Thursday, April 5, 2012

Banh Xeo - Sizzling Saigon Crepes

Banh Xeo with Nuoc Mam Cham
This blog post is a long time coming.  Banh Xeo is a common Vietnamese dish although I rarely order it at restaurants.  It's a little bit street food as it has to be made to order and best when made on a really hot pan.  The best ones in my opinion have a crunchy edge and is stuffed with delicious shrimp and pork.  They are quick and easy to make with the only problem being that the accoutrements take a while to prepare.  

Like a lot of Vietnamese dishes the sauce is Nuoc Mam Cham which is just a diluted fish sauce. I think every family has their own recipe but I think mine is pretty standard.  Throughout the years I have collected a ton of small scrap paper which my family has written the recipe.  I finally got my act together and post it on this blog in hopes that it will be committed to memory.

The batter is commonly made with rice flour and flavored with turmeric.  Often times we buy a pre-mixed package as it's really inexpensive and I don't have many uses for rice flour.  If you find it intimidating to go into an Asian Supermarket, you're in luck because this packaging is easy to find.

Pre-mixed package

Another brand 
As you can see, not only is the picture on the front of the packaging but the turmeric is in a separate compartment at the top of the bag.  You can follow the recipe on the back of the packaging but I like to use my mom's measurements with a little bit of a twist.

1 package Bot Banh Xeo
1 cup coconut milk
1 tiny pinch of curry powder
3 cups light beer or sparkling water
3 scallions, cut 1 inch long

Mix the batter and let sit for 30 minutes.  Makes about 8 10 inch crepes.  Even though they are thin they are deceptively filling.  I think my husband and I can only get through one and a half each.

1/4 lb ground pork
1/4 lb shrimp, deveined and cut lengthwise
1 sliced onion
2 cups sliced mushrooms
3 cups steam bean sprouts or mung beans
1 cup vegetable oil

The filling quantities are just a guide.  Because you make each crepe individually, you can be as skimpy or as generous as you'd like.  I love my crepes stuffed so I end up using a lot of filling.

Put pork, shrimp, onions, mushrooms, and sprouts in separate bowls.
Batter and filling
Using a large pan, turn heat to high and add 1 tbsp vegetable oil.  When pan starts to lightly smoke, add some onions.  As they start to cook, add a little ground pork, shrimp, and mushrooms (maybe 1/4 a cup of each).  As they are almost done cooking, add a ladleful of batter. You can make it as thin or as thick as you'd like.  I stop pouring the batter when the pan is fully covered.  As the crepe begins to cook, add a little oil around the edges of the crepe.  This will help the edges to have a nice crispness to it.
Onions first

Almost done!
At this point, you can put a lid over the pan for a few seconds so the middle of the crepe cooks too.  Add a handful of sprouts to one side and flip one side of the over into a half circle.  You are finished with your first crepe!  


All the accoutrements are optional of course and you can pick and choose what you like or have on hand.  I like to julienne my carrots and daikon and soak them in a little big of vinegar and water.  I have seen banh xeo eaten in a number of ways.  Growing up I used to have it just as is and without all the accoutrements.  I certainly never understood dipping lettuce in fish sauce as I thought that was too weird and preferred my lettuce with salad dressing.  But the older and wiser I have become I eat it the way it is intended to be eaten.  I take some lettuce and use it to wrap pieces of the crepe and whatever other accoutrements I'd like and dip the whole thing in the nuoc cham.  Vietnamese people love to wrap anything they can get their hands on either with a rice paper wrapper or a big piece of lettuce.  I think they were on to something as it is a great way to make the more expensive dishes (such as meats) to last longer as well as getting in more vegetables.  If you don't want to get your hands dirty, you can always eat pieces of the crepe with a piece of lettuce, a little daikon, etc, all in the same mouthful.  I think that way works, just definitely have to be a little nimble with the chopsticks.
Wrapped and ready to be dipped!

Nuoc Mam Cham
1/4 cup Fish Sauce (I like the Squid Brand)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 tbsp fresh lime juice or rice vinegar
1 Thai Bird Chili - optional

Mix all the ingredients together in a small jar.  My grandma likes to warm up her water first and then add the sugar to ensure her sugar will dissolve properly.  I love grandma's and their ability to not cut corners. :) I often times use vinegar instead of lime juice because I'm usually making a big vat of the stuff and vinegar just keeps better (at least that is what I tell myself instead "because my mommy does it that way").  You can increase the recipe, just remember that it is equal parts sugar to fish sauce and double the water to fish sauce.  It's about 1 garlic clove per 1/4 cup of fish sauce and 3 tbsp vinegar for every 1/4 cup fish sauce.  Taste the sauce and add more water if necessary to further dilute.  Sometimes when fish sauce sits around for awhile the color darkens and can be quite pungent.  Adjust the ingredients to taste.  If you're not super familiar with this sauce, it's suppose to be salty and sweet with hints of garlic and heat.  It's important to get this sauce to your liking as it is very important in Vietnamese cuisine.  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spicy Turkey Chili

I'm not a pack rat by any means but I came across this recipe recently which I had cut out from the Sacramento Bee when I was maybe 10-12 years old.  At that time I had a lot of exposure to Vietnamese food but was really curious about regular American food.  I wanted so badly to be American and eat macaroni and cheese and hamburgers and chili, none of this foreign food my mother was cooking every day.

This was probably one of the first American recipe I ever made.  I remember having a helluva time getting together all the ingredients to make this chili based off the spices that we carried in my Asian household.  I remember it being tasty, but there is no way to know for sure except to give it another go.

At the time I didn't even realize that this is actually a recipe from Weight Watchers.  When eating healthy and cutting out the bad stuff, spices are increasingly important for flavor.  I think the allspice and cinnamon make this chili really unique.  I love that it is such an easy chili recipe and with ingredients I always have on hand make it perfect for a weeknight meal.  Sometimes I want a little bit of chili without having a vat of it that I have to eat for days.  I love this stuff and it's not just because of the nostalgia or the lack of calories, but because it is really good.

Weight Watchers Spicy Turkey Chili
7 oz ground turkey
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup drained canned Italian tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp bay leaf
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp each, ground cinnamon, ground allspice, crushed red pepper

Serves 2.  Per serving - 218 calories, 20 grams protein, 14 carb, 4 fiber, and 8 fat.

Spray a medium saucepan with non-stick cooking spray and add turkey and onions.  Crumble and cook the meat until browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer on reduced heat for 25-30 minutes until thick.  Remove bay leaf and serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

General Tso's Chicken

I was craving some delicious chinese food and also had the deep fryer ready to go from our pork party which made this recipe seem perfect.  General Tso  (or Gau or Cho or Tsang) Chicken is boneless chicken breaded and fried with a soy base sauce.  Not exactly authentic as it was created in New York City in the 70's.  I wanted to try this recipe from Cook's Illustrated America's Test Kitchen because the recipes are always thoroughly tested and not exactly written by a thankless ghost writer.  I wanted to use chicken breast and have a crunchy chicken, not mystery meat and a gummy mess.  

Marinade and Sauce
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp sugar (I would suggest reducing the quantity based on taste, I found it to be quite sweet)
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cup water

Coating and Frying
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 cups vegetable oil

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lb, cut into 1 inch pieces)

1 tbsp vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix together the marinade and add 6 tbsp to a zipperlock bag.  Add the chicken and marinate for 30 minutes.

Using the 1 tbsp vegetable oil, saute the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes until fragrant.  Add 2 cups of the marinade and simmer until dark brown and thickened, about 2 minutes.  Cover and keep warm. 

Whisk the egg whites until foamy.  In a separate bowl, combine the rest of the coating ingredients except the oil.  Add the remaining marinade so the mixture is now clumpy.
Coating is in small clumps

This is the best part of this recipe.  The addition of the marinade makes the coating clumpy and will make the chicken really crispy and help it to not get soggy when tossed with the sauce.

Remove the chicken from the marinade.  Discard remaining marinade.  Pat dry.  Toss chicken in the egg whites first, then dredge the chicken in the coating mixture pressing slightly so the mixture will adhere.
Dredged chicken
Heat the oil to 350 degrees and cook the chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Fried goodness!

Toss the chicken in the warm warm marinade until coated.  Serve immediately.

General Tso's Chicken with sauteed pea shoots 

Have I mentioned I am in love with pea shoots?  They are easy to make.  Saute (or use a wok) with garlic and ginger and add a little sesame oil.  Super easy and delicious!
Pea shoots or pea sprouts

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Blogging can be tough work.  I have taken a little hiatus for various projects and pleasures but I do love to blog as a way to share some thoughts and things of interest.  Here's what's been up.

Delicious home made Tartine cookies for a friend's bday

Rock climbing @ Castle Rock State Park
February was busy because it's my husband's birthday month (yep, he's that spoiled).  We threw a birthday pork party with everyone bringing a porky dish with prizes for the best overall dishes and most creative.  It was a blast and everyone's dish was great.  The winner was a pulled pork fritter with cheese and jalapenos.  You can never go wrong with deep fried anything!  (I'm still trying to weasel the recipe out of her).

Ballots cast at our Pork Party!
Some of the delicious porkiness

Flight lesson!

Barrel tasting

Emerald Across the Bay 12k

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The weekend, in brief

It was a busy weekend as always.  There is always so much we want to do and never enough time (cue Jesse Spano, "There's no time, there's never enough time!").  Highlights of the weekend include climbing a solid 5.10a on the rock wall and hiking and exploring the East Bay.  Sure it's got a bad rap but the EB has a lot to offer from terrific hikes including a dormant volcano and some cool neighborhoods.  We started working out with some kettlebells and I have to say I love it!  More kettlebell please!

My new rock climbing shoes! <3

We also had a nice Chinese New Year dinner cooked by our friends.  These same friends seem to win every food competition we have.  It's not hard to see why!

Honey walnut shrimp and fish with ginger and scallions

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The weekend, in brief

Despite not having MLK day off, the weekend was fantastic.  It really couldn't get any better with wonderful food, good friends, and the 49er's one game away from the Superbowl.  Even though it was a busy weekend, the kind where so many events fall on the same couple of days, we managed to squeeze in some quality time with friends from out of town, friends leaving the country, and friends with birthdays.

Spring Lake 

great day for a walk around the lake

birthday feast - dungeness crab deliciousness
Aside from the company, I got around to purchasing some air plants.  I have been obsessed with air plants because they are so cool and seem so easy to take care of.  I had been hesitant on purchasing them because I didn't really want to put them in vessels I had to mount on the wall or keep a bunch of small vases around the house.  We saw some air plants placed willy nilly on a rusted old bicycle at Flora Grubb and it got us thinking as to what we could use to house our own plants.  My in-laws have been nagging us to get some of our stuff out of their attic and we had found a 1930's typewriter my husband had purchased when he had high hopes on becoming a writer (I guess lawyering will have to suffice).  Because the plants can be removed for watering once a week and don't require dirt, we thought placing a few on the typewriter would be perfect.  One more thing to cross off the list!

our new air plants on a vintage typewriter

succulents @ Flora Grubb

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wild Mushroom and Barley Soup

I'm obsessed with soup and in Boston I used to go to The New England Soup Factory with Ryan and Nic every Sunday.  When I think of those cold and snowy winters I endured it just isn't complete without some soup.  Ryan and Nic came out to visit this week from good ol' Beantown and I decided to make a recipe from the NSF book to not only pay a little homage to them but also for a little revitalization.

I have actually never enjoyed this particular soup at the restaurant because I was too busy stuffing my face with their chicken pot pie soup but I think the Soup Factory can do no wrong.  I didn't quite have all the correct mushrooms listed but I had 2 of the 4 including the portobello which was the most important ingredient.  The soup has such a rich meaty flavor because of the portobello that you don't even miss the meat and the recipe could be prepared vegetarian if vegetable broth is substituted.  I didn't have chanterelles or shiitakes and opted for the "Chef's Sampler" at Whole Foods because it was quick and easy and I've never met a mushroom I didn't like.  Judging from brief internet research, I think I used armillaria something or other.  This soup was actually delicious with a little heat added in the form of sriracha, but really, what isn't delicious with sriracha?

Soup and a sandwich

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups diced onions
1 1/2 cups sliced or diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
3 large portobello mushrooms, diced
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup chanterelle mushrooms
1 1/2 cup pearl barley
2 1/2 quart chicken or beef stock
2 cups Burgundy wine
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
3 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup enoki mushrooms
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste


Heat a stockpot over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and garlic.  Stir quickly, then add the onions, carrots and celery.  Saute for 5 minutes.  Add the portobellos, shiitakes, and chanterelles.  Saute for 5 more minutes.  Add the barley, stock, Burgundy, oregano, basil, and tomato paste.  Stir well to combine.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium and simmer 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove from heat.  Stir in the enoki and mushrooms and season with vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Makes 10 to 12 servings.