The Banh Mi Phenomenon. That’s what the year 2011 should be called. You could scarcely open a newspaper, magazine or website without an article jumping out at you describing these delectable sandwiches from Vietnam. To cement its place in Western cultures, in March 2011 “Banh mi” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. And did you know there is an entire website dedicated to them? Battle of the Banh Mi; Finding, Feasting, & Making Vietnamese Sandwiches from the incomparable Todd and Diane from WhiteOnRiceCouple.com. I think it is safe to say that banh mi are here to stay!
Banh Mi (bahn-mee) is perhaps Vietnam’s most celebrated street food. The French introduced breads, specifically the baguette, to the Vietnamese people when Vietnam was one of their colonies. Banh mi is the Vietnamese term for all forms of breads but has become synonymous with any of the seasoned meat-filled sandwiches made in Vietnamese bakeries, and these days, food trucks, around the world.
The sandwiches are made on torpedo-shaped rolls, more light and airy than traditional baguettes with a soft, thin crust similar to a Hoagie roll. A portion of the crumb is scooped out to make room for the seasoned meats, pickled vegetables and spicy spreads. In a true blending of cuisines, they can often be found with a combination of traditional French and Vietnamese ingredients. The French influences are seen in the use of baguettes, pate, and mayonnaise, and native Vietnamese ingredients such as cilantro, hot pepper sauce and pickled vegetables as well as marinade and sauce seasonings add Asian flavors.
The flavors of Banh mi are expanding beyond the traditional sandwich. The incomparable Andrea Nguyen, celebrated food writer and author of the blog Viet World Kitchen, grew up eating the wonderful foods of her parents homeland. She was challenged to create a mayonnaise that replicated the flavors of the beloved sandwich. With her usual grace and enthusiasm, Andrea jumped at the chance and created this ethereal concoction, Elegant Banh Me Mayonnaise. Make sure you check out Andrea’s website and if you want even more inspiration, here is a list of her award-winning cookbooks:
This condiment would be wonderful is so many applications. I would love it as a dressing for Asian tacos, a way to spice up a boring roast beef or turkey sandwich, or as a dip for vegetables on a buffet. Talk about giving your guests something to get excited about!
While banh mi can be made with any fillings you like, my personal favorite is an Asian-flavored pork meatball. I love this recipe from Epicurious.com and am sure you will too. The condiments and meatballs can be made ahead and cooked later, giving you lots of flexibility. I keep some in the freezer for those days when I can’t get dinner on the table fast enough!
Enjoy this taste of Vietnam and Happy Festive Friday!!
Banh Mi Vietnamese Pork Meatball Sandwiches
Yield: 4 servings
Hot Chili Mayo
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
3 to 4 tsp hot chili sauce (such as Sriracha)*
1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
1 tbsp hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)**
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tbsp Asian sesame oil
4 (10-inch-long) individual baguettes or 4(10-inch-long) pieces French-bread baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs
*Available in the Asian foods section of many supermarkets and at Asian markets.
**Available at some supermarkets and at Asian markets.
Hot Chili Mayo: Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Cover and chill. Do Ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead.
Meatballs: Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover and chill. Do Ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead.
Pickled Vegetables: Toss first 5 sandwich ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
Sandwiches: Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often, and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs. NOTE: You can bake the meatballs instead of frying if you prefer. Bake at 375°F for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on size of meatballs.
Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell.
Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops. Serve immediately.
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