I primarily cook at home. So, when I do dine out, it is usually to an expensive restaurant for a special occassion or the kinds of restaurants that serve food that I don't normally cook. That leads me to seek out the best little ethnic restaurants and I try to order something different every time. Of course, I have my favorite dishes in every cuisine, but I so love the adventure of tasting something new. I am occassionally disappointed, but I think that experimenting is just so fun! From these ethnic eateries, I often come home with a desire to make a certain dish that I really enjoyed. I then look through my huge cookbook collection or Google the dish and look for recipes from places like Epicurious, the Food Network, Food & Wine, etc. Sometimes I get sent to other wonderful food blogs. I usually gather several recipes that I think I will like and then start experimenting. I think it is important to imagine tasting the dish while you are reading the recipe and that can help eliminate many of the recipes from consideration. I've never really been able to make anything exactly from a recipe anyway except when I am baking - because that is chemistry.
One of my current favorite dishes is the Vietnamese Crepe called Banh Xeo or Happy Crepes. I've had a wonderful version at Silk in Portland and good versions at many other Vietnamese restaurants. It is a crepe made with mung beans, rice flour and coconut milk and usually involves pork and shrimp. It is served with lettuce, mint, cilantro and/or Thai Basil and Nuoc Cham sauce. This dish has wonderful contrasting textures - the crepe is warm and soft with crisp edges, the lettuce and herbs are cold and crunchy and the salty, savory, tangy and sweet flavors of the sauce together make my taste buds very happy! I'm allergice to shrimp so I'm leaving it out of the recipe. If you want to add it back in, just substitute shrimp for half of the pork. And of course, it can be made vegetarian and it is gluten free too. Here's the version I finally came up with that my sons and I liked best. The crepe recipe is adapted from Charles Phan of Slanted Door (recipe from Food & Wine Magazine) and Epricurious. The Nuoc Cham recipe was created from trial and error.
1/2 cup dried mung beans
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk from a can - stirred first
2 cups white rice flour
1 cup cornstarch
4 cups water
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
Soak the dried mung beans in warm water for about 30 minutes. Drain and put them in a food processor. Add coconut mil, rice flour, cornstarch, water, scallions and turmeric. Let the crepe batter rest for about 20 minutes or even overnight to loosen the starches.
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of boneless pork, cut into 1/4 inch pieces sprinkled with fish sauce and a little sugar
1 small onion sliced very thin
1 cup thinly sliced button mushrooms
3 cups beansprouts
1 head of Red Leaf Lettuce - leaves separated, washed and dried
Handful of Mint leaves, Clantro and Thai Basil (usually served on the stem)
Nuoc Cham Sauce
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup or more light brown sugar (you can also use white sugar and I usually add more)
1 Thai or Serrano Chili sliced into little rings (use 1/2 if you don't like it to too hot)
1 large or 2 small cloves of minced garlic
Mix sugar into hot water and stir to dissolve. Add in lime juice, fish sauce, chili and garlic. Taste for desired sweetness and let cool. Pour into separate small serving bowls
Heat oven to 200 degrees and put a large baking sheet in to warm
Using a nonstick 8" skillet, add one teaspoon of oil and heat. Add a few pieces of pork, mushrooms and a few slivers of onion and saute until pork loses its' pinkness. Pour in 1/2 cup of crepe batter, tilting and swirling the pan until crepe coats the bottom of the pan thinly and rises up the side of the pan. Let it cook for a moment until the edges become drier, then add the beansprouts. Cover and let steam cook for about 2 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown. Fold in half and put onto baking sheet to keep warm while making remaining crepes.
Place crepe onto plate and garnich with several lettuce leaves, a small amount of Mint leaves, Cilantro and Thai basil. Give each person a small bowl of Nuoc Cham to dip. To eat, tear crepe into pieces along with herbs and wrap in lettuce leaves. Dip into Nuoc Cham sauce and enjoy!
Five Element Analysis
The Mung Beans, mushrooms and sugar are from the Earth Element. The coconut milk and rice flour are from the Metal Element along with the lightly cooked onion, scallions, mint, cilantro, Thai basil, garlic and turmeric. The pork is from the Water Element as is the fish sauce. The Fire Element is represented by the Thai or Serrano Chili and the lettuce. The Wood Element is represented by the sour Lime Juice. All in all, it is a very balanced little dish!