Crispy Rice and Mung Bean Crepes (Bánh Xèo)

Banh xeo with lettuce, herb and dipping sauce garnishes

One of my favourite meals is an Indian dosa. So I was ecstatic when I first tasted its equally delicious Vietnamese relative bánh xèo, pronounced “bang say-o”.

Bánh xèo is a savory Vietnamese crepe-style dish where portions of it are bundled around lettuce and herbs and dipped into a flavorful light dipping sauce.  Although the cooking technique for bánh xèo is much like a French crepe, it is in fact a cousin to the Indian dosa (my article in Zester Daily about Indian food influences in Vietnam), evidenced by a batter made from lentils and rice. To achieve a crispy exterior, you must pour the batter into a tablespoon of hot oil in a non-stick frying pan, seasoned cast iron pan or wok. You will know that you have added the batter at the right time when you hear the wonderful sizzling sound as it hits the oil and pan.

Place the filling ingredients over one half of the crepe to make it easier to fold over.

Banh xeo in a frying pan beginning to cook

Place the filling over just half of the crepe.

Banh xeo in frying pan having been just folded over in half

Fold the half of the crepe that has no filling on it over creating a half moon.

The batter can be made up to two days in advance and refrigerated but will need to be well stirred before using as the ground mung beans and rice flour settles when having sat for some time.

As you become more comfortable cooking the crepes, try using two pans at one time to increase your efficiency. They can be served straight from the pan or you can keep the cooked ones warm in a preheated oven while you prepare the rest of the crepes.

Crispy Rice and Mung Bean Crepes (Bánh Xèo)
Serves: Makes 10: Serves 4-6 as main dish
  • ½ cup mung beans
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • ¾ pound firm tofu, cut 1 by 1 ½ inch rectangles and a ½ inch thick
  • 1 cup thinly sliced straw or button mushrooms
  • 2½ cups bean sprouts
  • 10 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup thinly sliced spring onions
  • 2 heads of Bibb or Boston lettuce washed, dried, leaves separated and torn into palm sized pieces
  • 2 cups mixed herbs (coriander, Thai basil, mint, Vietnamese balm, radish or mustard sprouts)
The Batter
  1. Place the mung beans in a bowl, cover with 1 inch of lukewarm water and soak for at least one hour, preferably two hours to overnight.
  2. Drain the mung beans and place them in a blender with 1½ cups of water. Blend for one minute. Add the rice flour, turmeric, salt, coconut milk and blend for another minute. Pour the batter through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to remove any lumps. Put the batter in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
  3. To make the filling, heat a tablespoon of oil in an 8 or 9 inch non-sticky frying pan or seasoned cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the tofu slices and cook for 2 or 3 minutes until lightly golden. Turn over and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove to a waiting plate.
  4. Heat a teaspoon of oil in the pan and lightly sauté the mushrooms for a minute or two. Remove and set aside on the same plate as the tofu.
  5. To cook the crepes, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan over medium high heat. Pour a ¼ cup of batter into the hot pan, swirling and tilting the pan to evenly distribute it over the bottom. Fry for 1 ½ to 2 minutes until it becomes crisp and golden brown. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of spring onions, 3 pieces of tofu, 4 slices of straw mushrooms and a small handful of bean sprouts over half of the crepe. Cover, turn the heat to medium-low and continue to cook for another 2 minutes.
  6. Uncover the crepe and use the spatula to fold it in half. Gently press on it with the spatula and let it cook and crisp up for another 30 seconds. Remove with the spatula and place onto a waiting plate. Serve immediately or keep warm in a pre-warmed oven.
  7. Repeat with the remaining batter and ingredients until everyone is full or the ingredients are all used up (the latter being the case in our house).
  8. To serve, use scissors to cut each crepe into four or five segments. Place a piece of lettuce in one hand and add a piece of crepe on top. Top with a generous pinch of herbs, roll the lettuce leaf up and dip into the sauce.


Learning How Rice Is Grown In Luang Prabang

Living Land Farm Sign in Luang Prabang, LaosA view of Living Land Farm, Luang Prabang, LaosEach family has a picky eater. Our four and a half year old son is ours. The last few months he’s been branching out of his limited preferences. He’s doing so in part because we finally clued in that he likes his umami. So, our weekly menu has shifted a bit to ensure that there are more ‘Asian’ flavours. A month or so ago, he heartily announced, mid bite, that he loved rice, all kinds (we have since learned this really only means any type of white rice as the brown, red or black rice he’s been served is barely touched). It was with this knowledge that I knew I could get him to come with me to visit the “Rice Experience” Tour at Living Land Farm in Luang Prabang, Laos.

 Located 5 km outside of Luang Prabang, the Living Land Farm, a cooperative comprising 7 families who primarily grow rice over 8 hectares, was conceived in 2006 by Laut Lee in response to the slash and burn farming culture in the rural regions of Laos. Slash and burn farming involves clearing vegetation by cutting and burning before being used for just one or two seasons to grow upland rice, vegetables or fruit. After cultivation the land requires a minimum of 3 years of fallow before being used again. So farmers frequently move and clear new land. During the last few decades it has led to increased deforestation, soil erosion and loss of soil fertility. Laut explained that the majority of farmers in Northern Laos live in rural areas where this type of subsistence agriculture has been practiced for generations and they are not aware of other farming alternatives. At the same time, farmers who are closer to cities are increasingly using fertilizers and pesticides without full knowledge of the harm they can do to humans and the environment.Portrait of Laut Lee of Living Land Farm

While at university training to be a teacher Laut realized that if he educated the younger generation of kids and farmers about traditional organic farming techniques he could possibly make a difference. So, in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry of Luang Prabang schoolchildren take fieldtrips to the farm to learn about different planting techniques that do not require the use of fertilizers or pesticides. The top college students in the agriculture program receive hands on training in crop rotation, working with green manure and natural pest management.  The ultimate goal is to show the local Lao students that they can farm the same piece of land continually while keeping it fertile and alive by using a host of sustainable techniquesLaut also recognized that with the increase of exclusive hotels in Luang Prabang there would be a need for organic Western vegetables. Two years ago, a couple of guests from an upscale hotel were taken with the vegetables used in their meal and wanted to see where they were grown. While walking them around the farm during this informal tour Laut described the 14 steps of the rice growing process. And so the ‘Rice Experience’ tour was born.

As I am not aware of any other organized hands on tour that explains how rice is grown, if you find yourself in Luang Prabang I highly recommend setting aside a half day to experience Laut’s enthusiasm and knowledge. Here is a link to a video interview I did with Laut on Good Food Revolution.

Step 1: Selecting the grainSelecting rice to be planted by placing in salinated waterWashing salt off of rice grains before planting

Rice grains from a previous harvest are selected by placing them in a saltwater solution (enough salt to float a raw egg). Those that sink are deemed healthy and resilient enough to be planted. They first must be well washed to rinse away the salt, which if left as residue on the grains will inhibit germination.

Step 2: Germination and nursery stationSeedlings prior to transplanting

The selected seeds are spread in assigned beds for germination.

Step 3: Ploughing

A portrait of Susan the Water Buffalo

Susan the Water Buffalo


A father and son plough a field using a water buffalo at Living Land Farm

My son and I get our feet muddy as we plough the field with Susan’s help.

The rice paddy is ploughed to prepare for planting. Traditionally, water buffalo are used to assist in the ploughing. Farmers living closer to larger cities will use a ‘mechanized buffalo’ as Laut refers to mechanical ploughs.

Step 4: Planting of SeedlingsTransplanting rice seedlings

Family and community members work together to help each other plant the seedlings in their paddies in rows. To help pass the time of this back-breaking job traditional songs are sung in between the men and women.

Step 5: Managing Water & WeedingLaut Lee talks about water management and weeding when growing rice

As the rice grows managing the access, amount and flow of water is paramount to providing optimal growing conditions. Similarly some weeding of encroaching unwanted vegetation is required. Depending on the variety of rice that is grown this stage will last from two to four months.

Step 6: HarvestingLaut after cutting the rice stalks

Once the farmer has deemed the rice is to be harvested it must be done within a period of two days to one week. If time is wasted some of the grains may fall into the paddy and will be unusable.

Step 7: Thrashing

Thrashing of rice to remove rice kernels

My son was proud as he took this photo of me thrashing rice

Once the rice has had some time to dry a little the grains are thrashed against a board to release them from the stalks. Laut showed us a technique where a nunchuk like device is used where a string attached to two batons is wrapped around a bunch of stalks and then beaten against a wooden board.

Step 8: Winnowing & CleaningWinnowing Rice at Living Land FarmRice grains that have been trashed sit in the hand of a child

A large fan is moved in a figure eight motion to separate the straw and empty rice husks. The rice is spread out and moved around as the winnowing occurs. We all thought that the rice would simply be blown around however since the straw and empty husks are lighter than the rice kernels it was them who were blown around instead.

Step 9: Packing  & StoringLaut Lee throws rice into a basket before moving for storage

The rice is then loaded from the winnowing station into baskets holding up to 40 pounds of rice and transported back to the farmer’s home where it can be stored up to two years.

Step 10: HuskingHusking rice using human foot powerA woman moves rice grains to help them become husked

Using a foot powered ‘mortar and pestle’ contraption the rice is repeatedly pounded so that the husks are released from each grain of rice.  It helps to have someone sit near the bowl and move the rice around so that all of the husks are removed.

Step 11: Winnowing Grain from HuskWinnowing Rice from the husks

For some reason -Laut never got around to explaining why – the winnowing of the grain is only performed by women or girls. I suppose this is because they may be more patient at separating and removing the husks from the grains of rice. The technique is to place your hands on the centre of each side of the woven bamboo tray and move it straight up. If done properly, the movement and wind will help blow away the lighter husks while the heavier rice falls to the tray. If performed by a novice, as one of the other tour participants discovered, you may end up with some husks and rice down your shirt.

Grinding of rice by hand powered in between large stonesGround rice powder sits on a bamboo tray

Step 12: Soaking Rice in Water overnight

The rice needs to soak for a minimum of 6 hours or overnight before cooking.

Step 13: CookingRice steaming in a traditional 'houd' - a Lao bamboo cooking vessel

The soaked and drained rice is put in a conical like bamboo basket, called a houd, that sits on top a pot of simmering water. It is steamed for 20 minutes and then instead of stirring the rice, with one skilled shake the rice flips 180 degrees with the rice that was on the top now on the bottom closer to the steam. Unlike stove top methods, there is no real need to cover the rice in the steaming process, but a bamboo cover is used to keep out ash, dust and bugs while it cooks.

Step 14: EatingDifferent sweets and snacks made out of rice

At the end of the tour we sat down to eat some of the delicious steamed rice with a fiery buffalo meat chutney. We were also served rice in other delectable forms: rice crackers, rice coconut milk like tuiles.

Laut and his team also used a traditional press to squeeze out some delicious sugar cane juice. The sweet foam from the top was fantastic as the tiny bubbles melted in my mouth. A great way to finish off the tour.Laut Lee and team member pressing sugar cane juiceSugar Cane juice and foam