

It takes a few processes to change rice into the small and delicate savory dumplings which was originally created to please the appetites of emperors in the imperial city of Hue in Vietnam. The grains are grinded until fine then mixed with water and cook until thickened to a glue consistency. The batter is then spread on the banana leaf with ground shrimp, or the combination of both shrimp and pork, and scallions; then these are pressed into the batter after it’s wrapped in banana leaves, steamed and served.  
RECIPE: Bánh Nậm 

for Batter
2 cups Rice Flour
1/4 cup Tapioca Flour
2 teaspoons Salt
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil
2 tablespoons Sugar
6 cups Water
for Filling 
 2 pound Shrimps, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/2 tablespoon Sugar
2 Shallot, thinly sliced
 3 Green Onion, finely chopped
Annatto Oil
Preparing Banana Leaves

Thaw banana leaves under sink water. Cut the leaf into about 6 in x 10 in pieces. Use a kitchen towel to pat dry the leaves. You can prepare the leaves ahead of time then keep them in a bag and store in the fridge until ready to use. 
Preparing Shrimp 

Chop green onion and slice shallots thinly. Set aside.

In a skillet, cook shrimp at medium high heat until shrimps turned pink and cooked.

Transfer shrimps into a food processor and process it until shrimps ground up into small bits.

Mortar and pestle can work in place of a food processor.

In the same skillet, saute annatto oil and shallot until fragrant.

Add shrimps, salt, sugar, and pepper.  I eyeballed the seasonings so the measurements aren't precise. Adjust the seasonings to your taste.  Use the spatula to smash the shrimps further until they are dry.  Turn off the heat.  Add green onion and mix well.

Preparing Batter

In a pot, combine all the ingredients for batter and blend well to scrape up all the flour off the bottom of the pot.

Cook over medium low heat. Constantly stir it until the mixture starts to thicken up into a paste. Keep stirring it for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat. Continue stirring constantly until you get a smooth mixture.


Spread about 2 tablespoons of the batter in the center of the leave.

Spread the filling on top.

Fold both sides and ends up.

I find it easier to fold both ends using a chopstick to guide it.

Use the chopstick to lightly even out the batter by going cross from left to right.


Bring a pot of water in a steamer to a boil. Place bánh nậm that you have already arranged standing up in a steamer tray onto the steamer and steam for about 30 minutes. When the banana leaves change color to a pale yellow evenly, the cakes are done.

Allow bánh nậm to cool before serving. Bánh nậm can be served by itself or enjoyed by drizzling a dash of good fish sauce mixed in fresh chili pepper slices over the dumpling. Here's to those 14 billions of cells.

Ăn Ngon! Bon Appétite!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bánh Bí Đỏ (Pumpkin Cake Wrapped in Banana Leaf)

A friend of mine came over on the day while I was making bánh nậm (steamed flat rice dumpling).  She was so excited to see the cakes wrapped in banana leaf; she was hoping I had made her favorite cake that she always wanted to bring to the US every time she visited her family in Cambodia.  So I offered to make it for her if she can tell me all the secret ingredients.

My first attempt apparently didn't turn out too shabby as she gave me two thumbs up. She says now she knows who to go to when she craves for these noum lepoev. I think I've been setup - but love the challenge!

As you noticed, most of the Asian desserts utilize pandan leave, coconut, tapioca flour or rice flour.  This pumpkin cake wrapped in banana leaf is simple and it's fragrance is enhanced by the coconut milk and shredded coconut.  It's well balanced and has an earthy, creamy, mildly sweet, and buttery flavor derived from the pure pumpkin.

Spring is almost here but the idea of pumpkin certainly evokes the beauty of the fall while I'm making these yummy pumpkin cakes.  I can see myself sitting on the deck, nibbling on the pumpkin cake, sipping on a cup of hot coffee, and watching the leaves sailing down from the trees. Well, there's something to look forward to now.
RECIPE: Bánh Bí  Đỏ
make about 26-30 cakes

1 (about 2.5 lbs) small Pumpkin, make 3 cups packed shredded pumpkin
1 1/2 cups Rice Flour
2 cups fine Shredded Coconut
1 can 13.5 oz Coconut Milk
2/3 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
1/4 teaspoon Vanilla Powder, optional
1 bag Frozen Banana Leave

Prepare Banana Leaves

Thaw banana leaves under sink water.  Cut the leaf into about 5 in x 9in pieces.  Use a kitchen towel to pat dry the leaves.  You can prepare the leaves a head of time then keep them in a bag and store in the fridge until ready to use.
Preparing Pumpkin 

Cut and peel pumpkin.  Wash and rinse.  Place a  fine shredding disc  into the cuisinart  food processor.  Add one piece of pumpkin at a time into the food processor and shred it.

If you don't have the shredding disc for your food processor, another way to shred it is by using the shredder.  Measure 3 cups packed pumpkin.  Set aside.

Mixing Pumpkin 

In a mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.  Mix well.

Add coconut milk then mix well. 
Wrapping Pumpkin Mixture

Place 1/3 cup of  pumpkin mixture onto the banana leaf.

Use a spatula to spread it out.

Fold both sides and ends up.

I find it easier to fold both ends using a chopstick to guide it.

Use the chopstick to flatten the filling out by going cross from left to right.

Steaming Pumpkin Cake

Bring a pot of water in a steamer to a boil.  Place pumpkin cakes that you have already arranged on a steamer tray onto the steamer and steam for about 30 minutes.  When the banana leaves change color to a pale yellow evenly, the cakes are done.


Unwrap the banana leaf, enjoy it with a cup of hot jasmine tea.  I personally like mine with nutty toasted sesame seeds sprinkle over the cake.  Yum!

The Spices Of Life's First Charitable Delivery part 2!

"Một miếng khi đói bằng một gói khi no.”

The Spices of Life's first charitable delivery went beyond my expectation. Thank you to the VSpice team in Vietnam for putting your heart and soul into this mission. They had to go out at 6 o'clock in the morning to deliver the gifts so they can make it to work on time by 8 am. 

each person received 5 kg of rice, fish sauce, soy sauce, cooking oil and a box of instant noodle

selling newspapers is what she does daily for a living 

she walks miles on the streets in Saigon to sell rice crackers for a living

It was so touching to see the elderly receive the gifts. It's really not much of a gift for us but for them it's what they need to survive each day. Our mission is providing needs to the poor from many parts of the world when we are more capable. As for now, we're taking baby steps.

A few days after the Lunar new year which is the last week of February, our VSpice team is ready to take on the next mission. We will be going deep into the villages in Pleiku where the ethic minorities reside in impoverished conditions. Pleiku is very wet and cold during the first few months of the year. Many children are without food and clothing. Our mission is to provide these children with warm clothes, instant noodle, cookies and candies to keep their hearts warm and hopes full. 

A heart-felt thank to the VSpice readers for your support and contribution. Every dollar counts. Without you, we cannot accomplish this mission.