May 11, 2015
Southeast Asians boldly embrace the raw vegetable. A perfect salad roll, for example, is a challenge to the notion that vegetables require fat or fire to make them special.
That's why this Ottolenghi spin on banh xeo – the Vietnamese crepe often filled with shrimp and pork – caught my eye. It’s essentially just a bunch of garden variety vegetables rolled into a coconut-rice crepe.
But those crepes! The moment the batter hit the heat it became suffused with color, a riot of marigold spreading across the pan. Then the aroma kicked in, filling the kitchen with luxurious tropical scents. Snatched hot from the pan and folded around crisply shredded vegetables and herbs, it made a perfect lunch.
Note: If you’d like these to be truly vegetarian, use Ottolenghi’s dipping sauce recipe. I found it a bit sweet. Nuoc cham, on the other hand? Perfection.
Almost-Vegetarian Banh Xeo
Slightly modified from Ottolenghi's Plenty
1 small egg
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup rice flour
One 400ml can coconut milk
1 large carrot, shredded
2 green onions
Snow peas, sliced into matchsticks
Basil, ideally Thai
1 green chile
1 part sugar
1 part rice vinegar
2 parts fish sauce
6 parts water
Make the nuoc cham by mixing all the ingredients together. Add chiles to taste and set aside.
Now make the batter, whisking the ingredients together, doing your best to smooth it out. The batter should be thin; if it's not, add a splash of water.
Heat a large skillet and toss in a teaspoon of oil. When it becomes glossy, pour in a medium-sized ladle of batter and swirl the pan around until it spreads into a large, thin crepe. Allow it to cook, on medium heat, about 2 minutes, until the bottom has browned. Flip gently and cook a couple minutes more. Be easy; these are slightly more temperamental than your ordinary wheat crepe.
Repeat with the rest of the batter- you should get 4 or 5 crepes – and set aside.
Use a peeler to make carrot curls. Cut everything else into matchsticks. Arrange the herbs and vegetables attractively on one plate and the crepes on another. Give each person an individual little dish of nuoc cham, and allow them to stuff their own crepes, drizzle on a bit of sesame oil, dip their banh xeo into the sauce – and dream of Vietnam.
This will serve two to four people, depending on their degree of hunger.
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