Wow, we’re nearly at the end of July! Time has surely flown by these past couple of months, hasn’t it? Sorry for the lack of diligence in posts! Puppy has hit 4.5 months and is now much more well-behaved so I’ve gained some time back from needing to watch him every second 🙂
Ah, July. Does it get hot where you live during July? While it doesn’t get crazy in Denver, it gets hot enough to make me sweat quite a bit (more so than San Francisco, of course). As we find ourselves in the midst of summer, I’ve often had moments where the heat has encouraged extra lazy behavior. I’ll lie on the couch, contemplating for hours what meals I can make that are easy to make and light and fresh to I don’t feel more uncomfortable than I already am. Then it’ll be too late to cook and I’ll eat something terrible like ice cream for dinner. This week, I decided to fight that laziness (because eating ice cream for dinner on a regular basis is bad for ultimately bad for my health ahaha) and chose to make the Vietnamese dish banh cuon to feed myself. While this dish does require some heat to make, it’s pretty quick and is pretty light and refreshing with the bright dipping sauce and the bean sprout and cilantro accompaniments.
Banh cuon (pronounced bah-n koo-un) is a dish from the northern part of Vietnam, made up of thin sheets of steamed rice batter. Think of the rice noodles in dishes like pad kee mao, but in uncut sheets. The batter is made up of simple ingredients: rice flour, tapioca flour, water, salt, and oil. They actually sell “banh cuon” flour mix packets at the Asian supermarkets if you want to make your rice sheets from scratch.
When I was growing up, my mom always bought prepared banh cuon (because ain’t nobody got time for making this from scratch). Back in San Jose, there are specialty stores that sold various kinds of banh cuon–stuffed with ground pork and mushrooms, covered with dried ground shrimp, and plain banh cuon. We always bought banh cuon from those stores by the pound and brought it home to have for whatever meal–breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sometimes all three meals if we bought too much! When we didn’t have time to make it out to the specialty stores, Mom would just buy the banh cuon sold in trays at the supermarket. If she was really busy, we’d eat those as-is, heated up and served with bean sprouts, fried onions, and slices of Vietnamese sausage. If she had some time, she’d spruce them up a bit with some ground pork or dried shrimp, like the stuff they had at the specialty store.
And that’s what I’m going to show you today: the banh cuon stuffed with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms! This dish is super easy, pretty inexpensive, and great for a summer meal when you don’t want to eat something too heavy. Since we’ll be using premade banh cuon, this won’t take too long. This portion is relatively small for a light portion I had for breakfast/lunch so if you’re hungry, you may want to double the recipe.
Notes for this recipe! For the onion topping, banh cuon usually is served with fried shallots. Fresh shallots don’t cook as evenly (easily) as dried shallots, and it’s a little harder to find dried shallots so I opted to use dried chopped onion. You can easily find this in the spice section of your supermarket. This will give you a great texture and flavor to this dish.
Dried wood ear mushroom is a staple in a lot of Asian cooking, specifically Chinese cooking where it is often referred to as “black fungus”. When you get it at the store, there are often dozens of brands so it might seem daunting to have to decide on a brand. From what I heard, the cheaper brands just have smaller pieces and might be a little tougher, so I just purchase stuff in the middle range. To use the mushroom, simply re-hydrate them in warm water for a few minutes and they’ll be ready to use.
Cha lua, also known as gio cha or gio lua, is a cooked Vietnamese pork sausage that you’ve probably tried if you’ve had banh mi. It’s a common accompaniment for banh cuon, but not absolutely necessarily if you can’t find it. I highly recommend it though if you can find it! If you can’t find it, I wouldn’t worry too much because while you can make it at home, it won’t be something you want to do if you want a quick meal. If you do purchase it, make sure to get the regular cha lua or the fried cha (cha chien). They have the fish version and the garlicky version, both of which are used for different dishes.
The idea of steamed bean sprouts might be a little weird since you may be used to eating fresh, crisp bean sprouts with various Vietnamese dishes. Trust me though, the steaming is necessary! With the rice rolls being nice and soft, crisp sprouts might seem like a good pairing for a textural component. However, it’s the slightly steamed bean sprouts that work better because the sprouts being less crisp and less rigid allows them to be eaten with the soft rice rolls while still providing a bit of freshness and some crunch. You can try it if you’d like with the fresh sprouts but it won’t be the same! 🙂 Oh, a note to all my cilantro-hating friends, you don’t have to include the cilantro; the main part of this side is the bean sprouts.
Ready? Let’s get to it!
Banh Cuon with Pork and Mushroom
- 3 plain fresh rice rolls (banh cuon) from a 20 oz packet
- Prepared pork filling:
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1/4 lb ground pork
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp fish sauce
- 1.5 tbsp minced wood ear mushroom (see note above)
- 1 tbsp minced shallots
- For serving:
- a handful of mung bean sprouts
- a few sprigs of cilantro
- 2 tbsp dried fried onion
- 1 tsp cooking oil
- 1/3 cup prepared fish sauce (recipe here)
- a slice of lime
- Sambal chili paste (optional)
- Vietnamese steamed sausage (gio cha/cha lua)
- Prepare the pork filling! In a bowl, mix the ground pork, minced shallots, minced wood ear mushrooms, fish sauce, and salt together until well-combined.
- Heat oil in a pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot (you can swirl it around in the pan), add the pork mixture and use a spatula to crumble the meat as you cook it. Cook until no longer pink then set aside.
- In a steamer, steam 3 rice rolls until soft and pliable, about 2-3 minutes. For this step, you can use your rice cooker as a steamer if you have a basket that fits at the top. If you don’t have a steamer, you can also use a microwave. Just place the rice rolls on a microwave-safe plate and cover the rolls with a damp paper towel and heat on high on 30-second intervals until soft and pliable. Don’t oversteam your rolls or they’ll get mushy.
- Once your rolls are soft and easy to work with, unroll the rice rolls so they’re a flat rice sheet.
- Add about 3 tbsp of filling an even line close to one end of the rice sheet. Grabbing the end closest to the filling, try to roll the sheet around the filling as tightly as possibly. Careful not to roll too tight or your sheet will rip! Once you’ve rolled up the sheet, cut the roll into 3 or 4 pieces and place onto your serving plate.
- Repeat steps 4 through 6 until you’ve done all the rolls.
- Let’s prepare all the accompaniments! Start with the prepared fried onion. Heat up 1 tsp of oil in a pan on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the dried chopped onion and stir continuously to coat the onion with oil. Keep stirring to make sure the onion doesn’t burn. Once it starts to brown, take the pan off heat and transfer the onions to a small bowl so they stop cooking. Set aside.
- Place a handful of bean sprouts and cilantro in your streamer and steam for about 1 minute. Alternatively, microwave them in a microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds. Set aside.
- If eating, cut up the Vietnamese sausage into pieces and add to steamer to heat it up a little.
- Lastly, prepare your dipping sauce. Add a squeeze of lime (about 1 tsp) to your 1/3 cup of prepared fish sauce. Add some sambal chili if you want to make it spicy!
- Then put everything on a plate to serve! Sprinkle some fried onion onto your banh cuon rolls. You’ll want to dip the rolls into the dipping sauce and eat with bites of bean sprouts, cilantro, and Vietnamese sausage. Enjoy!
And that’s it! Try it out and let me know what you think. Got any go-to summer meals that you love or heard about but would like to try? Share them with me below in the comments!