This isn’t the most exotic thing you can bánh tráng, but it is pretty darn tasty.
What is bánh tráng? It’s really a noun that I made into a cool sounding verb…. And is Vietnamese term for the rice paper wrappers (or tapioca) use throughout their cuisine. On our vacation in 2005 to Vietnam, I actually was able to watch the traditional method of making bánh tráng while touring the Cu Chi Tunnels (a quite surreal experience, ask me about it sometime. But it involved M-16s, Sony, propaganda, flash backs, closter phobia, booby traps and underground crawl-sized tunnels). The whole rice paper process appeared painstaking and not really sure who had the idea or time to come up with this ‘back in the day’. Essentially (thank you Wikipedia) it is: “soaked raw rice is ground with water into slurry. A bit of thick old batter is then added to the slurry for a wonderful tang. The bánh tráng maker sits on a low stool to spread the batter onto a cloth that’s stretched over a wide pot of boiling water. After the batter has been thinly spread, a bamboo lid covers the bánh tráng. The resulting bánh tráng is steamed for probably about 30 to 45 seconds. A long narrow stick is used to lift and transfer the cooked rice sheet to a cooling “rack.” The cooling rack is a very wide convex (slightly domed) round bamboo rack with a cloth covering it. The rack spins around.” I suggest you just buy them in a convenient pack at any Asian grocery store and some well stocked US stores. They come in varying sizes.
Wrapping is cornerstone to some of our most favorite Vietnamese meals and is insanely easy and even more healthy. You can do a variety of fillings, meats, tofu, left overs, hot pot……. Tonight we made bánh tráng cuốn cá hồi (salmon rice paper rolls) and wokked up garlic pea vine. You can find the ingredients at any store and order the bánh tráng (and nuoc mam) off Amazon if you are out in BFE. We stopped into an Asian store on the way home for a few remaining items, but had most of the stuff in our fridge for one reason or another. Anyone who thinks it is too expensive to eat healthy is not acquainted with Asian stores. For $7.47, we purchased all the tasty treats in the photo below: cilantro, mint, watercress, pea vines, lemon grass ($0.08), cookies, bánh tráng and mung bean sprouts. Herbs have to be the best buy there…. This is not meant to be insensitive. I see urban food deserts everywhere here in Seattle, the rest of you, just don’t fear the Asian grocery. Sure they smell bad (like Chinese medicine and fish) and have strange things in foreign languages but that is the allure – revel in the mystery (and try some cookies).
Back to the meal plan: bánh tráng cuốn cá hồi (salmon wraps) and sautéed garlic pea vine
Vietnamese Salmon Wraps
- Lettuce (we had baby romaine, worked great but even salad bags, butter lettuce etc would be just fine)
- Carrots (I didn’t bother making match sticks, just grated, otherwise, I would still be cutting 3 hours later)
- Apple (my MIL usually uses canned pineapple, we didn’t have around the house, apple turned out better IMHO)
- Mung bean sprouts
- Tomatoes (we had a mix of cherry and a roma)
- Pistachios (normally it is peanuts, I don’t have any and really get on a tear about WHY they have to put peanuts on everything. It adds no value, just calories. This is me being a tart. Don’t buy pistachios or peanuts for this if you don’t have them. :))
- Bánh Tráng – we used the bigger ones tonight, sometimes I prefer the smaller and either break them in half or buy the smaller disks
- Herbs: Basil, mint, cilantro (there are many others you can use but not necessary)
- We like the salmon Costco sells with the dill butter. Pop in the over 400F for 15 minutes. Done. Good.
- Can use any fish, a lot of fish, or a little (you know, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish)
Fish Sauce (nuoc mam) for dipping BUT NOT the dark brown straight out of the bottle.
- This is prepared using the concentrated liquefied fish (another interesting tour we went on). I have made it in the past using my MIL lesson. My suggestion to you – find someone with a Vietnamese mom and have her make you some, or buy some from a restaurant you like. Makes all the difference
- Add a little red chili sauce, to kick it up a notch.
- I will blog better directions for this another time
- Bake/steam fish.
- Wash Wash: all the veggies
- Chop Chop: cucumbers, apples, carrots, tomatoes
- Plate Plate: it all, see photo
Prepare a medium sized mixing bowl with warm water (for bahn trang)
Eat: I am providing the eating tutorial, as I have seen one to many wrapping tragedies go down at local restaurants, where a waiter didn’t bother to show the proper way. Not hard, but makes a difference.
Key: DO NOT soak the bahn trang. Repeat DO NOT soak it. Ok, do it just once to see why you don’t do it. Big sticky glob that you will spend 34 minutes trying to straighten out on your plate to wrap.
Take wrapper and run it once through the water just so it all touched it once. ONCE.
- Place the dampened wrapper on your plate. I like to try to keep my plate dry during the meal and wipe it with a napkin, since the wraps might dribble a little bit and it cuts down on the mess when wrapping the next ones.
Plan your wrap wisely. Start (always IMHO) with the lettuce first. This is the backbone of your wrap. Don’t load up the center of your wrap either. Work on either the far left or right third, depending on if you are a south paw or not.
Add in all the ingredients for this wrap. Each wrap is and should be unique. Don’t get greedy though. It will bust out of the wrapper and make a big mess.
Now roll it up firmly. Key here is to use your chop sticks or other utensil (fingers included) to hold the filling in while you pull up on the side and begin to roll it over. The goal here is to take the edge of the side you put the stuff on and tuck it over the ingredients so that the rest of the banh trang is rolled over itself. Holding your ingredients in helps get it wrapped tighter, so easier to dip and eat. I then like to tuck in one of the ends to hold it in when you turn it vertical to eat. A good wrap will impress the locals, in – laws or future in – laws. Pretty sure my wrapping skills and ability to tell time in Vietnamese sealed the deal with hubby’s family. “party tricks”
- Ready to dip and eat. So, as with other things that are dipped, in the privacy of my own home or with my hubby only, I like to bite off part of the end first and THEN dip it in the sauce. I see this as a superior way to get the sauce to infiltrate the roll. Otherwise it is just on the outside and not mingling with the goodness inside. Whether or not you choose to do this in public or at home, is your prerogative.
- Repeat! Left overs can be tossed together (minus bahn trang) for a salad the next day.
Wokked Up Garlic Pea Vine – great side dish, takes about 2 minutes!
KEY: High Heat! Wok is helpful, but I would in no way say required.
- Pea Vines, or other greenery
- Oyster Sauce, about 1 table spoon
- Minced garlic, about 1 table sppon
- Water about ¼ cup
- 2 teaspoons canola oil (or so)
- Wash and dry really good your veggies (water will splatter when it hits the oil)
- Heat up wok and add oil, move wok around to coat the bottom with the oil
- Once oil is hot, add in garlic (will splatter) and stir stir to brown
- Add in pea vines and give them a few stirs and tosses to begin to wilt them (45 seconds)
- Add in oyster sauce, do not go overboard with this sauce. Stir and toss (wok it!)
- After about 30 seconds, add in part of the ¼ cup of water, just to help you wilt the rest of the pea vine.
- Don’t overcook (leaves will be wilted but stems still have some shape), so probably just another 30 seconds or so. This will really vary with your pan and stove.
If you are in Seattle, I am happy to give a demonstration.
đồ ăn ngon!