Sunday, March 28, 2010

Banh it tran - sticky rice flour dumplings with pork and shrimp or vegetarian fillings

Banh it tran, or just known as banh it, is my favorite Vietnamese dumpling – made from glutinous rice flour and are filled with pork and shrimp, and traditionally, mung beans.  My mother never really made them with mung beans so I’ve grown up eating them with only shrimp and pork filling.  Some people use pork belly, like in banh bot loc, but our family always used ground pork.  One of the keys to great banh it tran is to use fatty ground pork so the filling is nice and juicy. Top with scallion oil and serve with nuoc cham.  I've also included a vegetarian filling in the recipe below and you can serve vegetarian banh it with nuoc cham chay.

The dumplings can be steamed or boiled, or also wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, which then are commonly referred to as banh nep and are pillow shaped.You may also see a sweet version of banh nep filled with coconut and mung beans - these are wrapped in banana leaves and often shaped into a cone to differentiate them from the savory banh nep.  Bot nep is the Vietnamese term for glutinous rice flour, so banh nep just refers to banh made from bot nep.

Banh it can be reheated in the microwave - heat them up in intervals and check if they are warmed through.  You want to be careful you don't overheat them or they'll deflate into a gooey mess.  If you're reheating a bowl with about 6 dumplings, cover so they can steam a bit and start with a minute on high, and then in 30 sec. intervals until they're heated through.

If you have leftover filling after making your dumplings, you can add it to some stir-fried vegetables and eat it with rice!

Banh it tran – sticky rice flour dumplings
Makes about 30 dumplings

Pork and shrimp filling:

  • 1/2 lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, cut into small pieces, about 1/3” 
  • 1 lb. ground pork 
  • 8-10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, de-stemmed and chopped into small pieces 
  • 1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil 
  • 1/2 large onion, diced 
  • 2 shallots, sliced 
  • 2 scallions, sliced 
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce 
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 tsp. sugar 
  • 1 tsp. pepper 
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch dissolved in 1 Tbsp. water 
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add onion and shallots and cook for a few minutes until they start to turn a little brown. Add garlic and scallions and cook for another minute or two.

Add ground pork, breaking it up. Add fish sauce, salt and pepper and cook pork, stirring occasionally. After about five minutes, add the shitakes and cook until the pork is almost cooked through. Add shrimp and cook until pork and shrimp are cooked through. Taste and adjust seasoning as need with additional fish sauce, salt or sugar.  Let it cool before assembling your dumplings.

Vegetarian filling:

  • 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil 
  • 3 to 4 scallions, thinly sliced  
  • 4 shallots or 1/2 small yellow onion, very finely minced or chopped 
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped into a small dice 
  • 4 medium carrots, finely diced 
  • 1/2 cup frozen petite peas, thawed 
  • 1 cup diced fried tofu - if you can find it at the store or from a vendor already fried, it makes things much easier, but if not, you can fry them up yourself - drain firm tofu really well and pat as dry as you can before frying to minimize oil splatters
  • 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed and diced 
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetarian mushroom “oyster” sauce, or mushroom stir fry sauce
  • 3/4 cup cooked mung beans, mashed - click here for method for cooking
For the vegetarian filling: In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add onions, scallions and garlic and sauté about 3 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add cabbage and carrots if using fresh. If not, just add cabbage for now and sauté until softened. Add thawed frozen peas, and thawed frozen carrots if using, diced mushrooms and sauté everything together for another minute. Add mushroom sauce, or vegetarian oyster sauce, salt and pepper and let everything cook a few more minutes. Add diced tofu, stir in and turn off heat. Let the mixture cool and then mix in mashed mung beans. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.


In a bowl, combine flour, 1-3/4 cups water and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or chopsticks until it starts to come together. Then knead with your hands to bring it all together. If it’s still a little dry, add a little more of the reserved water.  Keep a cup or bowl of water near by to add to the dough as needed if it starts to dry out.  You'll want the dough to be moist by not sticky. 
Pinch off a small bit of dough and roll into a ball about the size of a golf ball and with your fingers work it into a flat disk. Place it on the palm of your hand and add 1 Tbsp. filling in the center and fold over the edges and kind of squeeze and roll gently in the cup of your hands, sealing it.  The dough can rip easily but no worries -  dip your into your nearby cup of water and smooth out and seal any cracks - it's similar to working with clay - the water just smoothes everything out. Be sure to catch them all – because these dumplings are boiled, you don’t want any of them to break open in the boiling water.

Boil dumplings until they float to the top. Remove with a
spider or slotted spoon and drain in a metal colander set over a plate. In bowl, drizzle a little scallion oil and swirl it around. As you remove a dumpling from the colander, drop each dumpling into the bowl and coat with a little scallion oil. Alternatively, once you transfer dumplings to the colander, drizzle them all with scallion oil and shake around in the colander. You’ll lose some oil as it drains out of the colander, but it does make it quicker.

Remove and place on a serving plate. As long as each dumpling is coated with scallion oil, they shouldn’t stick to each other. Serve with 
nuoc cham and the vegetarian banh it with nuoc cham chay.  Banh it can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and reheated in the microwave. Just don’t over-heat or they’ll deflate into one big gooey mess!

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