Vietnamese banh cuon are soft rice-flour crepes typically filled with pork and mushrooms. The crepes are traditionally served for breakfast/brunch but we enjoy it any time we can. Hungry Bear and I made banh cuon this past Lunar New Year, and they were a big hit with our friends. If you skip the cha lua (Vietnamese ham) and put a lot of herbs and vegetables on banh cuon, it can be a light and refreshing dish.
Several Sundays ago, Hungry Bear and I hosted Sunday Nite Dinner (SND) and decided banh cuon would be the main attraction. We had nine people coming to SND, so we decided to make two other Vietnamese dishes for dinner. Otherwise, we would have been rolling banh cuon all day. The menu was...
Goi Bap Cai Ga (Spicy Cabbage and Chicken Salad)
Cabbage, red onion, carrots, Thai chilies and chicken with a lemon vinaigrette
Banh Cuon (Rice Crepe Rolls)
Pork or Shrimp, garlic, wood ear mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms
with fresh greens, mint, basil and nuoc cham (dipping sauce)
Canh Chua Ca (Sour Fish Soup)
Tamarind, pineapple, tomatoes, taro stem, bean sprouts
and sea bass with jasmine rice
Apple-Strawberry Crisp a La Mode
Granny Smith and McIntosh apples with organic strawberries
The first course was goi ga, a light and simple cabbage and chicken salad. Most Vietnamese restaurants serve goi ga but the ingredients aren't the freshest and it's usually drowned in fish sauce. Since it's such a simple salad, fresh ingredients and a light vinaigrette are essential. Most importantly, a must have ingredient is rau ram (Vietnamese mint), which can be found at a good Asian grocery store. Instead of boiling a chicken ourselves, we took a short cut and bought a roast chicken (thanks Brennan and Deb!) from the market to save prep time.
The second dish, and star of the evening, was the banh cuon. The filling is extremely easy to make since it's just stir fried pork, garlic, onions and mushrooms with a little fish sauce. The hard part to banh cuon is making the rice crepe. You can buy steamed sheets of banh cuon at Vietnamese stores but they tend to be on the greasy side for me. Instead, we make our own rice-flour crepes using a packaged banh cuon mix that requires just water and a good non-stick skillet. Once you master making the crepes, it's easy but time consuming to produce banh cuon. We ended up making thirty nine crepes at two minutes per crepe.
The third course was canh chua ca, which is a very traditional Vietnamese soup. The picture in the site header above is a bowl of canh chua ca that Hungry Bear and I had in Geneva, Switzerland. The tamarind and pineapple provide a sweet and sour flavor and the bac ha (taro stem) and bean sprouts add a crunchy texture. Most canh chua ca recipes call for catfish but I'm not a big fan of it. Any flaky white fish will do, but my parents recommend grouper, and we chose sea bass because it was on sale.
Dessert was clearly not Vietnamese. We wanted to make a relatively light dessert with fruit, and we had recently purchased organic strawberries. So we took an apple-raspberry crisp recipe and substituted strawberries for the raspberries. My oven temp seems to be out of whack because the crisp baked much faster than expected. The crisp was a little over baked with the apples a little mushier and the crisp browner than planned, but it still tasted good with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I know Brennan really enjoyed it, since he had three or four servings.
In the end, it was very hectic preparing food for eleven people in a kitchen with no counter space. But the food turned out great, and everyone loved the banh cuon once again. As always, it was nice hanging out and sharing a good meal with new and old friends.
Note: I provided recipe links for the Vietnamese dishes, although we didn't use them. We made the dishes mainly by memory and used tips from my mom. However, I tried to find recipes that were close as possible in preparation and ingredients. I would recommend Into the Vietnamese Kitchen by Andrea Nguyen as a good Vietnamese cookbook.
Likewise, for the apple-raspberry crisp recipe, I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe but the site requires a subscription to view. The Food Network recipe is close, just don't use the butter or liquor in the filling and add lemon zest.
SNDsters: Ed, Julie, Deb, Brennan, Howie, Garry, Karen, Mark, Jane, Hungry Bear, Chuck
[tags]vietnamese, banh cuon, apple crisp, canh chua ca, bac ha, taro stem, goi ga, chicken salad, tamarind, crepe[/tags]