Banh chung, a sticky rice cake filled with creamy yellow split mung beans and pork, is a traditional dish served during Tet, the Vietnamese lunar new year. The result is a green-tinged, floral-scented cake filled with creamy mung beans and rich, savoury pork (the colour and aroma are from the banana leaves used to wrap the cake). The cake can be fried or grilled (adding some crispiness to the otherwise luscious texture) or served soft. Cut the cakes into four (or eight) pieces and served with Vietnamese pickled vegetables or fish sauce.
Special thanks to my dear friend (and fellow food blogging pioneer) Cathy Hong Praslick and her cousin Thanh Huynh for this recipe (you can find the original recipe, with photos and instructions for the Instant Pot/Pressure cooking method, here.
Note: This recipe does take a while to make (a couple of hours in a pressure cooker or seven hours in a kettle), and requires night-before prep.
60 ml (1/4 cup) minced shallots (about 2 shallots)
5 ml (1 teaspoon) black pepper
500 g (1 lb) pork belly, in 5cm square slices that are 5mm thick
825 g (4 cups) raw sticky rice
1 L (4 cups) coconut water
15 ml (1 tablespoon) salt
275 g (1 1/2 cups) split yellow mung bean
1 package banana leaves (about 500g)
The night before:
Make the marinade by whisking together the fish sauce and honey, then stir in the shallots and pepper. Pour into a zippy bag and add the add pork. Give the bag a squish to ensure all the meat is coated and let marinade overnight.
Wash the rice, drain and then let soak overnight in coconut water.
Wash the mung bean and then cover with water with 2.5cm water, and let soak overnight.
Soak and rinse the banana leaves, before cutting 16 20cm (8.5″) squares and 4 7.5cm (3") squares of banana leaves. Fold the 16 larger squares into quarters (so they are 10.8cm (4.25") squares). Dry with paper towels, and wrap or store in a plastic bag and refrigerate until ready to use.
Drain and divide the rice into four equal portions.
Drain and divide the mung beans into four equal portions.
Divide the pork slices and marinade into four equal portions,
Cut eight 45cm (18″) long pieces of aluminum foil..
To make one rice cake:
Line a 10cm (4") square pan or container with one sheet of foil.
Unfold four of the large squares and refold into a box corner (see original post for photos--the link is in the introduction).
Fill the bottom of the banana leaf box with 1/3 of 1 portion of rice, making 0.5-1 cm ridge. Place half of one portion of mung beans in the well, keeping the rice edge bean-free.
Shingle the pork slices on the beans.
Fill edges with half of the remaining rice portion, keeping the well for the the remaining mung beans.
Top the pork with the remaining half-portion of beans, again leaving the ring of rice without the beans.
Cover with remainder of rice portion.
Top with one of the smaller leaf squares.
Fold in edges of banana leaf box. Tightlly wrap with the foil that lines the mould. Invert onto another sheet of foil and wrap tightly. Tie the parcel with butcher's string.
Repeat the above with so you have four rice cakes in total.
Boiling Method (refer to the original recipe source if you're using a pressure cooker/Instant Pot).
Fill a 12L stockpot to the half-way mark with water; place a canning rack in the pot if you have one. Place the cakes in the pot, stacking, and/or standing them on edge. Cover the cakes with water by at least 2.5cm (1"). Weigh down the cakes with a heavy ceramic plate to keep them from floating.
Light the hob. When the pot comes to a rapid boil, turn down the heat to a gentle boil. Boil for three hours and then remove the ceramic plate.
Boil for another four hours (seven hours boiling time in total), topping up the pot with hot water when needed.
Transfer the cooked cakes to a pot of cold water--do not panic if the outer layer of foil has turned black. Once cool to the touch, transfer the cakes to a baking sheet, and place a second baking sheet on top of them. Weight the tray with some canned tomatoes or something else that's heavy for another hour or so.
Remove the layers of foil (but keep the cakes wrapped in banana leaves) and, if not serving immediately, wrap in cling film. and put in the fridge.
Remove the layer sof foil (but keep the cakes wrapped in banana leaves) and wrap in cling film and a double layer of foil.
To serve the cakes:
Unwrap the cake (including the banana leaves) and cut into wedges. If the cake is cold, microwave until soft.
Quarter the cake and fry both sides in a spoon or two of oil until crispy, while pressing down the cake sothe pieces are flatter.
Quarter the cake and brush both sides with oil so they won't stick to the grill grates. Grill until done.