When The Banh Mi Handbook came out this summer, I couldn’t wait to go buy a copy for my kitchen. Was it the cool and compelling subtite: “Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches”? Partly? Was it the cool cover, the handsome design, the abundance of recipes I want to make (Caramel Sauce Pulled Pork; Sriracha Aioli; Thai Fried Omelet; Banh Mi Buns)? Was it that the author is Andrea Nguyen, whose books I work with, mess up, write in, and refer to all through the year? All of the above, plus the fact that I adore the substantial, infinitely variable, border-busting crowd pleasing street-food sandwich known as banh mi.
I remember my very first banh mi sandwich, which was offered to me by the proprietor of an Asian grocery store in Greensboro, North Carolina in the 1980’s. Home from Peace Corps service in Thailand, I was a regular customer usually stopping by in the afternoon. That day I went first thing Saturday morning, looking for ingredients for a dinner I would be cooking that night. They signaled me to head over to the storeroom area, and handed me a plump packet wrapped up in waxed paper, and that first time, they wouldn’t let me pay for it. I opened it up to find a torpedo-shaped sandwich stuffed with barbecued pork, luxuriously spread with mayonnaise and creamy pate, punctuated with long, thin cucumbers slices, whole stems of cilantro, thick jalapeno slices, and a confetti of captivatingly sweet and tangy pickles, carrot and daikon radish. Most people were buying a bagful as takeout, but I stood right there at a quiet counter and put mine away. It was so good, and it was the first of many banh mi in my culinary life.
Though I have been reading through it and enjoying it on many levels, I hadn’t taken it into the kitchen. Until Thanksgiving morning, when I was packing up the turkey I had just pulled out of the oven to take to my cousin’s house for Thanksgiving. It was the back-up turkey — she always gets a huge one, and her husband brines it wonderfully, but this year the crowd was bigger and I was happy to cook one too, knowing there would be turkey bones for gumbo and snacking today. But then the light went on: Too Much Turkey = Banh Mi To the Rescue! Time to start making them instead of just seeking them out.
I made the shredded carrot and daikon radish pickles from the book, as well as homemade mayonnaise which Andrea said would be easy and worth it using my food processor. It was, it was! Today, I went shopping for bread, and while I didn’t find the ideal puffy-yet-crispy bread that makes for banh mi perfection, I found some cook-em-yourself rolls at the supermarket and they did just fine. Andrea provides a recipe for making ideal banh mi bread, as well as wonderful extensive notes on all the ways to go in creating variations on the Viet sandwich theme.
The rest was easy. I set up a simple array of banh mi fixings, my favorites because they were all on that original banh mi sandwich that I remember so well. Not the turkey and the cranberry relish — those were Today’s Version, for which I was very thankful. But the pickled carrot-daikon relish, the cukes, the cilantro, the jalapenos and mayo, all were in the picture. No creamy pate either — that will be for next time.
It was fun to put them together and they were so so good. Satisfying, fun, easy, tasty, practical food.
The family said YES! and WHY DON”T WE HAVE THESE ALL THE TIME? Well, now we will!
What a cool fun party plan, am I right? Andrea’s recipes inspire you to go all over the place, with an array of pickles, spreads, sauces, relishes, and fillings, vegetarian and meat and seafood and Thai omelet — you get hungry and inspired just thumbing through this book. Just as you do on her blog and website Viet World Kitchen.
When I got the book in July, I really was thinking Summer Food! Picnics! I don’t wanna cook it’s too HOT food! But this book is really a 4 seasons thing, now that I think about it. Leftover turkey, specially prepared Chinese barbecue pork, hanoi grilled chicken, asparagus in spring and banh mi salad all year long. I think I need to roast another turkey, for more banh mi and for Thai curry turkey and for turkey bone gumbo. Thankful for all the food and all the ideas.
Click HERE for Andrea Nguyen’s latest blog post, where she gives the whole entire scoop on the world of possibilities for Thanksgiving-centric banh mi.Click HERE and scroll down to the very end for the link to Andrea Nguyen’s online videos cooking classes on CRAFTSY.