Banh Beo

banhbeo1Banh beo is also one of the favorite traditional dishes in Hoi An and the surrounding rural regions (not to be mistaken for a very different Banh beo, served to royal families in Hue).

Banh beo is made of a mixture of rice flour and water. The mixture is poured into small, clay bowls, much smaller than the usual ones. The delicious core of Banh beo is stuffed with small shrimps, and the dipping sauce is made by mixing fish sauce, sugar, garlic, chilly, fresh small shrimps and watery grease.
Banh beo offers customers an irresistible marriage of sweet and buttery flavors. The delectable sauce is the key to making this dish priceless.  A special bamboo fork, a tool called “Que Cheo”, is required to serve Banh beo.  The cake is cut into 4-6 parts, pricked with the Que Cheo. The pieces are put on bamboo gridirons and steamed in a big saucepan. When well-done, banh beo is porcelain white and contains a small hollow in the middle. Spicy, shopped shrimp and minced meat is combined with cashew and rice flours then stir-fried into aromatic dough.  The aromatic dough is called “Nhun” and is used as a garnish for the Banh beo. Pepper, fish sauce, oil, chili or pimento may be added to “excite” one’s taste buds.

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Banh Beo recipe…

banhbeo3Makes 32 pancakes, serves 4 as a starter

For scallion oil:
2 scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced ( 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil

For batter:
1 cup rice flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 3/4 cups water

For shrimp topping:

1/3 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 pinches of salt 1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil

1 tablespoon finely minced shallot

Pinch of sugar

2 pinches of white pepper

1/2 teaspoon fish sauce

For sauce:

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar

1/3 cup water

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 serrano chile, thinly sliced (optional)

To make scallion oil
Have scallions ready in a small bowl so they may be quickly added to the oil. In a small saucepan, heat oil over medium heat until hot. To test, drop in a scallion slice; it should sizzle on contact. Add scallions and stir immediately to expose them quickly to the oil. When scallions have collapsed and are soft, after about 30 seconds, remove from heat. Transfer scallions and oil to a small heat-proof bowl and let cool completely.

The garnish will keep for several hours at room temperature. Or, cover and refrigerate for up to 7 days, then bring to room temperature before using. Make about 1/4 cup.

To make batter
In a bowl, stir together rice flour, cornstarch and salt. Make a well in the center, pour oil and water into the well, and whisk together to produce a thin, smooth batter. You should have about 2 cups batter. Let batter rest for 30 minutes.

To make topping
In small saucepan, combine shrimp and salt with water just to cover and bring to boil over medium heat. Cook about 8 minutes or until all water has evaporated. (This intensifies flavor of shrimp.) Transfer shrimp to small bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a mini food processor and process to a minced, fluffy texture. Or mince by hand using a knife. Return shrimp to bowl.

In small non-stick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add shallot about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add shrimp and stir to combine. Sprinkle in sugar, pepper and fish sauce. Continue to cook, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes to dry shrimp, lowering heat when bits of shrimp pop. Shrimp are done when they look crumbly and are brilliant orange. Transfer to bowl and set aside until ready to use. (Shrimp may be prepared up 3 days in advance, cooled, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before using.)

To make sauce
In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, water and fish sauce and stir to dissolve sugar. Taste and make any adjustments to create a light, slightly sweet sauce. Add chili and set aside until serving time.

To cook pancakes
Fill bottom section of steamer halfway with water and place steamer tray on top. Bring water to rolling boil over high heat. Nearby have ready the batter, a ladle, a small knife or metal spatula and serving plates for holding the pancakes.

Have ready about 8 small dishes, each about 2 1/2 inches wide and at least 1/2 inch deep. Put dishes into steamer tray, placing them away from the edge where condensation collects. So that batter will set quickly, cover steamer and let dishes preheat for 2 minutes. Remove lid carefully. Do not let condensation drip into the dishes. Ladle batter to a depth of 1/4 inch into each dish (about 1 tablespoon batter.) Replace lid and steam 3 minutes, or until pancakes are shiny and firm and have a shallow indentation in center. Reduce heat to low and wait for steam to subside before lifting lid, and then lift it away from you carefully to avoid condensation dripping onto the pancakes. Use metal tongs to transfer dishes to counter. Let pancakes cool 2 minutes. They will firm up slightly.
Make pancakes in batches
Have ready about 8 small dishes, each about 2 1/2 inches wide and at least 1/2 inch deep. Put dishes into steamer tray, placing them away from the edge where condensation collects. banhbeo4So that batter will set quickly, cover steamer and let dishes preheat for 2 minutes. Remove lid carefully. Do not let condensation drip into the dishes. Ladle batter to a depth of 1/4 inch into each dish (about 1 tablespoon batter.) Replace lid and steam 3 minutes, or until pancakes are shiny and firm and have a shallow indentation in center. Reduce heat to low and wait for steam to subside before lifting lid, and then lift it away from you carefully to avoid condensation dripping onto the pancakes. Use metal tongs to transfer dishes to counter. Let pancakes cool 2 minutes. They will firm up slightly.

To unmold
Dip tip of knife (or spatula) in water and run it along edge of a pancake to loosen it. Use your fingers to gently pry pancake from dish, and then place it on a serving plate. Repeat until you have unmolded all the pancakes. The finished pancakes resemble tiny white plates.

Return steamer to a boil over high heat. Give the dishes a quick rinse and wipe before returning them to the steamer tray for another batch. Repeat until all batter is used. (Cooled pancakes may be covered with plastic wrap and kept at room temperature up to 8 hours.)

To serve
Fill indentation of each pancake with a generous 1/2 teaspoon of shrimp topping and dot with a generous 1/4 teaspoon of scallion oil garnish. Serve with the sauce. The best strategy for eating the pancakes is to use chopsticks to scoot one onto a soup spoon and then drizzle on some sauce.

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