Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake

(Banh Chung)

PREP TIME: 20 MINUTES

COOKS IN: 12 HRS

Ingredients

  • 3 cups long-grain sticky rice (about 1 lb or 450grams)
  • 9 oz split mung bean (about 250 grams)
  • 1 lb pork belly (450grams)
  • 5 1/4 teaspoons salt (divided)
  • 2 teaspoons freshly-cracked black pepper (or more)
  • 1 lb frozen banana leaves (450grams)

Method

Prepping work the night before

  • Soak the sticky rice in a lot of water. Also soak mung bean in plenty of water.
  • Move banana leaves from the freezer to let it thaw in the refrigerator.

Prepping work before wrapping the cake

  • Slice pork belly into same sizes, about 1 inch thick, 3 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of black pepper, mix well and set aside.
  • Drain the rice and sprinkle 3 teaspoons of salt over it, mix to combine. Set aside.
  • Drain the mung bean and sprinkle 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt over it, mix to combine.
  • Steam mung bean until it’s soft, about 15 minutes. Then either mash it or process it finely in a food processor. You can taste and add more salt if needed. When mung bean is still warm, divide into 2 equal portions and form each portion into round balls.Mung bean prepared for Banh Chung
  • Wash banana leaves and pat dry.

Wrapping and Assembling the cakes

  • Place your cake mold on a clean surface. Arrange two strings cut from kitchen twines as in the photo below. The strings will be used to tie around the cake so make sure they are not too short.Wooden mold to make Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Banh Chung)
  • Cut four pieces of banana leaves so that when you fold them in half and fold in half one more time, the folded piece fits inside the mold.
  • Put one folded piece of banana leaves inside the mold in an upright position against one corner of the mold as in the image below.
  • Pull the top corner down towards the bottom clockwise.
  • Lay flat and pull the farthest corner up to form a triangle at the bottom.How to wrap Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice (Banh Chung)
  • Continue to do the same for the other three pieces and put each of them in each corner. Note that for the last two pieces, you don’t need to pull the corner to form a triangle.
  • Cut another four smaller pieces of banana leaves, about half as big as the previous ones and repeat those steps. This step will make sure the rice and mung bean are safely secured.
  • Once the leaves have been laid out, we can start adding ingredients. Scoop 1 cup of rice and pour into the mold, lightly spread and push the rice into an even layer.Assembling Banh Chung: add sticky rice
  • Use your hands, break one of the mung bean ball in half, then hold one half above the rice and break into smaller pieces and spread over the rice.Assembling Banh Chung: add mung bean
  • Add half of the pork belly into the center over the mung bean.Assembling Banh Chung: add pork belly
  • Hold the other half of the mung bean ball above the pork belly, break into smaller pieces and spread over the cake center. Then finally top with about 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 cups of rice. Push some of the rice to the side and corners.
  • Fold the banana leaves down and press gently. Tie the two strings around the cake as below.
  • Remove the mold and tie two more strings around the cake. The rice will expand so don’t tie too tightly. Now you can flip the cake over and it will look as in the photo.
  • Using the remaining ingredients to make another cake following the same steps.

Boiling the cakes

  • Line a large pot with 1-2 pieces of banana leaves.
  • Put the cakes in the pot, then fill the pot with water to cover the cakes. To prevent the cakes from floating, place heavy objects on top of them to weigh them down. I use two ceramic bowls.
  • Bring the water to a boil and then adjust the heat to remain a low-moderate boil. Cover and cook for 10 hours. Once in a while, check to see if there is still enough water to cover the cakes. If not, add some boiling water.
  • After 10 hours, remove the cakes from the pot and rinse under water until the outer leaves are not sticky. Place the cakes on a rack over a baking sheet. Place another baking sheet on top and put some heavy books on top to press the cakes for at least 2-4 hours.

Serving the cakes

  • Chung cake can be served immediately after the pressing step. Peel off the banana leaves and cut into 4 or 8 slices. Eat the cake on its own or with Vietnamese pork sausage and condiments such as soy sauce.Serving Vietnamese Square Sticky Rice Cake (Banh Chung)
  • You can also fry the cake slices until all sides are golden and crispy.

Storing the cakes

  • The cakes can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days to a week. Reheat by microwaving or frying.
  • You can also freeze the cakes for a few months. Thaw the cake in the refrigerator and then boil it for 1-2 hours before eating.

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