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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Grape Leaves)

The first Vietnamese cookbook I could remember was "The Foods of Vietnam" by Nicole Routhier, which was published in 1989 and won several cookbook awards. I found it at my public library. It was in English with lots of colorful pictures. I imagine that my reaction to discovering Routhier's book was the same as the Vietnamese readers who stumble upon my blog, the ones who later tell me that they never learned to cook from their mothers.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 1

Routhier's book is out of print now, but I managed to find a copy years ago of "The Best of Nicole Routhier," which included many of the same recipes. One of the recipes was for bo nuong la nho (Vietnamese grilled beef-stuffed grape leaves). Actually, the book misspelled grape as gno instead of nho, one of many Vietnamese spelling errors. I wonder if the use of grape leaves was Routhier's invention, probably based upon Dolmades (Greek Stuffed Grape Leaves), as I can't think of any other Vietnamese recipes with grape leaves. Or maybe not, since my mom often says Vietnamese people don't waste anything, and I know my youngest uncle sautes the young grape leaf tendrils. At the time the book was published, many of the ingredients, that seem commonplace now, weren't readily available. Grape leaves seemed a natural substitution for wild betel leaves in the recipe for Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves).

I remembered liking the recipe when I made it long ago. That was before I actually tasted grilled betel leaves though. In revisiting the recipe, while the grilled grape leaves were good, they really couldn't compare to the wonderfully fragrant perfume that gets emitted when la lot is cooked. If you've never tasted grilled wild betel leaves, it's impossible to describe. If I were to compare the disappointment of grape leaves after having eaten la lot, it would be as if someone suggested substituting lettuce for basil. Yeah, that kind of disappointment.

But if you can't obtain wild betel leaves (piper sarmentosum), not to be confused to non-wild betel leaves (piper betle), which is chewed with betel nuts and lime, then you don't know what you're missing. In which case, grilled grape leaves stuffed with beef is still pretty good.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Grape Leaves)
Adapted from my recipe for Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves)

For about two dozen rolls, you'll need:
Two dozen fresh grape leaves, stems removed
1/2 lb ground beef, or a mix of half beef and half pork
1/2 tsp salt
1 tblsp soy sauce, or 2 tsp soy sauce and 2 tsp fish sauce
1 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder

Optional: Instead of 5-spice powder, you can substitute with curry powder. Instead of ground beef, you can use thinly sliced beef and marinate as usual.

Pluck and wash grape leaves. Remove stems. Set aside.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 2

I prefer making my own ground beef for this because it's less fatty, but packaged will work as well. Adding a little bit of pork provides juiciness as I find beef sometimes dry. After grinding your own meat in a food processor, add 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tblsp soy sauce, and 1 1/2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder. Mix thoroughly. Pop a little bit of the meat into the microwave for about 30 seconds or so to cook. Taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Place a small spoonful of meat on each leaf and roll.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 3

Folding in sides.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 4


Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 5

Keep the rolls folded side down so they don't unravel.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 6

Grill or pan-fry. Serve with Mam Nem (Vietnamese Fermented Anchovy Sauce) for dipping. These herb wraps may be simply eaten with rice, or wrapped in rice paper.

Bo Nuong La Nho (Vietnamese Grilled Beef-Stuffed Grape Leaves) 7


My other leaf-wrapped recipes:
Bo Nuong La Lot (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Wild Betel Leaves)
Bo Nuong La Tia To Dai Han (Vietnamese Grilled Beef with Korean Perilla Leaves)
Canh Bap Cai Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Stuffed Cabbage Soup)
Dolmades (Greek Grape Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Tomatoes, and Onions)
Mieng Kham (Thai Leaf-Wrapped Snack)

1 year ago today, I didn't go anywhere, but my camera traveled to Hong Kong.


  1. I now there are parallels with many cuisines but this is a pleasant surprise...Viet and Greek cuisine...awesome!

  2. I remember my mom using grape leaves before la lot was available in Asian markets. I don't remember how it tasted but I remember liking to pick them in our backyard! I do like la lot... Wouldn't the texture different too?

  3. Unfortunately, we do not have grape leaves here. Betel leaves are rare, as well. I think the leaves are so pretty!

  4. are those actual grape leaves?
    or are they just called grape leaves
    and can u eat the leaves?

  5. Yummmm...grilled ground beef in grape leaves? Wow...sounds exciting!

  6. wow...grape leaves eh? i haven't heard of this before!...i wonder if i'd like it (you know me...i don't eat much leaves ^_^)

  7. Peter,
    We both eat amaranth greens too, but I think you missed that post.

    The texture isn't really that different to me, except that grape leaves are bigger so you get more layers of leaf. It's the taste that really makes a difference.

    I wonder if there's some other leaf you can come up with to substitute?

    Yes, they're actual grape leaves. What else would they be?

    Exciting huh? Certainly worth a try then!

    Somehow, I thought of "eats, shoots, and leaves." :P

  8. I had this before..I had this before, when we visited Vietnam. My dad ate maybe 8 of this. Now I feel like running out to get me some grape leaves. *Salivating*

  9. Cecil,
    Are you sure it was grape leaves and not the original la lot? Grape leaves aren't really available in Vietnam. This recipe was more an overseas creation since la lot wasn't readily available.

  10. Never knew there was a Vietnamese version of dolmades. Very interesting post :)

  11. Jude,
    I think there's lots of overlap with cuisines. :)

  12. Had them for lunch today. Delicious.

  13. Sympathy for the Devil,
    Glad you liked the recipe!

  14. Macyintgirl,
    Really? This one and not the la lot?

  15. I made a chicken version of these while on holiday in Vietnam. They were made with betel leaves and minced chicken. Yummy.

  16. Tina,
    You know, I've made bo la lot, and with pork, and with fish, but haven't tried chicken yet, which seems to be the obvious next step.

  17. Can I freeze tia to leaves? Thank you.


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