Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Growing up, there was only one pan in my stepmother's kitchen that was off limits. Even though she had it for years, it looked like it was brand new. It had no scratches or dents; no history of conflict or traces of culinary self doubt; and it was only unearthed to make the perfect Banh Xeo, the Vietnamese Crepe.
To me this crepe is a perfect example of the beautiful, natural, marriage between French and Vietnamese cuisine. The crepe batter is made with rice flour, coconut milk, tumeric and curry powder, and thinly sliced scallions which lends it that golden yellow color and aromatic flavor. Inside, it's filled with shrimp, bean sprouts, and vegetables-I love asparagus and mushrooms in mine. You can fill it with almost any of your leftover veggies.
Making a perfect Vietnamese crepe comes down to technique, so the more practice the better you'll get. Ideally they should be made a la minute so that the freshest crepe will hit your plate. We used to wait patiently for my stepmother to make them one by one. I am still tinkering with my technique to try to make a bunch at a time. So far, putting them in the oven at 200 degrees to keep them warm works fine. Do not cover them, though, as the steam from the moist veggies will make them soggy. Make sure you have your mise en place set up efficiently, though, because you'll want to eat them as soon as possible.
The crepes, like spring rolls, should be eaten Vietnamese style- that lettuce and mint isn't there just to garnish your plate. Cut up your crepe and wrap it in lettuce with fresh herbs, chopped cucumbers, and carrot and radish pickles and dip it by hand into the traditional nuoc mam sauce.