What makes cake even better? When it sizzles!
Of course we are talking about savory cakes in the Asian cooking tradition, and Vietnamese pancakes, or Banh Xeo, can be some of the best.
And that’s “bawn-say-oh”. The translation is “sizzling cake” Can’t get it right? Learn to Speak Vietnamese Like a Native! Obviously named for the sound that they make when they hit the pan, vietnamese pancakes are a savory, healthy meal that can be packed full of a variety of ingredients. You can easily make them at home – here’s how!
Simple Vietnamese Pancake with Pork
- 1 lb rice flour
- 4–5 cups water
- 1 cup coconut cream
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- pinch of salt
- 1 bunch spring onions (scallions), chopped
- vegetable oil
- 1 lb pork belly
- 1 lb beansprouts
- 1 onion, sliced
- cooked shrimps, shells off
- Vietnamese mint, basil and coriander leaves, to serve
Cook the pork belly into salted boiling water for 20 minutes. Slice thinly and set aside.
Blanch the beansprouts in boiling water.
Prepare the batter by mixing the rice flour with water, coconut cream, turmeric, salt and chopped shallots.
In a frying pan, heat just enough oil to cover the pan (tip off excess) and fry a spoonful of the onion for a couple of minutes until translucent.
Pour a cup full of batter mixture into the pan with the onion. Tilt the pan so that the mixture spreads thinly. When the batter begins to crisp around the edge, add some shrimp, 4 or 5 slices of pork belly and a spoonful of beansprouts. Make sure the edges don’t stick to the pan by brushing a little more oil around the edge of the pancake.
Fold one half of the pancake over the ingredients and slip onto serving plate. Serve with fresh herbs. Repeat the process.
Much like making regular American-style pancakes, right? Well once you’ve got that simple recipe mastered, it’s time to step it up. The following Vietnamese pancake recipe is vegetarian but even more savory and layered with flavors. It has some key vegetarian ingredients that you should know how to handle. Take the Online Vegan Vegetarian Cooking School to make sure you know your (vegetarian) stuff!
Vietnamese Pancake with Tofu
- 1/4 cup split yellow mung beans
- 4 ounces baked tofu, sliced (variation: 2 ounces tofu and 2 ounces sliced shiitake mushrooms)
- 2 scallions (white and green parts), chopped
- Several sprigs of cilantro
- 1 cup mung bean sprouts
- 3/4 cup rice flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
- 2/3 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- Several large leaves of lettuce
- Large handful of mixed herbs (Thai basil, mint, cilantro; tiá tô or Vietnamese perilla)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 tablespoons water
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
For the filling
Cover the mung beans with water and soak overnight or at least 4 hours. Drain. Steam in a basket over simmering water until tender, about 20 minutes.
Prepare the tofu (and mushrooms, if using), scallions, cilantro, and mung bean sprouts and set aside.
For the crêpes
In a bowl, whisk together the rice flour, salt, turmeric, coconut milk, and water to form a smooth batter.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu (and mushrooms, if using) and cook until heated through. Remove and set aside.
Wipe the oil out of the pan and return to medium heat with a fresh teaspoon of oil. Pour half of the batter in the pan and swirl to distribute evenly. Sprinkle half of the mung beans and scallions over the batter. Then arrange the tofu (and mushrooms, if using), cilantro, and bean sprouts over half of the crêpe. When cooked through and edges are browned, fold the crêpe over and slide onto a plate. Repeat for second crêpe.
For the greens
Prepare the greens and set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.)
For the sauce
In a small bowl, whisk together ingredients for sauce. Set aside. (May be prepared ahead of time kept in the refrigerator.)
Serve as an appetizer to share or a main dish. To eat, wrap a piece of the crêpe into a lettuce leaf with a few herbs. Dip into the sauce and enjoy.
Things To Know About Vietnamese Cooking
- Food in the North is heavily influenced by Chinese culinary traditions, while food found in the south is mixed with Cambodian and Thailand traditions, making it sweeter overall.
- Pho and Banh Mi are actually examples of French influence – French colonization didn’t end until relatively recently: 1954!
- Individuals in Vietnam can be judged for a variety of things – suitability for marriage, strength of character, etc. – on the strength of their broths
- The foundation of Vietnamese cooking is rice and fish sauce
- Fish sauce: the stinkier, the better
- Main herbs and aromatics used in Vietnamese cooking (you will have found many of these in the recipes above for Vietnamese Pancakes):
- Cilantro: In salads, soups, spring rolls, and beyond. Widely used as the finishing touch garnish. Depending on your genetics, might taste soapy.
- Mint: Several varieties grow in Vietnam. Some are fuzzy, some taste lemony, some spearminty, others are spicy
- Fish Mint or Fish Leaf: Ever tried fish mint? Wow, it’s really fishy. Appropriately named, this leafy herb has an awfully pungent smell and taste. You’ll think you wrapped actual fish into your spring roll, but really it’s just this sneaky leaf.
- Basil: More popular in Thailand but still makes an appearance in pho and on herb plates.
- Lime Leaf: Bright green and shiny. Somewhat bitter oils.
- Lemongrass: Tastes and smells, not surprisingly, like lemon. Used in both sweet and savory dishes.
- Green Onions and Scallions
- Garlic Chives: Flat leaves with a delicate onion and garlic flavor.
- Perilla Leaf: Green on top, purplish on the underside with a complex flavor that combines licorice, mint, and lemon all in one leaf.
- Dill: Hardly associated with Southeast Asian cuisine but used in a famous Vietnamese fish dish called Cha Ca, where it’s treated more like a veggie than an herb.
- Turmeric: Sometimes called poor man’s saffron, it adds a vivid goldenness to fried foods and some peppery flavor.
- Ginger and Galangal: Both knobby rhizomes, both pervasive in Vietnamese cooking.
- Saigon Cinnamon: There are different species of cinnamon in the world, and this one is indigenous to Vietnam. Woody, earthy flavor and aroma. Important in pho.
- Tamarind Pulp: Maybe this doesn’t belong on this list, but it needed to go somewhere. The sweet-sour pulp is used in noodle soups and curries.
You can get more tips by taking Learn to Cook Thai With Chef Kae – a great, short course that will make you a pro! And if you are headed East, don’t forget that language course that will help you find the real, good Vietnamese food: Speak Vietnamese Like a Native.