That’s the long description for a dish with a much shorter Vietnamese name- bo la lot. This is one of my favorite dishes to order in Vietnamese restaurants. Despite the name of the dish specifying wild betel leaves, if you order this is a restaurant you will likely get boring old grape leaves out of a jar. I’ve also seen shiso leaves substituting for la lot but I was holding out for the real thing. I finally found one of these plants at a plant sale back in April at Bamboo Grove. I’ve been nursing it along all summer. Wild betel loves water (but not too much) and fertilizer (but not too much). I’ve been feeding it dilute fish emulsion and it seems to really like it. Finally, finally the plant was big and healthy enough to harvest.
If you don’t have lalot, there are any number of reasonable substitutions. The most desirable would be fresh betel leaves, the leaves of Piper betel. These can usually be found at any well-appointed Indian grocery store and often at any grocery store catering to Indonesian and Vietnamese people, too. You can also substitute preserved grape leaves, hibiscus leaves in the South or mallow leaves in the North. I love bo la lot with cold rice noodles and salad, with nuoc cham and plenty of crushed cashews.
Bo La Lot
1 lb ground beef, high fat content
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbl Mysore curry powder
3 large stalks of fresh lemongrass, white ends only, minced
3-4 green onions, minced
2-3 tsp fish sauce
1 tbl palm sugar (you can sub brown sugar or coconut sugar)
1 heaping tsp freshly cracked black pepper (Don’t skimp! It’s important)
1/2 tsp salt
15-20 fresh lalot leaves, or any substitution listed above.
This is making homemade sausage. It’s all about texture. Make sure to keep the beef very cold. You can use half beef and half pork, too. Take half the beef and put it in a food processor with the garlic, curry powder, lemongrass, 2 tsp of the fish sauce, and the palm sugar. Blend until it’s a smooth paste. Add the salt and pepper to the remaining cold ground beef. Then scrape the paste out of the food processor and mix with the cold ground beef by hand until the two are thoroughly mixed but the texture of the ground beef is still distinct- you don’t want the whole thing to become paste. Add the remaining teaspoon of fish sauce if the mixture seems dry.
Take the leaves and wash them carefully. Boil a small pot of water. Dunk the leaves in the boiling water. Count to ten slowly. Dump the leaves out and rinse in cold water until they’re cool enough to touch. Lay each leaf out. Put a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture in the center and carefully spread the meat out from side to side. Then roll the leaf around the meat to make a cigar shape, using a dab of the meat mixture to seal the end.
Heat a dry frying pan over medium heat. Do not add oil! Add as many of the rolls as you can fit in a single layer. Let them fry slowly. The beef will render enough fat to fry the rolls. Fry until lightly browned, Gently turn over and fry the other side until lightly browned. If there’s any meat mixture left over, shape into small patties and fry until cooked through. Eat while hot.