EDIT Feb 24, 2018: This recipe has been refined a bit for clarity since I did a video with it :)
I missed Monday’s post because I had just come back from the set of Alouette. Exhausted and both physically and mentally drained, I took the opportunity to heal. It’s a good thing I did, because this dish is time-consuming to make. Banh It Tran Vietnamese Mung Bean Dumplings are traditional and simple Vietnamese dumplings. My grandmother and I made them for the first time together after we had some excess mung bean mixture from making New Year’s rice cakes. She taught me how to make the dough, how to cook the mung beans, how to pinch off the excess dough so that the dumplings weren’t too gooey.
To be honest, I feel so lucky to have my grandmother with me, teaching me all the different Vietnamese dishes. My grandpa is here too, but he’s just usually outside gardening and I haven’t quite learned to appreciate the hard work that goes into growing delicious vegetables quite yet. Granted in the winter he spends more time shoveling snow and watching YouTube videos his friends email and share with him.
Ever since my grandparents came here in 2001, I feel like I’m more in touch with my heritage and homeland, even though I grew up here in Canada. My grandpa taught me the importance of exercise, nutrition, and more holistic approaches to health. My grandmother has taught me not only the cuisine, but also just being around her I learn more about the culture. The Vietnamese traditional values, as old school as they are, boil down to being a strong, independent woman and to support your family.
Sometimes I feel so disconnected from my heritage. Growing up in a tiny town in cottage country Ontario, there were literally 3 asian families in my town, and all of us went to different schools. There was no culture but Anglo-saxon culture. Elvis Presley, Santa Claus, and Easter Egg hunts.
Whenever I go to Vietnam, I feel like my childhood makes sense. People had similar experiences that I did when it came to being sick and eating rice porridge, cringing as parents sang pitchy karaoke, hearing the men clink their beer bottles together in one cheer “Do!” [pronounced /yo/]. But at the same time, I didn’t experience the clamour of Saigon during the Lunar New Year festival each year. I didn’t grow up riding motorbikes and eating breakfast or street food on plastic tables and kiddie chairs. I didn’t have to work on a farm or in a family business instead of going to school. I didn’t have to fear the Viet Cong growing up.
I love and appreciate what I’ve experienced from both cultures, but I feel somewhere stuck in the middle. I’m not Anglo-saxon, and I was raised old school (patriarchy!), I ate rice every day growing up, and I made my first box of Kraft Dinner at age 12. The more I end up leaning one way, the more I’m afraid that I’m shutting out the other side of me.
Because I am both Canadian and Vietnamese.
I grew up eating Dunkaroos and Fruit by the Foot at school. I would have green mung beans in sugar syrup for dessert.
I try to be in tune with both of my backgrounds, but it’s so hard because I never feel like I belong in either.
But today I celebrate my Vietnamese heritage, because the Lunar New Year approaches, and it’s my year! Year of the Horse. I always thought that having it be your year meant that it was your time to shine. My aunt tells me it’s the year you need to be careful.
I think I’ll stick my notion of letting it be my year to shine.
Anyway, the year of the horse. I’m not making traditional new years’ fare, but this is close enough. “Banh It Tran” literally translates to “little naked cakes”. The little means that they’re smaller versions of the bigger rice cakes made with actual sticky rice instead of sticky rice flour. They’re called “naked” because they’re typically wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, but these are just boiled until they float, just like gnocchi.
Traditionally they’re also either stuffed with shrimp or pork. but because I’m vegan, that’s clearly not an option. For lots of protein and great savoury flavour, these banh it tran Vietnamese Mung Bean Dumplings are made with mung beans cooked until soft, adding salt, pepper, and cooked onions for that savoury sweetness. Drizzled with extra green onion oil on top and some vegan Vietnamese dipping sauce, and you’re transported to a simple Vietnamese home with the comforts of veganized traditional food.
Chuc mung nam moi! Happy New Year!
For the filling
- 300g (10.5 oz) mung beans
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 medium onion, sliced
- 1 tsp black pepper
For the green onion oil:
- 3 stalks green onions, chopped, whites set aside/discarded
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
For the dough
- 1 bag glutinous rice flour (400g)
- 1 tsp salt
- ~1 1/2 cups warm water
- Nuoc cham chay - Vietnamese Vegetarian Dipping Sauce
- Soak mung beans for two hours in warm water or overnight in cold water, then drain. Transfer to a large pot, add 1 tsp salt and fill water until it's just covered. Bring to a boil, then lower to medium low to simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the water is mostly gone (15-20 minutes), bring down to the lowest heat possible and cover, allowing the beans to soak up the remaining water and soften completely. Mash with a potato masher or with the back of a spoon until it's the consistency of mashed potatoes.
- To make the onion oil, gently heat 1/3 cup vegetable oil with sliced onions to get the onion flavour. Cook until the onions are soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes. Strain out onion to add to the cooked mung beans. Similarly, make the green onion oil by gently heating the oil then removing from heat (about 3 minutes) for the onions to cook.
- Remove mung beans from heat after 25-30 minutes. Add the strained onions (there'll still be some oil which is good. There should be 1-2 tsp of oil with the onions) and 1 tsp black pepper. Mix until incorporated. Roll into 1 inch balls and set aside.
- To make the dough, mix together glutinous rice flour, salt and 3 tbsp onion oil. Add water 1/2 cup at a time until a dough forms. It should be a little tacky, but not stick to your fingers.
- Take about 2-3 tbsp sized chunks of the dough and pinch out to just under 1/4 inch thickness to make 3 inch circles (the dough is too tacky and delicate for rolling pins). Wrap the 1 inch bean balls until covered, pinching off any excess dough. Use oil on your hands to keep the dough from sticking, and add a little extra water if you find the dough gets dry or crumbly.
- When the dumplings are all made, cook them by boiling a large pot of water with 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 tbsp of regular oil (not onion oil). Once at a rolling boil, cook the dumplings in batches, gently stirring occasionally to keep the dumplings from sticking together. Wait until they float to the top for about a minute or two before removing from the water.
- Remove and let cool briefly in a bowl of ice water, then drain. Arrange on a lightly oiled plate (using the onion oil), and drizzle some onion oil overtop so they don't stick together.
- To serve, add the green onion oil on top with some vegetarian dipping sauce. Store in an airtight container for up to a week =)