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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bánh Chưng (Vietnamese Rice Cakes)

Bánh Chưng (Vietnamese Rice Cakes)

Bánh Chưng (Vietnamese Rice Cakes)
Makes 5 (6-inch) cakes – plenty to share with friends and family

5 cups glutinous rice
1 1/2 cups split yellow mung beans
1 pound fresh or frozen banana leaves
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons peanut oil

kitchen twine
wooden or metal mold (optional)

Place the rice in a large bowl, cover with water, and let soak overnight. Place the mung beans in a separate bowl, cover with water, and let soak overnight. If using frozen banana leaves, defrost them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, drain both the rice and mung beans.

Place the mung beans in a pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until mashable, about 20-30 minutes. Mash into a paste with a potato masher or spoon.

Meanwhile, heat the peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat and cook the onions until caramelized, about 30-40 minutes.

Add the onions and salt to the mung beans and stir to combine. Spread the mung beans out on a large platter or baking sheet and let cool completely.

Wipe the banana leaves clean with a damp cloth and spread them out or hang them up to dry. (A laundry drying rack works well; you can also use hangers or the backs of chairs.) If the banana leaves are particularly long, you can trim them.

To assemble, lay out two sheets of partially overlapping banana leaves, then place two perpendicular and partially overlapping sheets of banana leaves on top, to make a cross shape. (If using a mold, place it on your work surface first, then line it with the banana leaves in this manner.) Place about a cup of rice in the center of the leaves and spread out to cover a 6-inch square area (or to fill the mold). Take about a cup of mung beans and, using your hands, pat it into a slightly smaller square and place it on top of the rice. Then take another cup or so of rice and spread it over the top and sides. Starting with the innermost banana leaf, fold the leaves in one at a time, tightly forming a square. Make sure that the corners are completely wrapped so that the contents don't spill during cooking. Tie the packet tightly with twine.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add the cakes and make sure they stay submerged (a colander or heavy steamer basket can help keep them under water). If your pot isn't large enough, you may need to use more than one. Simmer until the rice is congealed, about 3 hours. Keep an eye on the pot and add more water if necessary to keeps the cakes covered.

Place the cakes in a colander to drain and cool completely.

To serve, remove the wrapping and cut into wedges or slices. An easy way to cut the sticky cake is to use a thread or dental floss. Bánh chưng are often eaten with pickled onions or root vegetables, or dipped in sugar for a sweet treat. They can also be sliced, pan fried until golden, and served with sugar.

Refrigerate for up to 1 week.


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