These Vietnamese grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves are parcels of deliciousness with a distinctive fragrance and smoky, juicy, tender meat. Enjoy it with a pineapple anchovy dipping sauce and cold beer for the ultimate street snack.
When it comes to Southern Vietnamese street food, I have a deep love for grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves, or bò lá lốt. I grew up eating it as often as Vietnamese spring rolls and Vietnamese crepes. Visit Saigon and you will find street vendors grilling beef wrapped in betel leaves at just about every corner. The distinctive aroma is pretty hard to miss. After immigrating to America, we missed it so much that my dad started growing his own betel leaves. I’m excited to bring you our family’s recipe for grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves. They are little parcels of deliciousness with juicy, tender meat grilled to perfection.
- Betel leaves: also called lá lốt are grown in Southeast Asian cuisine. They are heart-shaped leaves, glossy on one side and matte on the other side. They have a distinctive peppery taste and fragrance. You can find betel leaves at Asian markets. Unfortunately there’s no substitution for betel leaves. If you have leftover betel leaves, cut them in thin strips and stir fry with some beef.
- Lemongrass: much of the lemongrass’s flavor is concentrated in its lower, cane-like stalks. Look for firm, pale-green stalks with fat, bulbous bottoms. Trim off the spiky tops and the bases and crush the stalks with the side of a knife to release their aromatic oils before chopping them up. You can also use a food processor to grind them.
- Aromatics: other aromatics that I used for this recipe are shallots and garlic. Make sure you finely chop the shallot and mince the garlic so they flavor the meat well.
- Fish sauce: use a quality fish sauce. Some of my favorite brands are Three Crabs, Flying Lion Premium Fish Sauce, and Red Boat Fish Sauce.
- Anchovy fish sauce: also known as mắm nêm, this sauce is made from fermented fish. You can find anchovy fish sauce at Asian markets.
Tips for Making Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves
- For the beef, use freshly ground sirloin or flat iron. If you’re using all beef for this recipe, make sure to incorporate twenty to twenty-five of pork fat with the beef otherwise the meat will be very dry after grilling.
- Even though the recipe name says beef, Vietnamese make these delicious parcels with not just beef but with pork and pork fat. I like to use ground pork butt and pork fat to keep the meat moist and flavorful after grilling.
- Leave the filling in the fridge for 1 hour for the flavors to develop.
- To make it consistent for grilling, I weigh the amount of filling. For a large betel leave, use 1 ounce of filling. For a small to medium betel leave, use about half an ounce of filling.
- The final weight of the ingredients will be around 22 ounces. You will need 22-24 large betel leaves or 44-48 medium betel leaves to wrap the filling.
How to Fold the Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves
To assemble the little parcels, lay the betel leave on its glossy side, lay the filling about half an inch from the bottom of the leaf on the matte side.
Fold in the two sides of the leaf over the filling.
Take the bottom of the leaf and roll it forward toward the top of the leaf tightly in a cylinder shape.
Once you’re done rolling, use a skewer and pierce the the roll to secure the leaf. You can also use toothpicks instead of skewers.
Tips for Grilling Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves
When it comes to grilling, go for the real deal, the charcoal grill! Using a grill pan over the stove or roasting it in the oven won’t give you that authentic bò lá lốt experience. Place the coals on one side of the grill, let the temperature rise to about 365-375 degrees F before tossing the beef wrapped in betel leaves on it. The larger parcels will need about 4 minutes on each side while the smaller parcels will need about 3 minutes on each side. Rotate the skewers in between to prevent them from burning. When cooked, the rolls should feel firm if you press it with tongs.
What to Serve Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves With
You can eat grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves as a snack with a pineapple anchovy dipping sauce. To make it a more substantial meal, you can wrap them in rice paper or enjoy them with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, and herbs like Vietnamese mint (rau răm), Thai basil (húng quế ), peppermint (húng lui), and Vietnamese perilla (tiá tô), cucumber, pickled carrot and daikon, roasted peanuts, and a sweet and tangy dipping sauce (nuoc cham).
As these beef wrapped in betel leaves were grilling, I couldn’t help salivating. I started snacking on them minutes after they came off the grill. By themselves, the betel leaves are odorless. Once grilled they generate a beautiful fragrance unlike anything else. The betel leaves also imbued a distinctive taste to the meat. The mouth-watering aroma along with smoky, juicy, tender meat made these grilled beef wrapped in betel leaves unbelievable delicious. I always make a double batch because I usually eat whole batch while grilling!
For more Vietnamese street food inspiration, check these recipes: Vietnamese green rice flakes crusted prawns, Vietnamese prawn and coconut pancakes, Vietnamese crepes, Vietnamese prawn and sweet potato fritters, Vietnamese rice paper salad.
Vietnamese Grilled Beef Wrapped in Betel Leaves / Bò Lá Lốt
- Food processor
- bamboo skewers or tooth picks
- 8 ounces ground beef
- 5 ounces ground pork (use pork butt)
- 3 ounces pork fat
- 1/4 cup finely chopped lemongrass
- 1/4 cup minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 22-24 large betel leaves or 44-48 medium betel leaves
- 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
- pickled vegetables for serving
Pineapple Anchovy Dipping Sauce
- 1/4 cup anchovy fish sauce
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoon sugar
- 1 bird's eye chili, thinly sliced
- To make dipping sauce, process all ingredients except chili in food processor until smooth. Adjust seasoning to your liking with additional sugar or lime juice. Transfer sauce to a bowl and top with sliced chili.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, pork fat, lemongrass, shallot, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper. Use your hand to knead the filling together. Leave the filling in the fridge for 1 hour for the flavors to develop.
- Pick the individual betel leaves and wash in cold water. Lay the leaves flat on a kitchen towel or paper towel to dry.
- When ready to assemble, lay the betel leaf on clean work surface with glossy side down with stem pointing toward you.
- Spoon filling onto the bottom edge of the leaf, leaving about half an inch from the bottom and two sides.
- Fold in the two sides then take the bottom of the leaf and roll toward the top into a cylinder shape.
- Use bamboo skewers to thread through the roll and secure the leaf.
- Repeat this process until you have used all of filling. The mixture should make about 22-24 rolls.
- Set up the charcoal grill by placing coals on one side and lighting them. Rake the coals to create a flat even bed to create an even steady heat zone.
- Once the coals have burned down to about 365-375 degrees F, place the skewers and the grill and let them cook for about 4 minutes on each side for the large skewers and 3 minutes on each side for the smaller skewers. Turn skewers in between to prevent them from burning. When cooked, rolls should feel firm once pressed with tongs.
- Transfer cooked beef wrapped in betel leaves to serving platter and top with roasted peanuts. Serve immediately with pineapple anchovy dipping sauce and pickled vegetables.