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Make Your Own Tasty Vietnamese Sandwich

Try this food-truck-ready recipe right now at home. Just add a roll!

Created by Vietnamese street vendors a century or so ago, banh mi is a twist on the French snack of pâté and bread that is as brilliant as it is addictive to eat. Who can resist the combination of crisp baguette, succulent filling, and toppings like tangy daikon and carrot pickles, thin chile slices, refreshing cucumber strips, and pungent cilantro sprigs? Respected food writer Andrea Nguyen’s simple, delicious recipes for flavor-packed fillings, punchy homemade condiments, and crunchy, colorful pickled vegetables bring the very best of Vietnamese street food to your kitchen. Try it out, now!

Banh Mi

Grilled Lemongrass Pork
Makes enough for 6 sandwiches. Takes about 1 hour, plus 1 to 24 hours for marinating

Viet cooks love to grill thinly sliced pork; it’s no wonder banh mi thit nuong is one of the ubiquitous options at Viet delis. The flavor is often more sweet than savory and dryish in texture. When I make the sandwiches at home, I marinate rich-tasting pork shoulder with elemental southern Viet flavors—lemongrass, garlic, shallot, and fish sauce, then cook it on skewers. It’s an easy breezy path toward banh mi heaven.

1½ pounds (675 g) boneless pork shoulder
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
¼ cup (1.1 oz / 35 g) coarsely chopped shallot
1 fat stalk lemongrass, trimmed and coarsely chopped
¼ plus ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or 2½ tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce, or 1½ teaspoons regular soy sauce plus ½ teaspoon molasses
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil,plus more for grilling

1. Cut the pork across the grain into strips, each about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12.5 cm) long, 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick, and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide (see page 101). Set aside in a bowl.
2. Put the remaining ingredients in a mini or full-size food processor. Whirl into a semicoarse puree. Pour over the pork, then use your hands to massage and coat the meat well. Thread onto skewers, covering most of each skewer. (With 10-inch / 25-cm bamboo skewers, you’ll fill 4 or 5 of them. If you plan to cook on the stove top, cut skewers in half to fit the grill pan, or employ short skewers.)
3. Give each skewer a gentle squeeze so the pork hugs the skewer and retains its succulence during cooking.
4. Set on a plate, cover, and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. For best flavor, refrigerate the skewers overnight or up to 24 hours; let sit out at room temperature for 45 minutes to remove some of the chill before grilling.
5. To cook, prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire, preheat a gas grill to medium-high, or use a stove-top grill pan heated over medium-high heat with a little oil brushed on. Right before grilling, brush oil on the skewers.
6. Cook for about 12 minutes, turning frequently and basting with oil, until the pork is slightly charred and done. Nick a piece to check. Briefly cool before sliding the pork off the skewers. Keep as nuggets or thinly slice to better distribute in sandwiches.

Daikon and Carrot Pickle
Makes about 3 cups (750 ml)
Takes about 20 minutes, plus 1 hour for marinating

If you only have one pickle for banh mi, this is it. Many banh mi shops opt to use only (or mostly) carrot for their do chua (literally “tart stuff”). In your kitchen, emphasize the slight radish funk for a sandwich with more character and cut the vegetables big enough to showcase their crunch; limp pickles get lost. Select daikon that’s firm, relatively smooth, and no wider than 2 inches (5 cm). A batch of this pickle requires one that’s about the length of a forearm.

1 medium daikon, about 1 pound (450 g)
1 large carrot, about 6 ounces (180 g)
1 teaspoon salt, fine sea salt preferred
2 teaspoons plus ½ cup
(3.5 oz / 105 g) sugar
1¼ cups (300 ml) distilled white vinegar
1 cup (240 ml) lukewarm water

Peel and cut the daikon into sticks about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and 1⁄4 inch (6 mm) thick, the width of an average chopstick. Peel and cut the carrot to match the size of the daikon sticks but slightly skinnier. Put the vegetables in a bowl. Toss with the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Massage and knead the vegetables for 3 minutes, or until you can bend a piece of daikon and the tips touch without breaking. They will have lost about a quarter of their original volume.

Flush with running water, then drain in a mesh strainer or colander. Press or shake to expel excess water. Transfer to a 4-cup (1 l) jar.
For the brine, stir together the remaining 1⁄2 cup (105 g) sugar with the vinegar and water until dissolved. Pour into the jar to cover well. Discard any excess brine. Use after 1 hour or refrigerate for up to a month.

Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Makes about 1 cup (240 ml)
Takes about 5 minutes, plus 1 hour or more to mature

I originally made this tangy, creamy sauce for a Viet take on Turkish-German doner kebab (page 95) and ended up using it like tartar sauce on seafood sandwiches. It’s incredibly versatile and flexible. Use a large garlic clove if you enjoy its strength. Add dried or fresh herbs for earthiness. A rich-tasting low-fat Greek yogurt, like Fage brand, yields terrific results.

1 clove garlic, minced and mashed or put through a press
Scant ¼ teaspoon sugar
Scant ¼ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup (90 ml) mayonnaise, homemade (page 24) or store bought
⅔ cup (150 ml) low-fat Greek yogurt

In a bowl, stir together all the ingredients to combine well. Cover and set aside at room temperature for an hour to develop flavor, or refrigerate for up to 2 days. Taste and adjust the flavor with salt or sugar before using. Enjoy slightly chilled or at room temperature.

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