I know you’ll think me crazy, but to mark the release of Asian Dumplings this week, I made a new dumpling. It’s one that I can’t get out of my mind. Every time I've ordered the Hue rice dumplings at Charles Phan’s Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco, I’m tickled by their dainty appearance and rich mung bean and caramelized shallot flavor. The garnish of rich scallion oil and spicy soy sauce imparts extra plush and savory qualities. The dumplings are slightly chewy and soft and a bit translucent, a result of the wrapper being made from rice flour and tapioca starch. Slanted Door names these morsels Hue rice dumplings as they are similar to a tapioca-based Hue dumpling called banh bot loc, a classic dumpling from the central region of Vietnam, which many associate with the former imperial city of Hue. (For a banh bot loc recipe, see Asian Dumplings, page 147).
But the restaurant’s dumpling is actually more akin to a rice and tapioca starch dumpling called banh xep ("baan sehp"), which literally means “folded dumpling,” or turnover. Semantics aside, the Slanted Door’s rice dumpling is a delicious Vietnamese and vegan snack. Meat lovers won't feel shorted whatsoever.
I had a hankering for Hue rice dumplings and a cocktail but Slanted Door is about 1 1/2 hours from my house. So I pulled a number of books from my library and tinkered for an afternoon to recreate the dumplings at home. These Vietnamese dumplings are steamed and you can make them in advance and resteam them until hot. You can also refrigerate these rice dumplings overnight and return them to room temperature before reheating.
Note: Questions about rice flour, tapioca starch or soy sauce? See “Building an Asian dumpling pantry” for guidance!
Makes 24 dumplings, to serve 4 to 6
1/3 cup dried, hulled, and split yellow mung beans
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 shallot, chopped (1/4 cup total)
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) regular rice flour, any Thai brand, such as Erawan
3 1/8 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
About 2/3 cup just-boiled water
1 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
3 tablespoons water
1 or 2 Thai or Serrano chiles, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Scallion Oil Garnish (recipe at Vietworldkitchen.com)
1. Rinse the mung beans, put them in a bowl, and add water to cover by about 1 inch. Let soak for at least 2 hours. I usually soak them for 2 to 6 hours.
2. Drain and transfer the beans to a parchment paper lined steamer tray. Spread out the beans. Steam the beans over boiling water for 8 to 15 minutes (the shorter time is for the metal steamer and the longer time is for the bamboo steamer), or until the mung beans are tender. Remove the steamer tray and set aside to cool. Or, transfer the beans to a bowl and occasionally stir them to hasten the cooling.
Process the cooled beans in a food processor to a fluffy consistency. It should look like fine cornmeal but hold together when a small amount is pinched between your fingers. You should have about 1 cup.
3. To prepare the filling, combine the oil and shallot in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the shallot sizzles. Continue to fry for 4 to 5 minutes, frequently swirling the pan to evenly cook, until most of the shallots are golden brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the mung beans and salt. If the filling feels stiff, add water by the teaspoon. Aim for a texture like that of dry mashed potatoes: if you press some between your fingers, it should stick together and leave your fingers slightly oily. You should have about 3/4 cup. Cover and set aside.
4. To make the dough, put the rice flour, tapioca starch and salt in a bowl. Stir to combine, then make a well in the center. Add the water and oil. Stir to combine into a dough. Transfer to a work surface and continue kneading for about 1, until the dough is very smooth and malleable, like soft Play-doh. Cut into 2 pieces and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, stir together the sugar, soy sauce, water, and chile in a bowl. Set this spicy soy sauce aside.
6. Line steamer trays with parchment paper and lightly oil. Set aside.
7. To form dumplings, work on 1 piece of dough at a time. Roll it out into a 12-inch rope then cut into 12 even pieces that resemble marshmallows. Press each one into a disk, about 1/4 inch thick. If the dough is cracked, lightly wet your hands and knead the moisture into the dough. To form a wrapper, put a dough piece between two pieces of parchment, wax paper, or heavy plastic (cut from a freezer bag). Then use a tortilla press or heavy flat object such as a glass measuring cup to press the dough piece into a circle a good 2 3/4 inches wide. Set aside and repeat with the remaining dough pieces.
To shape a dumpling, place 1 1/2 teaspoons of filling slightly off center. Then bring up the wrapper to form a half moon. Press the edges closed to seal well. Set in the steamer tray, or on a lined baking sheet. Fill the remaining wrappers before working on the other piece of dough to form more wrappers and shape more dumplings.
8. Steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until shiny, slightly translucent, and a bit tacky to the touch. Cool for 1 minute before transferring to serving plates. Spoon on the spicy soy sauce and then garnish with the scallion oil and serve hot.
If you're familiar with these Hue rice dumplings from Slanted Door, or other variations of banh xep, do share your thoughts.