The unwrapping of the cooked, mung bean Banh Chung from its Banana Leaf raiments. The banana leaves dye the glutinous rice green and give it a faint smell of green tea.
Banh Chung is a steamed glutinous rice cake with a bean and sometimes pork filling that the Vietnamese traditionally make for Tet – the lunar new year. The cakes are boiled for about 6 hours in big stockpot and the whole process reminded me of making Christmas Pudding. Interesting that when making food for special occasions, totally different cultures have gone traditionally for that same soft, dense pudding texture.
There are many ways you can enjoy a slice of Banh Chung in the weeks following Tet – fry a piece in a little oil; microwave it; steam it. I made 6 and ended up having a microwaved piece for breakfast with a little sugar on top every morning for about a month until we’d eaten up all the cakes up. I sometimes ate it with a bit of pickled mouli as well, although be careful to use rice vinegar or you might end up with a kind of pungent, fish and chips style smell pervading your breakfast (my dad’s recipe). I was fine with that but it’s not exactly a delicate flavour.
I used this vegetarian starter recipe to make the Banh Chung – http://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-banh-chung-vietnamese-rice-cakes-164610. However, I increased the quantity of mung beans to 2 cups to give a more generous filling, and used a red onion. For next year’s Tet I plan to add a couple of Shitake mushrooms to the mung bean filling, to give it a more juicy texture and richer flavour that seeps into the rice, which is what pork fat does in the non-vegetarian version. If you wanted to make a sweet cake, you could also add some slices of banana to the mung bean paste, which I’m sure would be really soft and delicious. The cakes last in the fridge for a week but you can also freeze them for up to about a month, just make sure you freeze them soon after they’ve finished cooking.