Have you ever had a banh mi sandwich? Imagine a crusty baguette stuffed with sweet and sour pickles, spicy jalapenos, and cool, crisp cucumber and cilantro, dressed with sweet and spicy sauces. Crammed inside that heavenly hoagie you'll find a tasty protein, such as pork, chicken, shrimp, or tofu. Every bite is a wonderland of flavor and texture that will make you wonder how on Earth you lived without this miracle food.
At least that's what happened when I ate my first Banh Mi. It wasn't all that long ago that I discovered this little gem. I had heard of them, naturally, but until recently the Banh Mi had lived in my imagination exclusively. Now that I've had a taste of the real thing, I can't get enough. Banh Mi haunts my dreams, stalks my lunch hour, and lures me with her sweet and spicy siren's song.
When a food arrests your sensibilities to such an extreme degree it leaves you with little choice but to start making it at home. Apart from the pickles, this is a pretty straight forward sandwich that can be assembled without much fuss. I like the pickles so much that I keep a jar in my fridge, but you can make them in small batches too. Whatever strikes your fancy.
The basics of a Banh Mi are:
French Bread: Get something long, skinny, and crusty. Slice it halfway through, then pry it open. I like to warm mine in the oven for a few minutes before assembly. To mix things up:
- Try using gluten free, vegan, or low carb breads.
- Create banh mi pizzas on naan or flatbread.
- Banh mi tacos would be pretty rad! Try stuffing a tortilla instead of a baguette.
Condiments: Banh Mis are great with a little mayo. You can use plain egg or vegan mayo, but I prefer using a flavored mayo instead. Other condiments that can enhance your Banh Mi are: peanut butter, hoisin sauce, tonkatsu sauce, or vinnaigrettes.
- Spicy Mayo = 1 teaspoon Siracha + 4 tablespoons mayo
- Garlic Mayo = 1 teaspoon garlic powder + 4 tablespoons mayo
- Tomato Mayo = 1 sun dried tomato, minced + 4 tablespoons mayo
- Sour Plum Balsamic = 1 teaspoon umeboshi paste + 1 teaspoon ketchup + 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Miso Honey Mustard = 1 tablespoon honey + 1 tablespoon miso + 1 tablespoon mustard + 1 tablespoon champagne vinegar + 1 tablespoon olive oil
Protein: Classically, Banh Mi is topped with pork, but there are endless variations available at Banh Mi restaurants, and even more options in your home kitchen.
- Meats: pulled pork, sliced pork, ham, roast beef, meatballs
- Poultry (roasted, ground, sliced, smoked, fried): chicken, duck, quail, eggs
- Seafood: shrimp, salmon, soft shell crab, crab meat, lobster meat, tilapia
- Vegetarian / Vegan: tofu, smoked tofu, tempeh, seitan, mushrooms
Pickles: In my opinion, the best part of a Banh Mi is the hefty portion of pickle. This simple brine is classically used to quick pickle carrots and radishes, but there's no reason you can't get more creative with your homemade Banh Mi. Try using this brine to quick pickle beets, squash, kohlrabi, broccoli, cabbage, apples, pears, strawberries, or peppers.
- Brine = 1/2 cup rice vinegar + 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons sugar + 1 teaspoon salt + 1 whole star anise (Bring to a boil and pour over sliced or shredded fruits and veggies.) Make a larger batch with this recipe from Banh Mi Battle.
Toppings: At the very least, make sure that you have some fresh, sliced cucumbers and jalapenos, and a handful of fresh cilantro. These fresh, crispy toppings are really nice in contrast to the pickles, and bread. They give the sandwich a very Vietnamese feel. In addition to the basic toppings, try including different types of herbs and peppers. Swapping the cilantro for tarragon, basil, dill or mint will change the sandwich's flavor wildly. If you can't handle the heat, or just prefer a sweet pepper, try trading the jalapeno for bell pepper. Poblano, fresno, or serrano would keep the sandwich spicy while adding a different flavor.
So, how do you banh mi? Are there any crazy twists on the conventional sandwich that you'd like to share? Hit me up with a comment! If you want to explore even more banh mi possibilities, including details on how to prepare traditional meats and fillings, visit Banh Mi Battle, a site dedicated to the possibilities of banh mi!