Can I get a bit personal for a moment: do you have a culinary crush? Are you mad for Malaysian food (it’s right up there for me)? What about kale: has it jumped the shark, or is it still fanning the flames of your heart (still fanning away here)? Or have you freaked out on freekeh (yet to fully explore, but watch this space)?
Is there an ingredient, cuisine or style of cooking that you love above all others?
Well, this is my crush food. Bánh xèo (pronounced bahn say-oh, and meaning “sizzling cake”) is simply the epitome, the apogee, of my culinary wish list: crunchy yet soft, sour-salty, umami and faintly sweet. With lovely crispy lace edges if I get it right (not crucial, but oh so satisfying) How it manages all these tick boxes I don’t know, but it does. And it is just as good made vegan. In fact, I prefer it without the traditional pork and prawns.
I’ve gone all fangirl for this dish, first tasted properly a number of years ago in a London cafe (since gone downhill, I understand). I wanted to write a thank you letter/fan letter after sighing and mmming my way through my first proper one. That crepe was the Donny Osmond (circa ’74) of the food world for me. I have since had it in Vietnamese restaurants in Edinburgh – all very nice – but thought I better start making my own as my dilated eyes and table thumping were getting a bit embarrassing.
When I first embarked on doing my take on this recipe I was shocked to find that the crepe contains no egg. The yellow of the turmeric fools you into thinking that henny pennies have been involved, but no. It is pretty straightforward to put together, and I would stick out my neck and say that it is family-friendly – making smaller ones as required (or nicking half of a big one and giving the rest to said child). As with all pancakes, the first one is often a duffer, but learn from the first one (mine is usually lop-sided and a bit thick -no comments please).
I won’t detain you further from this recipe. I hope you aren’t too put off with the long ingredient list and my usual pedantic hand-holding instructions. It really is quite straight-forward for the semi-experienced home cook. Of which I am one. Connoisseurs of Vietnamese food (and indeed any Vietnamese reading this) may be somewhat taken aback by my version, but I hope you like the sound of it. It is loaded with vegetables and herbs (hence the over-stuffed in the title), with some optional options to cut time.
So, what’s YOUR food crush?
This Week in 2011: Sun-dried Tomato Tapenade (sunshine in a jar)
This Week in 2012: Mediterranean Sauteed Artichoke Pasta with ‘Poor Man’s Parmesan’
Miss R’s Track of the Week: Ellie Goulding’s cover of Alt-J’s Tessellate
Please, please don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. Nor by my long-winded pedantic instructions. These veganised Vietnamese crepes – or bánh xèo (pronounced bahn say-oh) – are really easy to make, and even easier to eat. The key is to have everything chopped and waiting.
This recipe is influenced by numerous recipes, including this one from theKitchn.
Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)**
Herb Salad ‘Bed’: 1 round/butter lettuce, leaves separated; 1 small-medium cucumber (English), peeled, halved and thinly sliced lengthways; 3 carrots, peeled then ‘shaved’ with a Y peeler, or thinly sliced; 6 radishes, thinly sliced; plenty of washed and dried basil, mint and coriander (about 40g each) – roughly torn. Divide these fresh ingredients between four plates before cooking the crepes and filling.
Making the batter: Add the rice flour, turmeric and salt to a mixing bowl (glass or metal). Whisk thoroughly to distribute then pour in the oil and fold in the lime leaves and spring onions. Gradually add the water and coconut milk, whisking constantly as it will quickly become thick. Let this sit while you get on with the filling and dipping sauce.
Making the crepes: Wipe clean the frying pan then heat 1-2 teaspoons (depends on pan size and non-stickness) of oil over a medium flame. Take the jug of batter, give it a good whisk; add in the soda water or 100ml ‘plain’ water and whisk again. Using a soup ladle add a scoop of batter to the hot pan, tilting as you add , until it is evenly distributed. The batter will be ‘holey’ – this is normal, and desirable even.
Fry the crepe for three minutes before laying over one-quarter of the filling onto one half of the crepe. Pop the lid on (if you have one) and let the filling reheat. Remove the lid and, with a spatula, fold the unfilled side over the filled side. Carefully slide onto a herb salad-dressed plate, or onto a baking tray to keep warm in a low oven (100C/212F) while you make the remaining crepes. If you can have two pans on the go that’s ideal, put possibly too stressful!
To serve: Serve the crepes over or alongside the herb salad, and with the punchy dipping sauce – plus loads of napkins. My Miss R likes to use a knife and fork, but traditionally one uses the lettuce leaves and herbs as a wrap to hold the crepe: messy but so fun and delicious! PS you could also serve this with a loosened satay sauce, as well as the nuoc cham.
Note: This recipe is easily halved. The uncooked batter will keep one day in the refrigerator. Allow it to come to room temperature and whisk well before using
Similar recipe on food to glow: Tamarind Prawn Summer Rolls
I am sending this over to the fragrant Karen at Lavender and Lovage for her Cooking With Herbs challenge, as well as to the always-accommodating Mark at Javelin Warrior Cookin’ W/ Luv Made With Love Mondays. Please go and visit for loads of herby and made-from-scratch delights.