Vegetarian Betel Leaf Rolls
If you have ever travelled to the Indian Subcontinent or South East Asia you may have encountered people chewing on Betel leafs. These shiny dark green leaves have a strong peppery taste. In India, I have memories of trying it with some sugar coated fennel seeds inside it, the sweet sugar on the fennel, the aniseed of the fennel and the peppery leaf eaten as a post meal digestif.
On researching our Indochine menu for the recent Franglais Kitchen Secret Supper, we discovered these leaves are stuffed and cooked in South East Asia. Most often it seems to be a meat filling (beef and chicken seem to be popular), but we wanted a vegetarian version. This concoction came about through online research, discussion with a Vietnamese friend and with a lovely lady at Longdan Vietnamese Market in London, where we got many of our supplies. Some soft thin noodles (rice noodles or mung bean noodles if you can get them) serve as a net, mashed mung beans hold the filling together and lots of flavour as you would expect from herbs, chilli and dried mushroom. Thin strips of fried tofu give texture. Wrap the leaves tightly, securing them with cocktail sticks. A brief searing on the barbequeue or a ridged grilling pan releases some of the betel leaf aroma.Serve these with a vietnamese dipping sauce – full of chilli and garlic, it gives a punch to the gently flavoured filling of the rolls.
Now Betel leaf does have mild stimulant properties so not one to eat in large quantities but an interesting appetiser here. If you cannot source these tropical leaves, or prefer not to use them, this filling would work well enrobed within savoy cabbage leaves instead of betel. Though the cabbage is a different tasting leaf, chou farcis (or stuffed cabbage) is a classic French recipe. Cabbage is often used in South East Asian cooking, and the flavours we have used here will suit savoy cabbage leaves, which you can grill in the same way (as seen here).
For our filling we based this recipe on one we found here. A really well written post with detailed instruction that we have adapted to the items we were able to source and to the flavours that suited us best.
- 100g mung bean lentils
- 100g firm silken tofu
- 500ml water
- pinch of salt
- half teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- 1 shallot chopped finely
- 1 clove garlic
- 100g (cooked weight) rice noodles (or mung bean noodles if you can get them).
- half a carrot grated
- 1 ounce dried chinese mushroom
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped lemongrass stalk (white part)
- 1 tablespoon coriander torn or chopped roughly
- 1 tablespoon mint torn or chopped roughly
- 1 tablespoon thai basil torn or chopped roughly
- Salt and pepper
- Half teaspoon sugar
- 2 packets of betel leaves or 1 savoy cabbage
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- Soak the mung beans overnight, then cook them in plenty of water for 40 minutes until they are very soft.
- Whilst it is cooking, soak the mushrooms in a large bowl of freshly boiled water for 10 minutes until soft. Drain and chop them finely.
- Mash the mung beans into a lumpy paste.
- Put the whole pice of tofu into a pan of boiling water to which you have added a little salt and lemon juice. Boil for 5 to 7 minutes. This helps to refresh the tofu and remove any sourness.
- Carefully remove the tofu and gently press it with kitchen paper to remove the water from it.
- Chop into 2 cm thick slices and fry in the sunflower oil until golden in colour. Drain the excess oil on fresh kitchen paper.
- When the fried tofu has cooled slice into thin strips.
- Cook the noodles according to packet instructions and drain them. Then chop them into 1-2 cm lengths.
- Heat a teaspoon of sunflower oil in a saucepan and fry the garlic and minced shallot. Cook until softened and translucent.
- In a bowl, combine the carrot, chopped noodles, mashed lentils, mushrooms, ginger, lemongrass, tofu and all the chopped herbs. Gently mix them through then tip them into the saucepan containing the cooked garlic and shallots.
- Season with salt and pepper and a little sugar to your taste.
- Pick the leaves from the stalk (betel leaves) or from the cabbage.
- Wash and dry them thoroughly.
- Put a teaspoon to tablespoonful of the filling onto a leaf (or overlap 2 smaller leaves) then tightly wrap the leaves into rolls, securing them with skewers. We used wooden skewers which we presoaked in some water.
- To stop the filling from leaking out, turn the edges of the leaf in towards the filling on each side before rolling them.
- For betel leaves, when rolling place the shiny side down and have the stalk pointing towards you. for savoy cabbage, keep the darker side of the leave facing down. You will get away with more filling on a cabbage leaf.
- Combine the sesame and vegetable oils in a small bowl
- Brush the rolls with the combined oil and then chargrill in a heated ridged pan or on the barbecue until the leaf is charred slightly. It should only take a minute or two on each side.
- Serve warm with a sweet chilli dipping sauce.