Bánh Xèo – Savoury Vietnamese Crêpes

Pronounce it ‘ban say-0
This Tuesday, in some shape or form,pancakes are going to be beaten, fried, tossed, dropped, raced and even eaten in much the same way as they have been for years.Pancakes, it seems, predate bread as one of man´s oldest forms of cooked food.
Given their simplicity and spartan ingredients, it is not surprising that pancakes are present in almost every food culture, from silky thin French crêpes to Russian yeast-risen buckwheat blinis / blintz or Sri lankan hoppers,described by the doyenne of Indian food, Madhur Jaffrey, as the love child of a crêpe and a crumpet. With a whole world of pancakes to try, perhaps it is time for a challenge with something different this Shrove Tuesday. - Vietnamese Bánh Xèo.This recipe has been sitting in my queue for far too long,and as each Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras blends into lenten penance I forget about them for another year.

Asia arguably rivals Europe as the continent with the best pancakes, especially in terms of diversity. Vietnamese Bánh Xèo are not only delicious, but a boon to those with allergies or intolerances as they're made without eggs, and with gluten-free rice flour and coconut milk. Because of this, outside of Asia the authentic version seems to have been demised in favour of more worthy vegetarian fillings,even endorsed by the divine god Ottolenghi. I plumped for the original with its surf and turf filling, which brought to mind one of my favourite Portuguese dishes the Alentejan pork and clams.
It may surprise you to learn that the pale yellow, fluffy banh xeo typically contains no eggs at all ( I sneaked a small one in,very naughty ) despite the fact that it looks unmistakably omelette-like. In fact, the Vietnamese rice flour pancakes get their vibrant colour from turmeric. The name can be literally translated as "sizzling pancake," and that's exactly what you'll get a tssssstttt as the batter hits the sizzling butter in the pan.These pancakes are typically pan-fried with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts.I have an aversion to bean sprouts and mung beans so replaced them with Chinese cabbage. It's served with fresh lettuce, coriander and mint, which are meant to be used to pick it up in bits—a sort of reverse-roti experience, if you will.
These are quite messy and traditionally they are served with a dipping sauce.I made the dipping sauce but used it as a cook-in stir fry sauce to give the pork and prawns some ooomph.It made serving and eating the pancakes a lot easier.

As I write this post I have just read in the UK press of the demise of the Findus brand.I have sweet crispy-coated memories of childhood suppers of Findus pancakes and fish fingers.Findus was a household name in the Uk in the 60´s. Findus Crispy Pancakes are to become the latest victim of the horsemeat scandal amid company plans to ditch the brand after 50 years.The iconic Findus name will disappear from supermarket aisles under a rebranding exercise.Lost but not gone I would say.Reminiscences please. RIP Findus. 

Bánh Xèo
serves 4
Bánh xèo is food meant to be eaten with your hands. You’ll always find a big plate of greens with a mix of herbs to go with it. You can substitute any leaves you choose at a pinch, and mint and coriande rare the only must-have herbs here with  Vietnamese perilla if you can source it being the other commonly used one. However you can really throw in whatever you like.
200g rice flour
1 small egg
2-3 teaspoons turmeric, depending on colour preference
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
Spring onions, chopped small about 1-2 cm long

250g cooked peeled prawns without heads, size 45/50 or 60/70
600g  pork belly
1 onion, medium sized, thinly sliced

1 large shallot chopped
Chinese cabbage, torn up or shredded
Vietnamese perilla (tía tô), optional

Dipping sauce (cook-in stir fry sauce)
40ml lime juice
1.5 tbsp sesame oil
1tbsp brown sugar
1tbsp rice wine vinegar
1tbsp soya sauce
1 heaped teaspon hot chilli sauce, (ketjap manis or sriracha)
2tsp grated fresh ginger
1 red chilli chopped
1 garlic clove crushed
172 tsp Flor de sal

Preparing the batter
Combine all batter ingredients except the spring onions in a large bowl for at least 3 hours, or overnight.Put the rice flour,egg,salt and turmeric in a bowl.Slowly pour in the coconut milk,whisking to avoid lumps -You´re after a thinnish crepe batter,so add more coconut milk (or water) if necessary Add the spring onions only right before making the crêpes.

Prepare Fillings
Defrost the prawns if using frozen
Boil pork until cooked through, ( about 45 minutes). Drain, set aside and when cool slice  thinly. Wash and prepare salad greens and herbs
Just before making the crepes fry the shallot in some oil and when softened introduce the pre-cooked pork and the prawns. Pour in the dipping sauce and stir well to combine.Stir fry until well heated through then keep warm on a very low heat while you cook the pancakes.

Making Bánh Xèo - Each crêpe takes about 5-7 minutes
On medium-high heat add 1-2 teaspoons of butter, some spring onions and chinese leaf, chopped
Pour in some batter and quickly tilt and rotate the pan so the batter is evenly spread. Add more batter if it wasn't enough to cover the pan.
As soon as the batter starts to set immediately add a few pieces of pork and shrimp.
Lower heat to medium and wait for the crêpe to become crisp. Fold in half, transfer to a plate and serve immediately with the salad leaves and herbs.


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