As mentioned in my previous post, we love bánh mì: the sandwich, in salad form, and the individual toppings on their own. There is something delightful about the tangy, pucker of the pickled vegetables combined with the garlicky, savory meat and smothered in lime juice, cilantro and sriracha sauce and pulled together with the crunch of a good baguette. Yes, the bánh mì is a thing of beauty.
From a logistical standpoint, I also love the simplicity of the dish. I am an advocate for any meal that can be prepared, either partially or completely, in advance, and the bánh mì most certainly falls into this category. I typically assemble the pickled vegetables from whatever is lurking at the back of the crisper drawer, and let them marinate in a bowl of seasoned rice vinegar and spices for everywhere from half an hour to two days, depending on when we plan to eat them and whether or not we have leftovers. Because the vegetables are of the sturdier variety, a day or two in the pickling juices won’t affect them the way a salad dressing ruins delicate greens within a shorter timeframe.
My inspiration for this bout of bánh mìs was the half-eaten, two-week-old head of green cabbage in the refrigerator, two remaining rainbow carrots from a large bunch, a handful of radish* rolling around at the bottom of the drawer, and a wrinkly cucumber leftover from a host of green smoothie ingredients I had picked up earlier in the week. As disparate ingredients, there is nothing particularly exciting about these items – particularly in the middle of December, when produce is not at its perkiest – but tossed with a little rice vinegar, fish sauce, salt and sugar, they are truly transformed.
With regard to the protein, we have tried several options. Adam originally brined and roasted this garlic-brined pork loin and service it in thin slices on the sandwich, but this meatball recipe has become our go-to. I, on the other hand, am not a bánh mì perfectionist and have been known to use leftover roasted chicken (I have even used roast chicken rubbed with an Italian garlic-basil pesto mixture…bánh mìs already include both of those ingredients, so why not?) or thin strips of flank steak. Because there are so many components to a bánh mì, I find it a great way to use up leftover meats- and still remain true to the original concept.
The sriracha dipping sauce is incredible quick and easy to make, as nearly everyone has both mayonnaise and sriracha on hand. We stocked up during the dreaded sriracha shortage…that never materialized. We have several full-sized bottles of sriracha in the pantry.
The bread holds the toppings together, but it is also optional for those watching carbohydrate intake or who cannot eat gluten. We buy crusty baguette from a local bakery, because it is the closest thing to the airy, crisp rice flour baguettes made in Vietnam. The link in the previous sentence includes some interesting background on the bánh mì in Vietnamese culture as well as the recipe for the rice flour baguette. Alternatively, I have eaten the bánh mì sans any bread at all. The toppings all tossed together create a lovely chopped salad on their own (and you aren’t quite as full afterward).
Basic Bánh Mì Trimmings, for Sandwich – OR – Salad
1/2 head green cabbage, sliced into fine slivers
2 carrots, shaved with a vegetable peeler to form thin curls
*5 red radish, thinly sliced – or – 1/2 traditional diakon radish, cut into matchsticks
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks
Seasoned rice vinegar, to taste
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, grated through microplane zester
1 teaspoon maple syrup – or – agave nectar – or – cane sugar
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced
additional lime wedges
crusty French baguette
1. Toss all sliced vegetables in a large bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the rice vinegar, fish sauce, juice from the lime, grated garlic, and a bit of sweetener and salt. If using cane sugar, stir until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and season as needed. Depending on the types of vinegar and fish sauce you are using, you may require more or less salt. Additional sugar and garlic can also be added to taste. Note that the garlic is raw, and some may find this more overpowering than others. I use at least three cloves, sometimes more…but we love garlic. Start with one and add more as needed, tasting as you go.
3. Combine the vegetables and the sauce; stir to coat all veggies with the pickling liquid. Cover and let rest in refrigerator for at least one-half hour. The longer the veggies rest, the more pickled they become.
4. Assemble sandwiches by cutting a slice into the baguette that does not quite go through the opposing side, so that you have a “hinge” to the bread. Use the sriracha dipping sauce as your main condiment to “butter” the bread, and lay the meat along the top of it. For meatballs, slicing them in half before adding to the sandwich allows the bread to lay a bit flatter. Sliced pork loin, or chicken breast, or any other variation, can be layered in as well. Then top with pickled vegetables, and dust with fresh cilantro and jalapeno (and another squirt of sriracha, if you are feeling fiesty). Serve with additional lime wedges.
– OR –
4. Assemble salad by scooping pickled vegetables into individual bowls, topping with either bánh mì meatballs or other meat variation, fresh cilantro, jalapeno slices, lime wedges, and drizzle of sriracha. I like to eat mine with the sriracha dipping sauce on the side/mixed in.