Adapted from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Quynhgiao Nguyen (Ten Speed Press 2006). The author notes that she soaks and grinds raw rice for the batter instead of using the traditional rice flour in order to obtain the same thin crepe found in Vietnam. This was once of the most delicious things I ate in all my time in Vietnam.
Makes eight 8-inch crepes, to serve 4 to 6 as a one-dish meal
1 cup raw jasmine or regular long-grain rice
2 tablespoons firmly packed leftover cooked rice
1 tablespoon firmly packed ground steamed mung bean*
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup coconut milk, canned or freshly made*
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons water
1 scallion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
3/4 pound ground pork or thinly sliced boneless pork shoulder
1/2 pound small white shrimp in their shells, legs and tails trimmed
1 can (15 ounces) whole or broken straw mushrooms, drained and cut lengthwise if whole
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)
1 cup ground steamed mung bean*
4 cups bean sprouts (about 2/3 pound)
1/2 cup canola or other neutral oil
Vegetable Garnish Plate (see below)
1 1/2 cups Basic Dipping Sauce made with garlic (see below)
Vegetable Garnish Plate
2 heads leaf lettuce or Bibb lettuce
1 bunch mint leaves
1 bunch Thai basil*
1 bunch cilantro or Mexican coriander* (optional)
1 bunch fish mint (vap ca)* (optional)
Basic Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce*
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 or 2 Thai chilies, thinly sliced, or 1 teaspoon store-bought chili garlic sauce (tuong ot toi)*
To make the batter, put the raw rice in a bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch. Let soak for 3 to 4 hours. Drain rice and transfer to a blender. Add the cooked rice, mung bean, salt, turmeric, coconut milk and water. Blend for about 3 minutes, or until very smooth and lemony yellow. Pour the batter through a fine-mesh sieve positioned over a bowl and discard the solids. Stir in the scallion and set the batter aside for 1 hour. It will thicken to consistency of heavy cream. There should be about 3 cups batter.
To make the filling, roughly divide the pork, shrimp, mushrooms and onion into 8 portions. (Dividing the ingredients now will ensure less frantic frying and avoid overstuffing.) Put these ingredients along with the mung bean, bean sprouts, batter and oil next to the stove.
For each crepe, heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a portion each of the pork, shrimp, mushrooms and onion and saute, breaking up the meat, for about 45 seconds, or until seared and aromatic. Visualize a line down the middle of the skillet and roughly arrange the ingredients on either side of the line. Anything in the middle would make it hard to fold the crepe neatly later.
Give the batter a good stir with a ladle. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the skillet and swirl the skillet to cover the bottom. The batter should dramatically sizzle (making the xeo noise) and bubble. When it settles down, sprinkle on 1 1/2 tablespoons of the mung bean, then pile 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts on one side. Lower the heat to medium, cover and cook until the bean sprouts have wilted slightly, about 3 minutes.
Remove the lid and drizzle in 1 teaspoon of the oil around the rim of the pan. Lower the heat slightly and continue to cook, uncovered, for 3 to 4 minutes to crisp the crepe. The edge will have pulled away from the skillet and turned golden brown. At this point, use a spatula to check underneath for a crispy bottom. From the center to the edge, the crepe should go from being soft to crispy. Lower the heat if done. When satisfied, use a spatula to fold in half and transfer to serving plate.
Increase the heat to medium-high and repeat with the remaining batter and filling ingredients. Serve the crepes with the vegetable garnish plate and dipping sauce. Pass around 1 or 2 pairs of chopsticks or scissors to cut the crepe into smaller pieces. To eat, tear a piece of the lettuce to the size of your palm, place a piece of crepe on top, add a few herb leaves, shape into a bundle and dip into sauce.
Note, to prepare a shortcut rice flour batter: In a bowl, stir together 2 cups rice flour, 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch, 3/4 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric. Make a well in the center, pour in 1/3 cup coconut milk and 2 cups water and whisk to create a silky batter. Add 1 scallion (white and green parts), thinly sliced, and set aside for 1 hour. Cook the batter the same way.
For The Vegetable Garnish Plate
Wash and dry all lettuce and herbs. Separate lettuce leaves and pull off leaves from herbs, stacking onto two or three separate plates. Serve on the table for all guests to share.
For The Basic Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham)
Combine lime juice, sugar and water, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Adjust the flavors to balance out the sweet and sour. Add the fish sauce and any of the optional ingredients. Taste again and adjust the flavors to your liking, balancing out the sour, sweet, salty and spicy. Aim for a bold, forward finish — perhaps a little stronger than what you'd normally like. This sauce may be prepared early in the day and left to sit at room temperature.
* Available in Asian aisle at supermarket or specialty Asian food stores.