Banh Mi is one of those foods that anyone interested in food must try at least once in their life. It is simply a stunning confluence of colours, flavours and textures. And yes, it is a sandwich. A humble sandwich.
But what a sandwich. Crispy light baguette (not the chewy kind), tangy lightly pickled vegetables, creamy mayonnaise and, um, steamed liver pate. Well, it used to be liver pate and tiles of sliced cold meats. Now almost any protein seems eligible for the banh mi treatment, but usually still meat: grilled pork and pork skin, roasted chicken, seared beef. In some cafes and off some food carts the original light-style sandwich can still be found: a smear of seasoned mayo, a few thin slices of meat, a light hand with the veg and herbs. Once it went Stateside things naturally went large. I think this is somewhere in between. And no meat, of course. Thankfully tofu and mushrooms offer up a very excellent alternative for vegetarians, and those who don’t fancy the meat option. I have had a tempura-ed tofu version of banh mi recently, and must confess to thinking that I could do a bit better. The rest of the banh mi – from the heavy-handed slathering of gingered wasabi mayonnaise (that’s a good thing, btw), to the freshly made daikon pickle, not forgetting the crisp-to-shattering baguette – were en pointe. It was just the bland tofu that let it down.
The history of banh mi is shorter than you would think, rising from late 18th century French colonial chicness in Saigon – white crisp French-style baguettes being both expensive and exclusive – to Vietnamese street food, and now cafes world-wide selling these flavourful and texture-intense sandwiches. I would have one everyday if I could get away with it. To get a little closer to this notional culinary goal, but without the waist-band challenging implications of a baguette a day, I have come up with a salad version. Obviously it is not a banh mi as such, seeing as the words banh mi translate as “bread made from wheat”. But everything else is here. And why not have a slice of bread on the side in any case. I’m not the carb police, that’s for sure.
If you are lucky enough to have a Vietnamese or even Chinese bakery near you, RUN there right now and grab a baguette. A fancy rustic artisan-type baguette is wrong for this recipe – the crust a bit too thick and chewy (you have to tear and pull rather than swiftly bite into it), and the inside doesn’t quite ‘hug’ the filling and prevent it from firing out as soon as you bite into it. But we can approximate, of course. Any baguette that you can bite into and the crust shatters a bit/a lot, shards scattering embarrassingly on the table or floor, then you are definitely on the right track. I was in luck on my first try – a baguette from my local Scotmid corner shop, baked by local baker’s The Breadwinner. I’m pretty sure it had not a speck of rice flour in it (this seems to be what makes Vietnamese bread so special), but shatter it did. Here is a guide to finding – and perhaps even baking – the perfect banh mi loaf.
And as for the perfect vegetarian filling, it really has to be mushrooms. Portobello is my choice – thick, with a proper bite and chew to them. But button, chestnut or field mushrooms are great too; the heft of Portobello is just easier to sear and then load onto the sandwich. The great thing about mushrooms here in the UK is that they are available year-round and are grown here too. If you have never marinated and sautéed mushrooms you may be pleasantly surprised how very good they are this way. Make double of the mushrooms to have the next day in a wrap, in an omelet, as a salad (see the image), blitzed and added to soft cheese as a dip. Or do as I did and just pick extras out of the pan and eat them standing at the hob.
Marinated Mushroom Banh Mi with Asian Pickled Vegetables
Crunchy, juicy Vietnamese street snack + zesty marinated mushrooms + Asian pickled veg = second helpings. And thirds. And what the heck, let’s just drink the marinade.
Don’t let the ingredient list scare you: this is easy and worth the time it takes to marinate, which is really the only “complicated” bit. Make double of everything just in case you fall in love with this mushroom banh mi like we have. #foodcrush
The Mushroom Marinade
3 large Portobello mushrooms, cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) slices
150g (5.3 oz) fresh, juicy pineapple pieces – more or less (use pineapple juice in a pinch)
15g (1/2 oz) fresh ginger, peeled
2 tbsp neutral oil
1 small garlic clove, skinned
175ml (3/4 cup) rice vinegar
60 ml (1/4 cup) water
1 tsp sugar
Good pinch of salt
1 medium carrot, julienned
1 small red pepper, deseeded and julienned
Index finger length of cucumber, julienned (I take out the watery middle pieces)
Good handful of Tenderstem ® broccoli or similar, sliced lengthways down the middle
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
Sriracha Mayonnaise: 4 tbsp best mayonnaise + 3 tsp sriracha + 2 tsp lime juice >> mix well and set aside. You could use your favourite sweet chilli sauce instead of the sriracha.
The Rest: (A really good) baguette, cut into four lengths and spilt lengthways, tearing out some of the “fluffy stuff” to better enjoy the crisp baguette and juicy filling (about 6 inches long each) + leaf coriander + lettuce, torn + slices of pineapple (not shown), fresh sprouts, like quinoa and radish
1. To make the pickle, stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt, and pour into a jar or small deep bowl; add in the sliced veggies and marinate for half an hour. Push down the veg or add more water to cover, as needed. 2. While the pickles are marinating, blitz the pineapple, ginger, oil and garlic in a blender or mini chopper; pour into a glass or ceramic dish, along with the sliced mushrooms. Turn the mushrooms over a few times to coat then cover and marinate for half an hour. 3. When you wish to eat, heat the baguette pieces in the oven until just warm – 180C/350F for 5 minutes ought to do. 4. While the bread is warming and crisping, heat a skillet over a medium flame and sauté the mushrooms until slightly caramelized on both sides. You will probably need to do two batches.
5. Slather each piece of baguette with the sriracha mayo, top with warm mushrooms, some pickled veg, lettuce and coriander. Eat and Enjoy!
The salad version is as you see it, with chunks of pineapple, and with the spicy mayo on the side for dotting on as you see fit. I’m not sure how gluten-free bread would be with this but it might be surprisingly good if it uses rice flour as part of the dough mix. I’d love to know if you try a g-f version!
Disclosure: I am happy to say that this post has been sponsored by Just Add Mushrooms, run by The Mushroom Bureau. Their website is full of ideas and info about this hugely versatile, low-calorie and nutritious food. You can also find them on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and YouTube.
Popping this veggie-tastic sarnie over to Emily for her Recipe of the Week link-up. Why don’t you link up your recipe as well?