Sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like to leave the city behind and live a simple life in our cabin on Orcas Island. I think about what things would I miss besides the most obvious — friends and our house in Seattle. For one thing, we Seattleites have incredible access not only to the freshest, most delicious local food imaginable but the variety of ethnic foods is pretty impressive too. For example, my brother, much to my delight, has become quite adventurous in the kitchen. Since he’s living the island life, he can easily email me a list of ingredients to pick up when I happen to be at Uwajimaya.
In Seattle, when I get a craving for a Vietnamese sandwich, aka banh mi, I could go to any number of deli’s with reputations ranking among the best in the country, according to Gourmet.com. As if that weren’t enough of a motivation, I can’t think of another fast food literally stuffed with real meat and fresh vegetables for a mere $2.50. Then again, with a few semi-exotic ingredients — fish sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and hot chili sauce — all of which I keep on hand anyway, I can easily make my own versions of banh mi. As a bonus, it’s a wonderful way to use leftover meat — roast chicken or pork, and even pate.
You’ll need a crispy-on-the-outside, soft-in-the-center baguette to make your sandwich authentic. The baguette part of this sandwich is a remnant from the days when France occupied Vietnam. Practically every Seattle bakery, like Tall Grass, makes a great baguette. If you can get mini-baguettes, they’re perfect for individual sandwiches. I like to toast the bread for a couple of minutes at 350 degrees but if it’s really fresh, that’s not necessary.
Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe
Oil Dressing: 2 T vegetable oil/ 1 T fish sauce/ 1 T soy sauce. Mix together in a small bowl. Cut a crusty baguette in half horizontally and brush the inside with dressing of oil, fish sauce and soy sauce.
Hot Chili Mayonnaise: Your favorite mayonnaise and hot chili sauce. Proportions are dependent on your heat tolerance.
Pickled Vegetables: 2 medium carrots, 1 daikon radish (I used a turnip instead and prefer that – local but not traditional), 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar. Peel and grate the carrots and radish (or turnip). Put in a bowl and toss with rice wine vinegar. Cover and let them sit until ready to use. Just before putting on the sandwich, you may want to squeeze out some of the liquid to keep the bread from getting soggy.
Meats: Roast chicken or pork, chicken liver pate (pork liver pate is traditional or some people use liverwurst) or pork meatballs (recipe below).
Possible Garnishes: Thinly sliced jalapeno chilis, fresh cilantro and/or basil sprigs, cucumber, thinly sliced sweet onion — use your own taste and what’s available seasonally to help guide you.
Go to it! Everyone builds their own sandwiches differently, there’s no right or wrong in my book. Trust me, you’ll know what to do.
Once I got the hang of it (and ran out of roasted chicken and chicken liver pate), I decided to try some pork meatballs in a slightly different version. You can use the same dressings, vegetables and garnishes and just vary the meat. I even saw a YouTube with Anthony Bourdain where he got a fried egg on top.
Vietnamese Pork Meatballs
Ingredients: 1 lb ground pork/ 3 garlic cloves, minced/ 3 green onions, minced/ 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro/ 1 T fish sauce/ 1 T hot chili sauce (or to taste)/ 2 t cornstarch/ Freshly ground pepper/ 1 T toasted sesame oil
Directions: Preheat oven to 300/ Gently mix all ingredients, except the oil, in a large bowl/ Using a tablespoon to scoop meat mixture, forming 1 inch meatballs with moistened hands/ Arrange on baking sheet, cover and chill until you’re ready to panfry/ Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat/ Add half the meatballs, lowering heat to keep them from browning too quickly/ Gently turn and fry for about 10-15 minutes/ Remove and place on baking sheet in the warm oven while you cook the second batch.
Use these pork meatballs in a banh mi sandwich or forgo the bread altogether and have a lighter meal with crisp lettuce leaf wrap.
Speaking of lighter meals, it’s only been three weeks since we all made our New Year’s resolutions. Sometimes it feels like the New Year comes so quickly after Christmas that it all just blends together. I often need more time to recover from the first holiday before I’m able to give the New Year much thought. If you’re like me and would appreciate a New Year’s do-over, you’re in luck. The 2012 Lunar New Year begins on January 23. Seattle has Lunar New Year’s celebrations in the International District and at Seattle Center.