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>> Saturday, May 19, 2007

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For this week Weekend Herb Blogging hosted by Rinku of Cooking in Westchester, I have come back to my comfort zone of Vietnamese cuisine and chosen a lovely herb to feature – Wild Betel Leaf (also called Pepper Leaf).

Before I proceed, I think some clarification is needed about this lovely herb. Wild Betel Leaf (Vietnamese name: La Lot) is a relative of the normal betel leaf used to chewing betel nuts (which is only for old, very old ladies!). Since they have very similar appearance, it is quite confusing even for Vietnamese cooks! The best way to differentiate, in my opinion, is by the fragrance. Wild Betel Leaf has much stronger peppery fragrance. In terms of taste, it is less “spicy” than the normal betel leaf. I know this sounds puzzling for someone who is not familiar with Vietnamese cooking. My advice is to go to a Vietnamese grocery shop and ask for assistance. The shop I go to in Springvale labels this leaf as Pepper Leaf.

Wild Betel Leaf is used throughout Vietnam to flavour various dishes. The most famous one is definitely grilled/pan-fried minced meat wrapped in wild betel leaf. For most parts of Vietnam, mince pork is used and the meat parcel is normally pan-fried. However, in some fancier restaurants, mince beef is preferred and grilling seems more popular. The second method is popularised by the Vietnamese overseas and it has become a not-to-be-missed dish if you dine in a Vietnamese restaurant. Noodlepie has tried and liked it.

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Wild Betel Leaf is one of my top favourite herbs. I usually buy it to make the famous dish above. But any leftover can be used to garnish soup, stir-fry and even salad. My favourite so far is adding them in omelette. However, today I am making the famous minced beef wrapped in wild betel leaves. This is the northern home-style version, which my mom and grandma always make. It is simpler than the restaurant version, but the taste is still superb.

Just another note about the recipe. I have found that the readily minced meat is too fine for this. My mom normally chops the meat herself, which yields much better texture. And being health conscious, she adds egg instead of lard to keep the meat moist during cooking.

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Home-style Minced Beef Wrapped in Wild Betel Leaf

My mom and grandmas’ very own recipe

Ingredients (for 4 generous serves as part of a rice meal)

500g beef steak, coarsely minced using food processor or done by hand

1 spring onion (scallion), finely chopped

1 bunch of wild betel leaf, leaves picked, cleaned and dried

1-2 tbsp fish sauce (*)

1 tsp sugar (optional)

Pinch of salt (or to taste) & a generous amount of ground white pepper

1 small egg

Oil for shallow-frying

Method

  1. Marinade the beef with fish sauce, salt, white pepper. Add in the egg and 1 tsp of finely minced betel leaves. Thoroughly combined. Leave for 15 mins.
  2. Using the largest wild betel leaves, wrap the meat and roll up. You can see the pictorial here. (Scroll down to the middle. The page is in Vietnamese).
  3. Pan-fried in hot oil until crisp on both sides and cooked through. Serve warm with rice and Vietnamese dipping sauce if desired.

(*): fish sauce varies in taste, so use accordingly.

Variations

  1. Add some Chinese five-spice powder or finely chopped lemongrass/garlic to the marinade mixture.
  2. For vegetarian option (my grandma’s way), crumble well-drained firm tofu and use this in place of the beef.

37 comments:

Kalyn 1:15 PM  

I've never seen this before or tasted it. Hooray, a new herb for me to learn about. I've heard of chewing the betel nuts somewhere, but only vaguely. Wish I could taste the great sounding dish you've made!

KJ 4:56 PM  

I was so excited to see your post. I ate these tasty treats in Vietnam at every opportunity. They were just so good. I hope to try your recipe.

Angie 5:55 PM  

Such a lovely green herb, thanks for introducing this pal :)

Lydia 9:08 PM  

Betel leaf (or pepper leaf) is completely new to me, though I remember eating this dish in Vietnam. I just didn't know what was in it! I'm going to check at my Asian grocery to see if they have this herb.

Asha 10:21 PM  

My grandmother's chewed those betel leaves with areca nuts after each meal like a addiction in India!! ;D
But never cooked with it though.Nice presentation Anh.

Ellie 11:43 PM  

Woah, this looks fantastic! I've never actually tried betel leaves, but have heard of them before! I'll have to try and hunt some down :D

Freya and Paul 4:41 AM  

Unfortunately we can't get betel leaves here (although we can get the nuts), but I your dish looks great!

Hedgehog 5:26 AM  

oh Anh you're making my mouth water at your picture. I haven't had this dish for at least 5-7 years because we couldn't get betel leaves here :(

Sushma 7:14 AM  

I never knew betel leafs are also used in cooking..only heard of their use in one kind of mouth freshner "Paan" common in some parts of India.

Thanxs Anh for educating me on this. I should try the tofu version sometime soon

Presentation is very lovely

Anh 8:10 AM  

Kalyn, if you can ever come to see me here (or better, when I'm in Hanoi), this dish will wait for you. :)

kj, I lnow a lot of people loves this dish. Very fragrant! Hope you can find betel leaves to try it out.

Angie, thanks pal. :)

Lydia, hope you can find it. In Australia the betel leaves are quite common (because it's easy to grow). We can find it quite easily at good veg stores.

Asha, my great grandma chewed these things too. But the dish is made with wild betel leaves, which are somewhat different in taste compared to the one used to chew areca nuts. :) Not sure if it's interchangable?

Ellie, try try. You can go stuffing anything inside actually. :)

Freya & Paul, thank you. My US friends can find these leaves. I guess if you have a chance to go to those shopping centers where there are a lot of Vietnamese, you can find it?

Hedgehog, *hug*. I understand how you feel... The best way is to fly back and enjoy the taste of home right? :) Hope you can find some time for a hol back home soon.

Sushma, betel leaves (both normal and wild variety) are used a lot in our traditional medicine. The tofu version is really lovely, even for a meat-eater like me. :)

Y 9:06 AM  

I think my mom actually grows this herb in her garden, but she calls it by a different name. It's yummy by any name, of course :)

Creativecook 10:19 AM  

Ahn,

Thanks for your entry. I am with Kalyn. Never tried this, now I have to check it out. Have had the regular betel leaves though.

Rinku

sher 4:03 PM  

I too have never seen this beautiful herb, but I'm going to search for it. I love Vietnamese food, and have NEVER disliked any dishes that I've been lucky enough to eat. So, I know I will love this herb. Thank you for educating us about this.

jenjen 8:55 PM  

What an interesting dish. Definitely one to make, nice job!

Truffle 10:25 PM  

What a glorious recipe. Thank you so much for sharing this!

Anh 11:04 PM  

y, I'm so glad your mother can grow this! I hope I can plant it one day...

Creativecook, it's my pleasure to join WHN. :)

Sher, I love food from every part of the world but of course Vietnamese food is the real comfort. I hope you can try more of Vietnamese cuisine, its simplicity, light and fragrant flavours.

Jenjen, thank you.

Truffle, you are always very sweet... :)

Cookie baker Lynn 11:09 PM  

Anh, this looks amazing. Now I'm going to have to find some wild betel leaves. Thanks for sharing a family recipe - those are the best!

SteamyKitchen 7:54 AM  

Is this the same as shiso leaf? If so, I used to grow it in San Francisco....it grew really well there.

Nora B. 9:24 AM  

Anh, thanks for sharing your family's recipe. Of all Asian foods, Vietnamese is probably the one I'm least familiar with, so reading your blog has been an educational experience for me - thanks!

valentina 9:42 AM  

Ahn, this is wonderful. I have been to Vietnam once. Fell in love with it .but was also very ill as the holiday followed shortly after a very stressful period at work.would love to go back and eat the wonderful food.

Sandeepa 11:03 AM  

This is definitely a new herb for me. I am pretty familiar with the Betel Leaf used for chewing, but this..had no clue. You always come up with such wonderful stuff...

Patricia Scarpin 10:59 PM  

Anh, what an interesting recipe! The dish looks beautiful, too!

eliza 6:53 AM  

good thing to know that the betel leaf that used for cooking is different from the ones for chewing! :) i love vietnamese dishes and yours are truly original !

Anh 9:41 AM  

Lynn, thanks dear. :)

Jaden, I have heard that shiso leaves and wild betel leaves have some common characteristics but they are not the same. The wild betel leaves grow everywhere, too. My grandpa grows them in our garden.

Nora, thanks sweetie. I hope you can sample more Vietnamese food. There must be a lot of restaurants in Syd. Having said that, most of these restaurants serve the combo of Vietnamese & Chinese food... The real Vietnamese food should be simpler and LESS oil!

Valentina, glad to hear that you love the country. I hope you can come back one day and discover more. :D

Sandeepa, thanks dear. We both learn from each other :( You have taught me a lot about Indian cuisine!

Pat, this dish is actually eaten throughout my home country. It's one of the dishes people must eat at least once a week. :D

Eliza, oh thank you... I hope to feature more Vietnamese food in my future posts. There are a lot more, but the ingredients overseas are not always available.

tigerfish 2:22 PM  

Is the nut of this leaf called betel nut? Or is it something else I'm talking about ?

Anh 6:29 PM  

tigerfish, I am not sure what are you refering to. But I believe betel nut is another name for areca nut. And it is not from the wild betel leaves I blogged about. The nuts are from a completely different tall tree, but since it is paired with betel leaves, hence the name? The leaves used in my post are the wild variety anyway, not the common type. Hope this answers your question.

Rasa Malaysia 6:29 AM  

OMG, you can get Wild Betel Leaf in AU? Man, I am jealous as some of my favorite dishes call for Wild Betel Leaf but I can't make them here in the US as they are not available. Sob sob.

Susan 7:58 AM  

Betel leaf is new (and exciting) to me, Anh. I cook a few Vietnamese dishes but am still a novice. Thanks for the explanation and beautiful photos!

Rose 12:03 AM  

I've never seen this herb before or even heard about it.But this must be so fragrant.I have a similar recipe where the beef gets its aroma from an herb but in my case it's choclate mint.

Sharmi 1:42 AM  

Dear Anh, can I ask why no pics. sorry I was little busy and under the weather too so got time to check your blog after long time. is something wrong with your camera?

Anh 9:40 AM  

RM, I hope you can find these lovely leaves in the near future. You will do an excellent job with it I'm sure!

Susan, thanks for your sweet words. :)

Rose, your recipe sounds wonderful, too. I'm sure it's tasty.

Sharmi, I can see the pics without any prob. All my posts so far contain photo. Perhaps your PC setting doesn't allow images hosted by photobucket?

Kajal 11:03 AM  

New herb for me. I can never use it before and not taste it. But you are nicely present and your final photo is great. Thanks for sharing.:)

Sandeepa 1:27 PM  

Hey...I thought I was gone for a week, now I see you are away too. Busy with studies ?

Sharmi 1:09 PM  

nice one for WHB. i never knew betel leaf is popular in your place too. its so will prepared with that dish. we in India eat it with some nuts and other stuff too. its very famous in India.

Rosa's Yummy Yums 8:05 AM  

That seems wonderful and gorgeously tasty! It looks like La Lot Beef... I love that dish! It's one of my favorite Vietnamese specialities.

Yuni Bernadeta,  2:41 AM  

In some parts in Indonesia, it is common to chew the betel leaf and I also use this as a healthy drink. Firstime, I ate this food in Richmond Street in Melbourne and started to be addicted to this food. Thank you for the recipe

Abdul 2:55 PM  

Hmmm,nice recipe and it seems that I can't stop myself without tasting it.But i would say that Australian Beef undoubtedly very popular not only in Australia but all over the world.

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