The Oakland Asian Cultural Center is sponsoring a series of Asian cooking lessons with the idea of passing on these traditional foods to those who might not have grown up learning all about Laotian fresh bamboo soup or Thai green curry from their parents or grandparents. The OACC classes (which are supported by the Alliance for California Traditional Arts) put the emphasis on eating seasonally as well. For more info about the classes and how to sign up, click here.
The latest class was on Vietnamese Banh Xeo eaten with fresh greens. Taught by Thy Tran of Wandering Spoon, it was a hands-on class on this classic, which is sometimes known as sizzling or happy sounds crepe or pancake for the sound the batter should make when it hits the hot pan. (You can hear the sizzle and directions here from Tran's website.) For a slideshow featuring highlights of the class, click here.
Thy shared stories of her childhood, food experiences and her amazing mother, who taught her how to make this dish. She was determined to teach the process to us as she had learned it, by watching and then trying. She also passed on lots of tips that only experience can teach, everything from what products she found the best (see recommendations in the recipe) to tricks for peeling ginger and turmeric (use the side of a tablespoon).
Thy had us break into groups to make the rice flour batter from scratch -- from soaked rice. We added turmeric and scallions and ground the rice with water almost into a fine paste. Thy advised a little bit of grit for a better texture crepe. An acceptable option is starting with the pre-ground rice flour (look for Erawan brand with three elephants and be sure to get the kind with a red label) available from Asian markets. (To use it mix with ground turmeric, coconut milk and water until it is a creamy paste then proceed with the recipe.)
Then it was on to happy sounds; the sizzling of the crepe batter hitting the pans. Or, in some cases the not so happy sounds of students having to dump their batter out and starting over again because they used too much oil, too much batter or they started before their pans were hot enough. Thy had us frying in woks, an Indian dosa pan, a cast iron fry pan (class and Thy favorite), and a non-stick fry pan. The woks were the hardest to control, but created the most spectacularly large and golden crepes.
When the bahn xeo better was about half way cooked in the pan, we added our own combinations of cooked mung beans, stir fried pork and/or shrimp, and raw mung bean sprouts. Then we let the crepes cook until they were golden, the edges browned and a spatula inserted underneath could lift the pancake cleanly.
A quick flip of the spatula to fold the pancake in half, a slide onto the plate and it was ready for eating with dipping sauce and lots of Asian greens and red leaf lettuce. While there was a bounty of fresh greens around us, Thy was nostalgic for the really young and tender spring greens she has eaten these crepes with before, especially the ones her mother grows on her Midwestern property. We, her students, had to make do with the greens from the downtown Old Oakland Friday farmer's market (known for its Asian produce). It was a feast, and one we had all made for ourselves. We were the ones making the "happy sounds" as we devoured it all.
Here is the recipe from Thy that we used. I made a very few changes based on my notes, but the recipe is not mine. This recipe is copyright Thy Tran and is used with her permission.
Banh Xeo -- Vietnamese Sizzling Crepe
Recipe Courtesy Thy Tran, Wanderspoon.com
Makes about 8 crepes, enough for 4-5 when served with the Asian Vegetable Platter
2 cups jasmine rice, soaked in water at least 4 hours
1/2 cup of coconut milk (Thy likes Chaokoh brand)
4 scallions, whites only, chopped
1 inch turmeric root, peeled and chopped, OR 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound pork tenderloin, julienned or coarsely ground pork
1/2 pound whole shrimp, peeled (deveined if desired)
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons fish sauce (Thy likes Three Crabs, Golden Boy or Flying Lion brand)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus (lots) extra for cooking filling and crepes
Pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dried split mung beans,
2 cups mung bean sprouts
4 scallions, greens only, sliced thinly
To grind the batter: In a blender combine the soaked, drained rice, coconut milk, scallion whites and turmeric root. Add about a cup of cold water and puree until rice is finely ground in a think batter. Drizzle in more water if needed to keep the mixture moving. It should look smooth, but still be a little coarse to the touch. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in additional water, if needed, to obtain the consistency of thick cream. Season to taste with the salt. (Can be refrigerated up to 3 days).
To prepare the filling: Marinate the pork and the shrimp in two separate bowls. Put in each 3 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Season with sugar and black pepper, rubbing the pork and the shrimp to coat evenly with the marinade. (Les sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.)
Saute pork and shrimp separately in a small amount of oil in a hot wok or large skillet. Set aside. Boil the mung beans in water until al dente (about 20 minutes), drain and set aside.
When everything is ready, heat a well seasoned wok or large skillet over a medium flame. When hot, add about 1 tablespoon oil. Stir the batter and then ladle in enough batter to make an 8 inch crepe, tilting the pan to spread it evenly. (See the You Tube video above for a demonstration.)
Scatter the bean sprouts, scallion greens, split mung beans and the cooked pork and shrimp over the crepe. Cook, uncovered, until golden and the edges are lightly brown. (Thy drizzles a bit more oil around the edges of the crepe to help them brown.) Fold the crepe in half and slide on individual plates.
Serve with Asian greens, nuoc cham dipping sauce and pickled daikon and carrots (see recipes below).
To eat, take a piece of lettuce or mustard green. Add in some of the herbs and vegetables and break off a piece of the filled crepe. Roll up the herbs, vegetables and crepe morsel inside the leaf. Dip in nuoc cham and eat.
Asian Greens Platter
One head of red-leaf or Boston lettuce, leaves separated and left whole
One bunch of flat-leafed, young mustard greens
One bunch each: fresh mint, cilantro, red perilla (shiso) and rau ram
Mung Bean sprouts
Cucumbers, cut into thin spears
Wash and dry the greens and herbs. Put on platters with vegetables and serve with the crepes.
Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
3 cloves garlic, mashed and finely minced
2 red Thai chiles, sliced thinly.
In a glass jar, combine all with 1/4 to 1/2 cup water. Shake or stir until sugar is dissolved. Adjust to taste.
Thy also served her crepes with some lightly pickled carrots and daikon. Here are her directions for making them.
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
1 small, young daikon, peeled a, thinly sliced
In a small saucepan stir together the vinegar, sugar, sale and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, stir in the carrot and daikon and set aside to cool uncovered. Drain before serving. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
The crepes were also served with Rooster brand chile garlic sauce at the table for those who wanted to add a jolt of hotness to their experience.