Com Nep Sen | Sticky Rice Steamed in Lotus Leaf
Green rice is an early autumn delicacy said to have originated half a century ago in Vong village, close to Hanoi. The village experienced severe flooding and the villagers were forced to harvest their rice early. The hungry farmers decided to make the most of the situation. They roasted the grains, then repeatedly pounded them using a mortar and pestle to remove the husks and in the end found that they had accidentally stumbled on a delicious treat. Green rice can be used to enhance dishes like this one, where it adds a subtle, nutty flavour. It is also a special snack in its own right, being sold in neat parcels wrapped in mildly fragrant lotus leaves and often eaten with banana.
300 g glutinous rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
70 g lotus seeds
5 dried Chinese mushrooms
4 pandan leaves
3 red Asian shallots, diced
1 and 1/2 tablespoons chicken fat or vegetable oil
2 lap cheong sausages, diced
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large dried lotus leaves
¼ cup green rice
2 tablespoons grated coconut
60 g fried shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt, extra
3 teaspoons fish sauce, extra
Soak the glutinous rice in cold water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the rice and rinse it under cold running water until the water runs clear. Sprinkle the rice with the salt, place it in a steamer lined with muslin cloth and steam for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the lotus seeds in boiling water for 20 minutes, then drain.
Soak the dried mushrooms in water for 20 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and squeeze out any excess water. Remove the stems and chop the caps.
Break the pandan leaves into small pieces, place it in a mortar and pound with a pestle. Wearing a kitchen glove, squeeze the leaves to extract the juice. Discard the leaves.
Heat the chicken fat or oil in a frying pan and fry the shallots until soft. Add the sausage and cook for 1 minute. Add the lotus seeds, mushrooms, fish sauce and pepper and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Soak the lotus leaves in warm water for 3 minutes, or until softened.
Place the steamed rice in a large bowl. Add the lotus seed mixture, along with the remaining ingredients.
Divide the rice into two portions. Lay a lotus leaf, vein-side down, in a deep bowl. Place one portion of the rice in the centre of the leaf and lightly press down. Fold the lotus leaf sides over the rice and place a saucer on top. Turn the lotus leaf parcel over so the parcel is sitting on the saucer. Remove the bowl. The weight of the rice will help keep the leaf in place. Repeat with the remaining lotus leaf and rice.
Place the parcels on a steaming rack over rapidly boiling water, cover and steam for 25 - 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and cut open the parcels, being careful not to burn yourself on the steam.
Edited extract from Made in Vietnam by Tracey Lister published by Hardie Grant. Tracey is a chef, author and traveller with a passion for all things Vietnamese. She runs food tours of Vietnam and founded the Hanoi Cooking School. www.traceylister.com