Sam and I are big fans of Vietnamese food. The flavours are so light and fresh and the cuisine is rather sophisticated when you consider that the origins of most of the dishes are from the bustling streets of Vietnam.
We were lucky enough to have our mate Luke Nguyen of Sydney’s Red Lantern stay with us the past week and he was gracious enough to give me a few tips in the kitchen.
Bo La Lot, or chargrilled lemongrass beef wrapped in betal leaf is one dish that is seemingly so simple, yet I almost never cook this at home. Betal leaves are commonly used throughout south-east asian cooking and in Vietnamese culture they play an integral role. Often refered to as an ‘ice breaker’, traditionally the leaf was shared and chewed like chewing gum. Nowadays this rarely happens, but sometimes in rural Vietnam you still encounter the elderly sporting black stained teeth – a telltale sign of a betal leaf chewer.
As part of a Vietnamese feast Luke prepared these delicious morsels for us. Traditionally made with beef, you could easily substitute minced pork, chicken or even prawn. Luke even made a variation with cherry tomatoes for the vegetarian folk on the table.
Bo La Lot – Chargrilled Lemongrass Beef wrapped in Betal Leaf
Recipe adapted from Luke Nguyen’s Secrets of the Red Lantern
- 1.5 kg beef mince
- 3 lemongrass stems, white part only, finely chopped
- 8 spring onions, white part only, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon fine white pepper
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 bunches betel leaves (Betal leaves are available from the Vietnamese grocers on Mare St, Hackney or Longdan in Hoxton)
Combine all the ingredients except the betal leaf in a bowl and mix well. Allow the flavours to infuse for at least 30 minutes. Whilst the meat is marinading, pick the individual leaves and wash in cold water. Lay the leaves flat on a cloth to dry.
To form the rolls, lay two betal leaves (or one large leaf) shiny side down with the stem of the leaf pointing towards you. Spoon approximately 1 tablespoon of the beef mixture onto the bottom half of the leaf and roll the leaf from bottom to top. Repeat this process with the remaining betal leaves and beef.
I like to serve this alongside steamed vermicelli noodles and nuoc cham sauce, with maybe a sprinkling of peanuts and sliced fresh chilli on top.