New Year's rice cake

February 6, 2008

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Serves 4

This recipe from Nicole Routhier is for the square rice cakes called banh chung. She suggests cooking the cake for 5 hours.


2 1/2 cups raw glutinous rice
1/2 cup dried yellow mung beans
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce
Black pepper, to taste
8 ounces pork butt, cut into 2-by-2-by- 1/2-inch-thick squares

1. In separate bowls, soak the glutinous rice and mung beans for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.

2. In a food processor, work the shallots to a fine paste. Stir in the fish sauce and pepper. Transfer to a bowl. Add the pork and mix well. Set aside to marinate for 1 hour. (Set the food processor aside without washing.)

3. In a saucepan fitted with a steamer insert, steam the mung beans over boiling water for 20 minutes. Transfer to the food processor and puree to a fine paste. Form the paste into 2 firm balls. Set aside for 20 minutes. Grate the balls into a bowl; set aside.


2 sheets (14-by-16 inches) plastic wrap
1 sheet (14-by-16 inches) foil
1 banana leaf (available frozen at some Asian markets) or sheet of foil (14-by-16 inches), oiled on one side
4 lengths (24 inches long) butcher string

1. Spread 1 sheet of the plastic wrap on a counter. Cover with a sheet of foil. Top the foil with the banana leaf or foil, oiled side up.

2. Spread 1 cup of rice on the banana leaf to form a 6-inch square. Spread half of the grated mung beans on top to form a smaller square, about 5 inches. Cover the mung beans with the pork pieces. Cover the meat with the remaining mung beans. Cover the beans with 1 cup of rice.

3. Bring the narrow sides of the wrapping sheets together to make a 1-inch fold, then fold once more to seal. Flatten the 1-inch fold along the package. You now have 2 open ends. Fold one end over, then stand the package on this closed end. Add 1/4 cup more of the glutinous rice through the open end; tap the package to expel any air holes inside. Fold the wrapping over to seal. Turn the package over. Reopen the opposite end and add the remaining 1/4 cup of rice, tapping again to form a neat package. Reseal that end. Using your hands, press the package into a neat square. Place the wrapped cake, with the folded side down, on the remaining sheet of plastic wrap. Seal to ensure that no water gets into the package.

4. Tie 2 strings alternately in each direction to form cross ties.

5. In a deep pot, place the package, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat to medium, place a weight on top of the rice cake to keep it immersed in the water, and cook, uncovered, for 5 hours. As the water evaporates, add more boiling water to cover the package.

6. At the end of cooking, transfer the package to a wire rack. Leave to cool.

7. Remove the wrapping. Cut the rice cake into 2-inch squares. Serve with fish sauce and pickled leeks and papaya, if you like. Adapted from "The Foods of Vietnam"