These Vietnamese sweet potato pancakes are an excellent snack or appetizer served in lettuce wraps. Double the recipe and make it a meal! Made from grated sweet potatoes and carrots, they’re a versatile dish for any time of day.
Among the classic Hanoi dishes are deep-fried sweet potato and shrimp fritters. Called bánh tôm, they’re eaten as herb-and-lettuce wraps, dunked in nuoc cham dipping sauce.
When I don’t have the energy to tackle the tricky original, which entails deep-frying fritters of battered sweet potato sticks with whole shrimp attached, without things falling about, I make my streamlined workaround: these delicately crisp sweet potato pancakes.
I blend grated sweet potato with grated carrot. Seasoning with green onion and fish sauce imbues the pancakes with some of the pungency and umami depth of the original. They come together handily with little fuss.
HOW TO PICK A PERFECT SWEET POTATO
At the store, choose your sweet potatoes wisely. White sweet potatoes are dry-ish and fry up crisper than their orange-fleshed friends, so these are preferred. This said, it’s fine to use orange-fleshed sweet potatoes if your grocery store doesn’t carry the white ones; your pancakes will just be a bit less crispy.
If sweet potatoes aren’t available, or you prefer a more savory pancake, use a Russet potato, though the resulting pancakes will be less crispy and not sweet-savory, which is part of the allure of these morsels.
Because you’ll be peeling and grating the potato and carrot, expect some ingredient waste during prep. To hit the right quantity for the recipe and to avoid scraping your fingers on the grater trying to get every last bit, buy a little more than what’s needed.
To grate the potato and carrot, employ the largest holes on a box grater. (Or cut the vegetables into big chunks and put them through the large shredding disk of a food processor.) You want them to retain some character and texture. Massaging salt into the vegetables quickly forces out moisture, the enemy of pancake crispiness.
THE BEST LETTUCE FOR LETTUCE WRAPS
Shop for soft leaf lettuce, such as butter (Boston) or red leaf, or green leaf. Their leaves are tender and easy to manipulate (if the leaves are huge, cut or tear them into palm-size pieces). Romaine and iceberg are too crisp to easily fold around all the goodies that you’ll be wrapping up.
These wraps are inherently fairly quick and easy to make. However, here are a few tips to save you some time:
- The lettuce and herbs may be washed, spun dry, and refrigerated in separate zip-top bags up to one week in advance.
- On the day you want to serve the dish, you can make the sauce up to eight hours before serving, cover it with plastic wrap, and set aside at room temperature. If you want to retain bright chile heat, add it to the sauce before serving.
- Either the night before or a few hours before cooking, you can also prep the veggies, cover, and chill. Then mix with the remaining ingredients and fry.
- To make the pancakes up to four hours before serving, slightly under-fry them, then cool them on a wire rack. Partially cover with aluminum foil and let them hang out at room temperature. About 15 minutes before serving, refry the pancakes over medium-low heat to crisp and finish.
Whether made ahead and enjoyed at the table, or prepared on the spot and eaten at the kitchen counter, these pancakes are a terrific way to savor Viet flavors. They’re great as a snack, or paired with curry-scented beef for a lettuce wrap feast! Or double the recipe, and eat them for dinner!
Check out Andrea’s latest cookbook Vietnamese Food Any Day for more easy Vietnamese recipes, or try these recipes:
- Char Siu Chicken
- Chicken Curry with Sweet Potato and Lemongrass
- Quick Chicken Pho
- Vietnamese-Style Noodle Bowls with Chicken
- Shrimp Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce
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