Vietspices Search

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bánh Khọt (Miniature Crispy Shrimp Rice Cake)

I drifted away while my guitar teacher ran his fingers over the piano keys and the class strummed along on their guitars. Beautiful harmonies made from the delicate piano with subtle overtones of the guitar on a crisp autumn afternoon make me crave for some sizzling bánh khọt. Weird right? Food is so distracting and it's making me such a bad guitar student. 

I like to cook food with fresh ingredients as much as I can. Hence, I 'm fond of making my own batter directly from the grains. Not only do I like fresh tasting  ingredients but I am also into the old school ways of creating things from scratch.  But anything to speed up this process is more than welcomed. Nowadays, food has become a lot easier to prepare. With the advancement of technology, smart and efficient cooking tools help make cooking so much easier. One of the best decisions I have ever made was investing in a Vitamix blender. I use this daily to create smoothie, juice, and turning  grains into drinks and fresh batter for such delicacies as bánh khọt.

Bánh khọt is a small spherical hearty rice cake that is fried in a cast iron pan or clay pan until golden brown and crispy on the outside but soft in the middle. Bánh khọt's ingredients and condiments are very similar to the popular  bánh xèo (sizzling savory crepe). They both use the same batter which consists of rice flour, turmeric and coconut milk. Although, certain regions of Vietnam skip the coconut milk and sometimes the turmeric powder altogether.The beauty of these dishes is that both bánh xèo and bánh khọt are served with lots of herbs, lettuce or mustard greens. It gives you a chance to catch up on your vegetables. Nonetheless, it's the herbs and lettuce along with the savory fish sauce served with carrot and daikon radish pickles that enhance its flavor.

My version of bánh khọt doesn't contain coconut milk but if you prefer the creamy and rich texture, you can add this to the  batter.  I like to add broken bean sprouts into the batter so that every bite of bánh khọt is filled with a crunchy texture.  In addition, the natural sweetness of shrimp and octopus fills up the center of the bánh khọt keeping it moist and tasty on the inside but still crisp on the outside.
RECIPE: Bánh Khọt

3 cups Rice, rinsed, soaked overnight
6 cups Water
2 teaspoons Salt
2 Egg, beaten 
2 tablespoons  fresh Lime or Lemon Juice
1 tablespoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 1/2-2 cups broken Bean Sprouts
1/2 cup finely cut Green Onion

Substitute for Fresh Batter
1 bag Bánh Khọt Flour or
3 cups Rice Flour
3 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt
1 Egg, beaten 
1 tablespoon fresh Lime or Lemon Juice
1/2 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric Powder
1 cup broken Bean Sprouts
1/4 cup finely cut Green Onion

2 lbs Shrimps, peeled, deveined
Octopus or Squid, optional
2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Black Powder
2 Sweet Onions, cut into small cubes
1 small carton Coconut Cream, optional
Healthy Condiments

Fish Sauce Dip, click here for recipe
Lettuce Leaves or Mustard Greens
Daikon and Carrots Pickles, click here for recipe 
assorted Herbs

a cast iron bánh khọt pan, available at most of the Asian supermarkets, about $14
 a cast iron Ebelskiver pan, available at most of the kitchenware stores. 
a cast iron takoyaki pan, available at Japanese stores.

Preparing Batter

Method 1: making batter from rice

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. 

After the rice has been soaked overnight, rinse it one last time. Drain the rice. In a Vitamix blender or a high-powered blender, add rice with water. Let your Vitamix 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. Let it sit for at least an hour or overnight to allow the batter to absorb the liquid and the air bubbles to settle before cooking.

In a mixing bowl, combine all the batter ingredients except bean sprouts and green onion. Mix well until batter is smooth. Add bean sprouts and green onion. Set aside.

Method 2: making batter from dried rice flour

In a mixing bowl, combine  dried rice flour  and all the ingredients except bean sprouts and green onion. Mix well until batter is smooth. Add bean sprouts and green onion. Set aside.

Preparing Shrimps and Octopus

I like to use large shrimps to prevent dry-out during cooking. Cut shrimps into 1/2 inch size.  Slice the octopus, if used.

I bought cooked octopus at Otto's Market, a local Japanese store. This octopus is cooked in a Japanese style with mirin, sake and soy sauce. Hence, it has a nice bite with a slight sweet and salty taste, and significantly less chewy. 

In a large bowl combine shrimps, octopus, garlic powder, and black pepper.  Toss well.  Set aside. 
Preparing Onion

Cut onion into small cubes.  Set aside.
Frying Bánh Khọt

Place the  iron pan on stove over medium heat. When the pan is hot, brush oil then add about half a teaspoon of onion in each mini cup.

Stir the batter well.  Fill each mini cup to full.

Take a small spoon to scoop out the batter in the center of the mini cup, then add shrimps, octopus, and a half teaspoon of coconut cream (if  you prefer the rich and creamy texture).

Cover the pan up with a lid for about a minute.  Remove the lid. When cake is crispy on the outside, cooked the inside for a bit longer and it releases easily from the pan, use a spoon to scoop bánh khọt out.


Atlas, take a leaf of lettuce or mustard green; throw on some herbs; place a bánh khọt on it and top off with some freshly daikon and carrot pickles. Now,  roll everything together. Then dip it in the savory tangy fish sauce and take a nice bite. Yum. I'm definitely strumming the right chord now.
Eat well.  Stay hungry!

Đồ Chua (Carrot and Daikon Pickles)

The classic tangy, sweet, and crunchy carrot and daikon pickles make wonderful condiment for many Vietnamese dishes such as bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich), rice noodle dish, salad, and many fried dishes. This carrot and daikon pickle are incredible easy to make. I also use the same brine to pickle cucumber and red radish to go along with grilled  chicken wings and pan-fried pork chops.

RECIPE: Carrot and Daikon Pickles

1 large Carrot
1 Daikon Radish, about same size as carrot
 1 cup cooked Water, room temperature
1/4 cup Vinegar
1/4 cup Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt

Preparing Carrot and Daikon Radish

Peel and julienne carrot and daikon. Place them in a bowl with a teaspoon of salt. Mix them well with your hands to extract any impurities. Drain and rinse under cold water, then press gently to extract any excess water. 
In a mixing bowl, combine water, vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add the carrots and daikons into the brine. Let it sit for about half an hour before eating. Left overs can be stored in the glass mason jar and  kept in the refrigerator for a month.

Nước Mắm Pha (Fish Sauce Dip)

Fish sauce is anchovies mixed with sea salt and fermented for at least a year in a wood barrel. The result is a beautiful amber color, and a wonderful smell, albeit fishy. It’s the backbone of eastern Asian cuisine. The Vietnamese call it Nước Mắm.  It runs in our veins as the saying goes.

Fish sauce comes in many brands and the price varies.  The most expensive fish sauce tends to be the one with highest purity and taste such as Red Boat. Megachef is another brand that I discovered recently which I'm quite fond of. It's a little bit sweeter than Red Boat.  I use it mainly for cooking.  When comes to mixing fish sauce as a dipping sauce, the amount of ingredients that go into the dipping sauce is slightly different depending on what brand of fish sauce I use.

Fish sauce is used in almost every Vietnamese dishes.  A common fish sauce dip usually includes fish sauce, lime juice, water, sugar, crushed garlic and chili pepper.  The dipping sauce made from this is used almost ubiquitously. You can use it in spring rolls, Bánh Xèo (Sizzling Savory Crepe), Bánh Khọt (Miniature Crispy Shrimp Rice Cake), or as a dressing for noodles or salads. Depending on its use, you can tweak it by simply adding a tad of lime juice to enhance the tartness or tossing in a pinch of sugar to sweeten it up. 

Leftover sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for a few weeks in a sealed container.
RECIPE: Fish Sauce Dip

1 cup Water
1/2 cup Fish Sauce
1/2 cup Sugar
1/4 cup fresh Lime Juice
1 tablespoon Garlic, finely minced
1-2 Red Chili Pepper, finely minced

Preparing Fish Sauce Dip

In a large bowl, stir the sugar and water together until the sugar dissolves completely. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve with your favorite dish.

Bánh Khọt-Miniature Crispy Shrimp Rice Cake

Bánh Xèo-Sizzling Savory Crepe

Chả Cá Lã Vọng-Grilled Dill and Turmeric Talapia

Bún Cá Hồi-Pan-fried Salmon Over Noodle
Eat well.  Stay hungry!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Loaves and Fishes; Serving Breakfast At Friendship Park

On my previous Loaves and Fishes post, I had mentioned about my next plan to recruit a crew to prepare and serve meals to all the homeless guests who come to Loaves and Fishes. At last and with great joy, we accomplished this mission by preparing and serving a big breakfast. What we served made a wonderful addition to their normal breakfast. These homeless guests have access to only one full meal a day at noon in the Loaves and Fishes dining room. What's great was that there was enough food leftover for some to keep for an extra meal. 

I am so thankful to have my friends, The Spices Of Life readers, neighbors and parents from my kids' school who have generously given up their time, energy, and financial support to make this event possible and realized the goal of serving nearly 300 homeless guests. A special thanks to the Elk Grove Unified School District for helping us with food ordering; Bel Air supermarket and Arnold Adreani school for letting us store our food in your refrigerators. What a communal effort! 

A day before, 600 eggs were boiled at a friend's Bon Mua restaurant; 300+ sandwiches were assembled in my bustling kitchen. Bananas, vegetable mixed packs, dried fruit mix, packets of salt, pepper, and mayo to go with the eggs and sandwiches completed the ensemble.

On the morning of Thursday, October 8th, our crew left the house when it was still dark outside to load up supplies and food from various locations. By 7:30 am, we arrived at the Friendship Park where only adult guests from 18 years old and over were allowed. I was a little bit nervous but excited as I saw a long line of the guests standing and waiting patiently to receive their breakfast.

We had a morning full of blessings as we had the opportunity to serve our guests, and learn about them. For many years, Loaves and Fishes has provided coffee and tea at breakfast along with one day-old cakes and pastries. We witnessed the generous portion of a cake that these guests received and we were shock at how much sugar they take in every morning.  I was glad that we were able to offer a change - even for a day. The guests expressed their sincere gratitude as they picked up their food. 

this is me and the homeless guest :-)

our volunteer group

As I approached and started a conversation with some of the guests, one of them opened up about his life and told me how he ended up being homeless. I asked for his permission to take a picture of him but he refused as he didn't want to be seen by his family, and friends on the social media.

Towards the conclusion of the breakfast, Father Chu, who has been spending every day here at Loaves and Fishes to do what he can to lend a hand and help out. He shared with us and recounted a story of a former military man who returned from the United Kingdom after many years of service. He didn't have family around or a place to call home.  He couldn't even find a job outside of the military and ended up being homeless. He came to Loaves and Fishes for support.  While he was at Loaves and Fishes, he volunteered to help out.  The staff liked him and saw that he could work. They offered him a job. With the money that he earned, he is able to pay for rent but it was insufficient to cover the cost of food. He's still depending on Loaves and Fishes for food as many do. It made me keenly sensible to this quote that I saw on the wall at Loaves and Fishes, "Homeless is a situation, it's not who you are". 

Sister Libby Fernandez, the Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes, had a vision to create a Homeless Survival Breakfast program. It will take many months before it will be fully organized to provide a healthy breakfast every day, but October 8th was a big first step in realizing her vision.

As Thanksgiving approaches, The Spices Of Life (TSOL) is planning to reach out to these homeless guests once again.  Our next breakfast for the homeless guests will be on Thursday, November 12th. After this event, TSOL is hoping to continue this work on a quarterly basis when financially feasible. The reality is without your generous donations - time, money, and food - none of this would have been possible. Our work is appreciated.

I came away from this experience realizing that our success is food to quell their hunger and water to quench their thirst . . . but more importantly it's hope for an embattled spirit.