STORY, RECIPE AND PHOTOS BY REBECCA BATES
I remember taking my best friend to my favourite Vietnamese restaurant, Little Saigon, for the first time. As far as I was concerned, there were two goals for the evening. 1. Order the stuffed chicken wings and marvel at their wondrousness; and 2. Order the Vietnamese pancake, also known as Banh Xeo. Sounds simple, right? Wrong.
A) They were sold out of stuffed chicken wings (i.e. DISASTER) and
B) it was the exact moment that the pancake arrived at our quaint little booth table (with “So You Think You Can Dance” playing on several quaint little TV screens dotted around the room) in all its crispy goodness that I found out my bestie hated bean sprouts. Not just the run-of-the-mill hatred, where you can pick them out and be on your merry gastronomic way, but the OH MY GOD A SPROUT TOUCHED THE PLATE GET IT OFF ME! kind of hatred.
Now, you may think she was over-reacting, but when I tell you that the Banh Xeo is essentially a bean sprout crepe, and that in all my excitement I flatly refused to even discuss what we would be ordering, you may side with her as the sproutal explosion took her completely by surprise. Needless to say the one upshot of this horrible scenario was that I was able to devour the entire pancake myself. It was a #win before hashtags were even invented.
Still, the memory of that night, along with the knowledge that Little Saigon no longer operates, made my heart heavy. What could I do to quell the sadness? Why, recreate the pancake at home, of course!
It sounds relatively simple, but I must admit it took two three four attempts before I got what even closely resembled a crispy crepe. But hey, trial and error never left anyone in my house hungry, so no complaints there.
The trick I found, (contradicting all internet research) was to use NO OIL in a non-stick frypan. And to keep the crepe batter AND the crepe very thin. Which sounds obvious, I know, but once you’re there with the ladle in your hand, it’s very easy to get carried away.
As I live with a pescetarian, I adapted the mostly pork-based recipes, and subbed marinated mushrooms with fresh. I also used a tin of cocktail prawns
instead of the real deal, partly due to cost, partly due to the bold flavours that I would be using wouldn’t really miss them. A little Nuoc Cham on the side, some quick refrigerator pickled cucumber, lots of butter lettuce, coriander, and of course, parsley and Vietnamese hot mint from my garden.
500g rice flour
4 cups cold water
3/4 can coconut milk (cream is a little thick, but if that’s all you have, just water it down)
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
1 small tin cocktail prawns
8-10 small button mushrooms, sliced (I left mine to marinate in the fridge with some olive oil, garlic, ginger and chilli flakes)
1/2 brown onion, thinly sliced
1 pkt beansprouts (mung sprouts)
Handfuls of Vietnamese mint, coriander, basil, parsley
Butter lettuce leaves, to serve
Nuoc Cham – a sweet, salty, spicy, sour dipping sauce
Garlic (finely chopped)
Birdseye chilli (finely chopped)
Quick Fridge Cucumber Pickle
Lebanese cucumber, cut into rough wedges/cubes
White wine vinegar
Combine flour, salt, turmeric. Add water and coconut milk, whisk together until texture resembles quite thin single cream. Leave to rest in the bowl under a tea towel for at least half an hour.
Cook off the onion and mushroom in your non-stick frypan to your liking, then put aside.
Wipe the frypan clean with a paper towel, and place back on a medium to high heat. (I had it on power mark 5 out of 6)
Pour in one or two small ladlefuls of batter, and swirl the pan around to spread the batter evenly. The pancake will start to come away from the pan as it crisps up, so just leave it for 20 seconds or so until this happens.
The pancake takes about 4 minutes to cook, to test it, lift up one edge and check that the underside is starting to brown.
Once that is happening, add in your onion/mushroom mix, some of the prawns, and some of the beansprouts onto one half of the pancake.
Flip the other half over the top and allow the ingredients to heat through.
Slide off onto a large dinner plate, and start again for your next pancake!
Cut each pancake into thirds, serve on a bed of butter lettuce, with the Nuoc Cham on the side
Finely chop your garlic, chilli and ginger. Add to a small dish with some fine sugar, dashes of fish sauce, some hot water and lime juice to taste. The best way to make this sauce is not to measure it but to taste it!
Cut the cucumber into rough wedges and place in a small bowl.
Drizzle over some white wine vinegar, LOTS of salt (it will help to draw out the moisture and keep it crunchy), chilli, garlic, and a touch of sugar.
Leave in the fridge for a couple of hours, (even 10 mins is fine in a pinch!) and enjoy!
Read more recipes and food-related goodness on Rebecca’s site, Waiting For Food