Ringing in Têt, the Vietnamese New Year

In Vietnamese, "Têt" means, "the first morning of the first day," so we celebrate on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

Têt is always a fun time for my family because we get to spend time together sharing a meal and looking forward to what the New Year brings us. It's also a time to celebrate Vietnamese cuisine. My favorite Têt dish is Bánh Tét. ("Tét," in this context means "to cut or slice," which is how this dish is served.) Bánh Tét is a steamed treat made from pork, mung beans and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. This neat little package is then boiled until all ingredients are soft and melded together into a savory cake. Although this is a rather laborious recipe, the result is simple and delicious.


Bà nội's Bánh Tét (Grandma's Bánh Tét)

Recipe developed by Tessa Nguyen, RD, LDN

My favorite Têt dish is Bánh Tét, a steamed treat made from pork, mung beans and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. Although this is a rather laborious recipe, the result is simple and delicious.

Ingredients

  • 1 package banana leaves, thawed
  • 4 cups sticky rice (I used sushi rice for this recipe), soaked overnight in a bowl of water
  • 1 cup mung beans, soaked for at least 3 hours in a bowl of water
  • ½ teaspoon granulated onion
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic
  • ½ pound pork loin, cut into 1-inch wide and 2- to 3-inch long pieces
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Soy sauce or fish sauce, to taste

Directions

  1. Once the rice has finished soaking, drain off excess water. But do not rinse the rice. The extra starch will help to reach desired "stickiness" in the final product.
  2. Once mung beans have soaked, drain off excess water. In a blender, blend mung beans, granulated onion and granulated garlic until mixture reaches the consistency of hummus. You may need to add a little bit of water to help reach the desired consistency.
  3. Season pork loin pieces with salt and pepper. I typically use more black pepper than salt, as you can sprinkle soy sauce or fish sauce on the final product, and don't want it to be too salty.
  4. Cut off two 10- to -12-inch sections of banana leaf. Lay these down on a flat kitchen surface (a cutting board works well) in opposite directions (lay one section of leaf with the fibers running up and down and the other with the fibers running left to right – this will help the filling to stay inside once it's rolled up).
  5. Measure out one cup of the rice onto the banana leaves. Press down the rice gently to form a roughly 3-by-5-inch rectangle base.
  6. Next, gently spoon ½ cup of the mung bean mixture down the center of the rice.
  7. Next, lay down 2 to 3 pieces of pork right on top of the mung bean mixture.
  8. For the final layer, measure out another cup of rice onto the pork.
  9. Carefully fold up the bottom of the banana leaves to cover the filling, then the left side, then the right before rolling tightly into a roll. Think of rolling this up like a burrito or spring roll – you want to make sure none of the filling pops out. Feel free to use another layer or two of banana leaves to make sure the Bánh Tét is completely closed.
  10. Secure the Bánh Tét with either butcher's twine or rubber bands to keep the banana leaves in place.
  11. Repeat process to make the second Bánh Tét.
  12. Place Bánh Tét in a large pot and cover them with water just until they are both submerged.
  13. Boil the Bánh Tét for 4 to 5 hours until they have plumped in size and all ingredients are completely cooked.
  14. There are several options for eating Bánh Tét. You can slice it immediately after it has finished cooking and eat it while it's warm, wait for it to cool down to room temperature or even pan sear the slices until they are crisp on both sides. Any way you choose, it will be delicious!

Cooking Tips

  • Frozen banana leaves often can be found in the frozen section of Asian grocery stores.
  • When slicing the Bánh Tét, it's easiest to use a wax free, unflavored dental floss. As the Bánh Tét is thick and sticky, the dental floss can effortlessly cut through it to make slices.
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Tessa Nguyen
Tessa Nguyen, RD, LDN, is the founder and principal of Taste Nutrition Consulting. Tessa is a professionally trained Chef and Registered Dietitian working as a consultant in the food and nutrition industries. She blogs at tastenutritionconsulting.com. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.