I first had Banh Xeo at one of the many many Pho places in New York City’s Chinatown. I can’t tell you which one because at this point they all sort of blend together. I’m pretty sure this one was south of Canal St. but that’s all I’ve got. I’m of a one track mind when it comes to Vietnamese food. I think only about pho and those amazing deep fried spring rolls that are served wrapped in lettuce leaves (cha gio). So while Banh Xeo is a bit of a departure from my regular ordering, I’m often thrilled when I remember to order it.
My favorite places for Pho in New York:
Nha Trang One – 87 Baxter Street
-This is a pretty famous spot and the Pho Go (chicken noodle soup) is pretty delicious. As are the cha gio. A bowl of soup and spring rolls will run you about 10 dollars and I love all the strange pictures of drinks on the placemats under the glass table tops.
Pho Bang – 157 Mott St
-I used to come here with my girl friends on weekend trips into the city from our college upstate. The vegetarian pho which still has a lot of flavor is $4.00. They also serve this mostly gross salted lemonade…that I still crave sometimes.
Omai – 158 9th Ave
-This is my number one take out spot. Yes, even Kitchen Princesses order take out sometimes. Their Pho Bo (beef) is pretty standard and the first time I ordered, the raw beef was terrifying. They package the noodles, raw thin slices beef and herbs separately so you can pour the searing hot broth on top. It works brilliantly and the meat cooks perfectly.
I have yet to try my hand at making pho but tried instead for the Banh Xeo. It rhymes with Blanchot, as in Maurice. I’m also fairly confident this is the first time Blanchot (a twentieth century literary critic) has been mentioned on a food blog.
But the Banh Xeo, you’d like to know what it is. It’s closest relative is the crepe, but instead of spreading a thin watery layer of dough in a hot pan, you’re going to make a deliciously thick omelet with shrimp and tofu and herbs that’s filled with crunchy fresh bean sprouts.
Banh Xeo (Vietnamese style pancake with shrimp and tofu)
Makes about 4 crepes
You will need:
For the dough:
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 cup water
3/4 cup light coconut milk
2 scallions, green part chopped very finely
1 hefty pinch of salt
For the filling:
(divide into 4 equal parts)
1 block firm tofu – shopped into 1 in x ½ inch rectangles about the size of ½ a domino
24 medium shrimp (raw, shelled and deveined)
1 cup bean sprouts
1 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 cup onions, thinly sliced
2 tbs soy sauce
2 tbs sesame oil
¾ cup (approx.) canola oil or grapeseed oil
8 green lettuce leaves for serving
For the sauce:
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice from about 2 large limes
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 garlic clove, finely chopped (or even better, pressed)
1. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl, separate into individual dishes for dipping when you serve the Banh Xeo.
2. Before you begin to sauté the filling, you’ll need to make the dough. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour, salt, turmeric). Then add the coconut milk and water and whisk to combine. Keep whisking until there are no more lumps. You can add water if the dough is too thick. It should have the same consistency as pancake batter and be slightly runny. Then add the scallions. Let is rest for 30 minutes while you move to the next step.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the tofu and stir fry for about 5 minutes until golden brown. Add the soy sauce in the last minute for flavor. Set aside. In the same hot pan, add the sesame oil and then add the shrimp. Cook until just pink (about 3 minutes) then take out of the pan and set aside. Once again, add 2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil and sauté the onions and mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Set aside also.
4. Now you’re ready to make Banh Xeo. This part moves pretty quickly, so have all the other parts of your meal ready and your drink poured. In a small omelette pan, heat a table spoon of grapeseed oil. Pour about a cup of batter in the pan and swirl around like you would an omelet. Immediately sprinkle ¼ of the tofu, shrimp, onions and mushrooms in the pan and do not disturb. Cook for about 2 minutes until the batter is cooked through, then add the bean sprouts to ½ of the pancake and fold the other side over it like an omelet. Repeat 4 times. Then serve with the dipping sauce and lettuce leaves. Serve with a knife and fork, cutting off bites of Banh Xeo, wrapping in a piece of lettuce and dipping the sauce.