I love crêpes, the paper-thin crispy dessert pancakes so famous in France. But crêpes are not limited to just France. Many countries throughout Europe, Asia, and even Africa have some sort of thin pancake. If you think about it, tortillas from Mexico are sort of like crêpes too. I grew up eating jelly-filled Hungarian crêpes or palacsinta made by my mother. I can't imagine a speical family dinner without them. There are also savory crêpes in Hungarian cuisine as well as French. One of the most famous savory crêpes in Asian cuisine is the Vietnamese crêpe or Bánh xèo. It is well known as a fast street food as well as a comfort food cooked by moms at home.
Bánh xèo are made out of mainly rice flour and water. Turmeric powder or saffron powder is added for a bright yellow color. Coconut milk or coconut water is sometimes used instead of tap water to add a touch of sweetness. I add eggs to the mixture to make the batter bind together better and produce a much less cakey pancake. The filling always has pork—usually pork belly, shrimp, and bean sprouts. I use lean pork tenderloin. Serve it alongside lettuce greens, fresh herbs, and the traditional dipping sauce. You can try to eat it with chopsticks like the locals do, but I like to tear of a piece, wrap it in lettuce, dip it into the sauce, and bite right in. It's an explosion of salty, sweet, and sour flavors and crispy, crunchy, and soft textures.
Vietnamese Crêpes Filled with Shrimp, Pork, Bean Sprouts, and Mushrooms
for the crêpe batter:
3/4 cup coconut water or tap water
1/3 cup white rice flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 scallion, thinly sliced on the bias
for the filling:
1/4 pound thinly sliced pork loin (from a 1-pound tenderloin)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 pound medium shrimp, shelled, deveined, and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc cham)
1-1/2 cups bean sprouts
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced shitake mushrooms
dipping sauce, recipe follows
green leaf or bibb lettuce, torn into leaves
fresh cilantro, basil, or mint
To make crêpe batter, combine coconut water, rice flour, eggs, and turmeric in a large measuring cup. Beat with a fork until thoroughly combined. Stir in sliced scallion. Chill for up to 30 minutes.
To prepare filling, Combine pork slices and soy sauce in a small bowl and combine shrimp and fish sauce in a second bowl. Let marinate in refrigerator for up to 30 minutes.
Warm tablespoon oil in a skillet set over medium heat. Sauté pork slices until cooked through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Remove to a clean bowl. Refresh oil and add shrimp to pan; sauté until pink, about 3 minutes. Remove to a clean bowl.
Set 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, add teaspoon oil. Use a brush to spread oil in pan. Stir batter as rice flour has tendency to settle. Pour in about 1/4 cup batter to pan, swirling to coat bottom. Fry until crêpe edges begin to release from pan, about 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cooked pork and 1/4 shrimp to half side of crêpe. Top with 1/4 bean sprouts and 1/4 mushrooms. Cover and let warm through for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove cover and use spatula to fold crêpe over filling. Move to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter, making sure to stir batter before pouring into pan. Serve crêpes with dipping sauce, lettuce leaves, and sprigs of herbs. Yield: 4 (or maybe 5) crêpes.
Note: Soy sauce is not a traditional ingredient in this dipping sauce, but I like it for the briny flavor and dark color.
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc cham)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
1 small red Thai bird chile, finely minced or 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Combine lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, water, sugar, garlic, and chile in a small bowl. Yield: 1 cup.