Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

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6 Vietnamese Crispy Rice Cake with Lettuce Leaves Fresh Herbs Nuoc Cham Sauce Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

You’re first bite of Vietnamese Crispy Crepes, served lettuce-wrap style with fresh mint, cilantro, Thai basil, prawn and pork filling, and sweet-sour-spicy-hot Nuoc Cham sauce is going to push all your gustatory senses into overdrive. The aromas, the flavors, the textures. It is one amazing taste sensation, and you aren’t going to forget it anytime soon.

1 Ingredients for Vietnamese Crispy Rice Cake   Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

These rice crepes are made a little differently than French crepes, in that they are steamed to complete the cooking. They are a bit easier on the cook too, because they are not flipped to brown the second side.

2 Sauteeing Prawns and Barbecued Pork for Vietnamese Crispy Rice Cake   Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

You’ll find varying methods described for filling the crepes. One method I encountered several times and finally tried involves sautéing the filling in the pan and pouring the batter over and around the filling.

3 Nearly Cooked Vietnamese Crispy Rice Cake Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

This has the advantage of adhering the batter to the filling and the disadvantage of an uneven, dappled surface on the finished crepe. The crepes have such a gorgeous crusty surface that it seems a shame to mar it in this way.

4 Folding Cooked Vietnamese Crispy Rice Crepe Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

So, primarily for esthetics, my preferred method is to pour the crepe batter into the center of the hot pan and quickly swirl the pan to get an even layer of batter over the bottom of the pan. Then, even more quickly, while the top of the batter is still loose and wet, scatter the filling over the top. If you miss the few seconds while the batter is still wet, the filling won’t adhere to the crepe. If this happens, just continue. It’s not a deal breaker.

5 Lettuce Leaves Fresh Herbs Nuoc Cham Dipping Sauce Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

It hardly matters what you fill the crepes with. The flavors that dominate are Thai basil, mint, cilantro, garlic, lime, and sweet and sour dipping sauce.

7 Vietnamese Crispy Crepe serving Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)

Vietnamese Crispy Rice Crepes (Banh Xeo)

If you are accustomed to tender, eggy French crepes, Vietnamese crepes will come as a surprise. Rice flour and the absence of egg creates a crepe with two contrasting textures—one side of the crepe (the pan side) is super crunchy and one side is pillowy soft.

To eat, guests tear a piece of crepe, tuck it into a  lettuce leaf, add a few fresh herbs, and drizzle with sweet and sour Nuoc Cham sauce. This is great communal fun but by necessity rather messy. Be sure to have extra napkins on hand.

NOTE   Because there is no egg in the batter, Vietnamese crepes are too delicate to flip. Instead, cook the top of the crepe by putting a lid on the pan and steaming for a couple of minutes.

Crispy Rice & Coconut Crepes (makes 2½ cups batter)
1½ cups rice flour
½ teaspoon turmeric
1¾ cups cold soda water or nonalcoholic ginger beer, more if needed (regular water can also be used)
½ cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 green onion, trimmed and thinly sliced
several sprigs of parsley, trimmed, and minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and minced or pressed
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, or more to taste

vegetable oil, for cooking the crepes

Prawn & Barbecued Pork Filling
½ pound large prawns, peeled, cleaned, and cut into ½-inch dice
½ pound barbecued pork or Chinese cooked sausage, trimmed and cut into ¼-inch dice
2 cloves garlic, peeled, and minced or pressed

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil, for cooking the filling

fine sea salt, to taste

Dipping Sauce (Nuoc Cham) (makes 1½ cups)
½ cup fish sauce
½ cup sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon Sriracha chile sauce (or other chile sauce, such as Sambal Oelek)
1 clove garlic, peeled, and minced or pressed

Garnishes
curly lettuce leaves
Thai basil leaves
mint leaves
cilantro leaves

  1. To make the crepe batter, in a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour and turmeric. Add in coconut milk and mix until well combined. Slowly whisk in the soda water until all the lumps have dissolved. Whisk in fish sauce and scallions. Set the batter aside for 30-45 minutes. Makes 2½ cups batter.
  2. To make the dipping sauce, combine fish sauce, sugar, lime juice, warm water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Add chilies. Reserve. Makes 1½ cups sauce.
  3. To make the filling, in a medium mixing bowl, combine prawns and barbecued pork, and garlic.
  4. To cook the filling, set a small sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the mixture and cook for a few minutes until the prawns  are almost cooked through, adding a little more oil if necessary to keep the ingredients from sticking to the pan. Remove from heat, salt to taste, and reserve.
  5. To cook the crepes, in a 10-inch, nonstick sauté pan, over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and heat to sizzling.
  6. Whisk the batter vigorously, and pour a scant ½ cup batter into the pan. Very quickly, tilt and swirl the pan to coat the bottom evenly. Pour a little more batter into any bare spots. Immediately scatter a portion of the filling on top if the crepe. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the bottom off the crepe is golden brown. Put a lid on the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.
  7. Remove lid,  and using a silicon spatula, carefully fold the crêpe in half, gently pressing down on top. Transfer to a serving platter.
  8. To serve, accompany crepes with lettuce leaves, mint, cilantro, Thai basil, and dipping sauce. Guests tear pieces from the crepes and wrap in  lettuce leaves along with herbs and a drizzle of Nuoc Cham sauce.

Makes 6-8, ten-inch crepes.

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Copy­right 2013 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.

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About Susan S. Bradley

Intrepid cook, food writer, culinary instructor, author of Pacific Northwest Palate: Four Seasons of Great Cooking, and founder of the Northwest Culinary Academy.

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