Saturday, February 9, 2013

Banh Tet (Vietnamese rice cake)

One more day and it will be the year of the Snake. I love our traditional Tet celebration and every year around this time, it brings nostalgia from my childhood. I remember, weeks before New Year, my mom would start to prepare so many different things to get ready for the New Year feast. From fermented shallots, "cu kieu", fermented vegetables (dua mon), to sweet coconut, tamarind and kumquat candies. She also prepared pork stew with eggs (Thit kho tau), stuffed bitter melon soup (canh kho qua), fermented beansprout (dua gia) and mustard green (dua cai chua) for these are the staples of our traditional Vietnamese New Year foods. We, kids would love to enjoy these foods, wearing new clothes and receiving the lucky money in the red envelops from adults on New Year day.
Now that I am all grown up and have children of my own, I want to pass on these wonderful memories of our traditions to them. Hopefully, one day they will also realize how valuable these memories are from their childhood.  Therefore, I have tried to learn how to make these wonderful rice cakes (banh tet) along with many other New Year dishes so I can teach them a thing or two about our culture to keep the "Tet" spirit in them.
To be honest, the process of making these rice cakes (banh tet) are very time consuming and complicated, specially for rookies like me.  This is only my third year making them, so my skills still have a lot to improve since I only had one chance a year to make them. So to enhance my skill, each year I keep on increasing the amount of rice cakes and that helps with my practice. It also means that I will be able to share more of my hard-work products to my friends and family. So, here to a great year of success and prosperity for everyone!


 Ingredients: (To make 13 rice cake logs)

1. Make mungbean filling:
- 4 bags of mungbean (400g/bag)
- 3 tsp salt
- 8 tsp sugar
- 2 cans of coconut milk
- 1 cup of chopped shallots (or the white parts of green onions)
- 5 lbs of pork belly
- fish sauce, salt, sugar,  black ground pepper, chopped garlic and shallots
- 5 tbsp of dried coconut flakes
- 1 cup of deep-fried shallots (hanh phi)

Wash the mungbean and soak it in water overnight. Next day, drain the mungbean, mix the coconut milk, salt, sugar into the mungbean and steam it for about 30 minutes until soften. Stir occasionally to make sure the beans are cooked evenly.

In a large wok, add a couple tbsp of oil and chopped shallots, stir until fragrant and add in the mungbean. Mash it up with the back of a wooden spoon to get a nice, smooth and pasty texture of the mungbean. Add in fried shallots and sprinkle dried coconut flakes, adjust the seasoning and turn off the heat. Set aside until completely cooled.
Cut the pork belly into thin strip (about 1 inch wide and 10 inch long). Marinade the meat with the mixture of chopped garlic, shallots, fish sauce, salt, sugar and pepper. Set aside for a couple hours or overnight.

To make the log of mungbean, spread the cooled mungbean out on a plastic wrap (placed on top of a sushi bamboo mat), place a piece of pork belly in the center of the mungbean. Roll the mungbean up and shape the log using the bamboo mat. Wrap the log in the plastic wrap and set aside until ready for the banh tet wrapping process.

2. Making the rice cake:
- 10 lbs of sweet glutenous rice
- 5 tsp salt
- 2 cup of pandan juice (extract)
- 2 cans of coconut milk
- 4 cans of black beans in brine water
- 10 tbsp of sugar
- 10 tbsp of dried coconut flakes

Clean and soak the sweet rice in water that mix with 1 cup of pandan juice and a couple tbsp of salt. Let the rice soaks overnight and drain the water the next morning.
In a very large wok (you can make these in batches if you don't have a large wok), add sweet rice, coconut milk, remaining salt, sugar, and pandan juice. Stir and mix thoroughly under medium heat. Continue to mix until all the liquid has disappeared, then add in the drained black beans and coconut flakes. Turn off the heat and let the rice cool down before wrapping. This step of semi-cooking the rice is to help the rice somewhat becomes sticky and, therefore, facilitating our wrapping process with ease (especially for those beginners).

To wrap the rice cake, clean the banana leaves the night before and air dry. Pre-cut the leaves into desired size (you will needs 3-4 sheets of banana leaves for each rice cake log) to help simplify the process. Spread out glutenous rice on the banana leaves, place a mungbean log in the middle. Fold the edges together and make a cylinder log. Use the plastic twine to tie securely around the log. These wrapping and twining steps can also be viewed on Youtube (just search and watch for banh tet wrapping technique to get the idea).

 While wrapping the banh tet, bring a large pot of water to boil.
To cook the banh tet, use another large stock pot, line the pot with some banana leaves on the bottom. Place the wrapped banh tet nice and neatly inside the pot (you can also do these in patches if the pot is not big enough to fit all the banh tet).  Cover the banh tet with some more banana leaves. Pour hot, boiled water on top of the banh tet in the pot until it completely covers the banh tet. Place a heavy plate on top and cover the lid.

Boil the banh tet under medium heat for about 5 hours, make sure to have a pot of hot water going at the same time so you can continuously refill and to keep the banh tet submerge in water at all time. Turn off the heat, let the banh tet sit in the water for 2 extra hours, then rinse and soak them in cold water for another hour before drain and dry the banh tet on the rack.
Once dry, you can wrap the banh tet in saran wrap to keep the banana leaves from drying out.


Banh tet can be served sliced-up as it with some fermented root vegetables (dua mon) or a sprinkle of sugar. 

 If you want to get fancy, you could also pan-fry them with a little oil until crispy and golden brown on the outside (this is my oldest son and husband's favorite way of eating banh tet).

 Either way, I hope you all will get a chance to make and enjoy this delicious, traditional food on the first day of Tet.

Happy New Year everyone!

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