Wild betel leaf is one of those ingredients that once you discover it, you’ll want to start using on everything. Pronounced notes of liquorice, vanilla, cola, and black pepper all together lend a special affinity to cooking by grill. I have used it to wrap beef skewers, fresh sardines, chicken, pork, and tofu for the BBQ – all with great results. Bo la lot (“beef in betel leaf”) which features this once exotic ingredient, is a dish that has become more commonly served in restaurants in this city as of late. It is an integral part of Bo 7 Mon – the Vietnamese “Beef Seven Ways” …and in fact, it is my favourite part of this elaborate multi-course meal. Once difficult to find, this classic Vietnamese grilled beef specialty is now served at a number joints here. The best examples of bo la lot, in case you haven’t had it, are served at Song Huong (Nanaimo St at E 1st Ave), and at Pho Linh (Broadway, across from Kingsgate Mall).
Bo la lot is a great starter dish for a backyard grilling party, and if don’t have the time and inclination to prepare this yourself, you can also get handy pre-packaged frozen uncooked versions at a few Vietnamese delis around town – namely, Kim Chau and Thu Hien Deli – both near Kingsway and Knight. I prefer the texture of home made bo la lot as the packaged ones tend be be a bit sausage-y.
Go to it! Serve with beer or even a nice red wine (specially a bottle with the nice liquorice and black pepper notes).
- 2 lb of ground beef (or you can also use a mixture such 1/2 beef and pork or 1/2 beef and chicken)
- 1 head of finely minced garlic
- 1/4 cup of finely minced shallots
- 3 tablespoon of curry powder
- 1/2 cup of finely chopped lemon grass
- 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 tablespoon of cracked pepper
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 3-4 packages of fresh betel leaves (You can get la lot leaves at a number of Vietnamese grocers around town. I get mine from 88 Supermarket on Victoria Dr near E 33rd Ave. )
- 4 tablespoons chopped roasted peanuts (optional)
- Combine the ingredients for the filling by hand. Don’t overwork (or else the texture becomes too firm when cooked)
- Wash your la lot leaves in the sink
- Snip the stem of each leaf
- Wrap a tablespoon or so of the filling in each leaf as shown
- Fire up the grill.
- Brush the parcels in a bit of oil.
- Grill until nicely charred – 3-5 mins.
- Sprinkle with chopped nuts if you have it.
- Serve with man nem sauce below.
Blend the following togeterh in a food processor for a few seconds
- 1/4 cup canned pineapple (sweetened or unsweetened)
- 4 cloves of finely minced garlic
- 1/4 cup of mam nem – Vietnamese thick fish sauce which you can get at any Vietnamese supermarket. Use fish sauce or even anchovies in a pinch…but it wont’t be the same.
- Squeeze of lime juice from one lime
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil.