Return to the fold
Vietnamese crepes are a tantalising mix of textures, temperatures and flavours
Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee
B anh xeo is one of my favourite dishes to eat in Vietnam. The large, sizzling hot, turmeric-scented crepe filled with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts is a hands-on dish: you tear off a section of the filled crepe, wrap it in a lettuce leaf and dunk it in a dipping sauce. It's a delicious mix of temperatures, textures and flavours: crunchy, cooling lettuce, tender crepe, the hot filling, with basil, mint and the salty-sweet pungent fish sauce.
Banh xeo (pictured)
In Vietnam, I've watched as vendors spread raw bean sprouts plus the partially cooked shrimp and pork on top of the crepe in the wok, slap on the lid, then let everything cook together briefly, before folding the crepe in half and sliding it onto the serving dish. Because I want to eat at the same time as my guests, my technique is a little different: I make the crepes first, cook all the other ingredients separately, then fill and fold the crepes at the table.
Most of the recipes I've seen use rice flour as the only starch in the crepe batter, but I found the cooked crepes a little too delicate to fold easily, so I add a small amount of plain (all-purpose) flour.
For the filling:
200 grams slightly fatty pork
200 grams shrimp (heads and shells removed, and with bodies about 3cm long) 200 grams bean sprouts
A few spring onions
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the crepes:
150 grams rice flour
50 grams plain flour
½ tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp fine sea salt
200ml coconut milk
About 200ml cold water
Cooking oil, as needed
For the dipping sauce:
120ml Vietnamese bottled fish sauce
30-45ml fresh lime juice
15-30ml rice vinegar
About 10 grams granulated sugar
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 red bird's-eye chillies, minced
Cold water, as needed
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh Thai basil leaves
Fresh coriander sprigs
Pickled carrots and radish (recipe below)
Prepare all the ingredients for the filling so they're ready to stir-fry when the crepes are cooked. First, slice the pork against the grain into thin strips about 2.5cm long, put into a bowl, sprinkle with salt and stir to combine. Put the shrimp in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and stir to combine. Rinse the bean sprouts and leave them in a colander to drain thoroughly. Slice the spring onions on the diagonal.
Mix the sauce ingredients together, adjusting the seasonings to taste, and diluting it as needed with a little water. Ladle into individual dipping bowls.
Put the lettuce, herbs and pickled vegetables on a platter.
Mix the rice flour with the plain flour, turmeric and salt. Use a whisk to stir in the coconut milk and the cold water. The batter should be smooth and slightly thicker than French crepe batter; if needed, stir in a little more cold water.
Heat a non-stick skillet (the one I use is about 20cm in diameter). Add a little cooking oil then use a paper towel to spread it thinly but evenly over the base. When the skillet is very hot, add a ladleful of the batter. Immediately swirl the pan so the batter is in a thin, even layer. Cook over a medium flame until the edges of the crepe start coming away from the pan and the surface is matte and firm to the touch. Leave for a few more seconds to lightly brown the bottom of the crepe, then use a rubber spatula to loosen the edges from the pan. Shake the skillet - the crepe should slide around easily. Slide the crepe onto a plate then lightly oil the pan before cooking the next one, stacking them as they're done.
When all the crepes are ready, cook the filling. Heat a wok and, when it's very hot, add about 20ml of cooking oil. Add the pork, sprinkle it with pepper, then stir-fry until fully cooked. Put the pork into a large, clean bowl. Place the wok back over the flame, add about 20ml of cooking oil and the shrimp, then stir-fry until they curl and turn pink. Put the shrimp in the bowl with the pork. Heat the wok again, pour in about 20ml of cooking oil and, when it's very hot, add the bean sprouts, spring onion and a sprinkling of salt. Stir-fry very quickly, just to heat the bean sprouts slightly, but don't overcook them or they'll wilt. Put the bean sprouts and spring onion in the bowl with the pork and shrimp and thoroughly mix all the ingredients together.
To serve, lay a crepe on a plate, add some filling, then fold the crepe in half. Wrap some of the crepe and filling in a lettuce leaf and add whatever herbs and pickled vegetables you want. Dip the lettuce wrap in the sauce and eat.
Pickled carrot and white radish
Make this at least one day in advance.
200 grams (medium-sized) carrot
200 grams white radish
30 grams salt, divided
80 grams granulated sugar, or to taste
200ml rice vinegar
200ml boiling water
Peel the carrot and white radish, then cut them into matchsticks, or slice them on the diagonal. Put the carrot and radish into separate bowls and sprinkle each of them with 15 grams of salt. Mix thoroughly then leave for 30 minutes, or until they can bend without breaking. Rinse the vegetables thoroughly then drain them and squeeze out as much water as possible. Mix the vegetables together then pack them into a jar that fits them snugly.
Dissolve the sugar into the water then stir in the rice vinegar. Taste the marinade; if it's too acidic, add more sugar. Cool to room temperature, then pour over the vegetables - they should be completely submerged. Cover the jar with the lid and refrigerate for at least one day.