Bánh Mì Brown Rice Salad and Oxymorons
by Victoria Challancin
I do love the typical foolery of good oxymoron, and yet I cringe at being the creator of one. "Oxymoron," you ask? What does Bánh Mì Rice Salad have to do with oxymorons? Because the term "báhn mì" is Vietnamese for "bread", and there is nary a whiff of bread in this salad. So to back up...let's examine exactly what we are talking about here.
Although I have been lucky in my life to travel extensively in Asia (Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan, and bits of China--many of these countries multiple times), I have never traveled to Vietnam (nor Myanmar, for that matter)--and yet, Vietnamese food is one of my favorite cuisines. When in Paris, or other places where a concentration of Vietnamese people guarantees good Vietnamese restaurants, I always head there, loving the bright, fresh, clean taste of the food, heady with fresh herbs and just screaming "Healthy!" Yet, I have never traveled in the country itself. Yet.
After a bit of experience with a favorite snack sandwich to grab on the go, I thought I had a handle on the "Bánh Mì," or Vietnamese Baguette Sandwich. That is until I read a post by a favorite Australian blogging friend, Lorraine Elliot of the popular Not Quite Nigella blog. In Lorraine's post "The Amazing Bánh Mì Race" she reviews a selection of Sydney's ten best bánh mì sandwiches that will make you weep with envy, or at least drool. Or perhaps lick the screen.
Of course the French occupation of French Indochina, now Vietnam, left a huge impact on the cuisine, often creating a happy fusion of both ingredients and techniques. The bánh mì sandwich is one example. The "bánh mì", or bread, here is a type of Vietnamese baguette, but one made with rice flour as well as the traditional wheat flour, or mì, which yields a lighter loaf. The bánh mì sandwich typically is filled with "seasoned pork belly, Vietnamese sausage, grilled pork, grilled pork patties, spreadable pork liver pâté, pork floss, grilled chicken, chicken floss, canned sardines in tomato sauce, soft pork meatballs in tomato sauce, head cheese, fried eggs, and tofu," or so Wikipedia tells me. Not having traveled the country, I can only attest to some version of pork belly in the many báhn mìs I have tried. But my mouth waters thinking of other possibilities.
A bit more fun history of the bánh mì sandwich from Wikipedia, says that a vegetarian version of any sandwiches, such as a báhn mì made with tofu or seitan, are not really found as street food in Vietnam, but are prepared at Buddhist temples during special religious events. In the US, the sandwich can also be found under the name of "Vietnamese sandwich", or in Louisiana a "Vietnamese po' boy, or in Philadelphia as a "Vietnamese hoagie," the common thread being the baguette that is used as the bread wrapper.
When I saw a recipe for a salad version of bánh mì in the new edition of Coastal Living Magazine, I new immediately that I would like it. Filled with the ingredients I expected, I knew it would have that clean, fresh taste that always draws me to Vietnamese food. And it does! And I could eat the lovely pickled red onion and carrots just with a fork on their own--soooo good and light.
Cook's Notes: I doubled the amount of the rice vinegar dressing, and used Mexican pickled red serrano chiles and pickled jalapeños instead of fresh ones. I had to peel a waxed cucumber as I didn't have any English ones. Plus, I added some onion sprouts just because I had them and thought them pretty. I don't think basil leaves would go amiss either, but that might be even less authentic than serving this as a salad. Not sure. We made this in one of my cooking classes for Mexica cooks last week and I used pork milanesas, which were already sliced thin. I should have cooked these on an iron grill pan, to really give the pork that roasted flavor, instead of the "green" pan we used, which didn't really brown it enough. Still, this is a great salad.
Bánh Mì Brown Rice Salad
(Recipe from Coastal Living Magazine, September 2015)
Makes 4 servings
3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, divided
4 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 cup julienne-cut carrot
1 cup vertically sliced red onion
1 pound trimmed boneless pork shoulder, cut into very thin slices
2 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 English cucumber, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
3 cups hot cooked brown rice
Asian chili-garlic sauce (optional)
Combine 3/4 cup water, 3/4 cup rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil. Add carrot and onion; cook 30 seconds. Remove from heat, and let stand 25 minutes. Drain.
Place pork in a medium bowl. Add 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt; massage into pork. Let stand at room temperature 20 minutes.
Heat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add half of pork; cook 3 minutes or until lightly charred, stirring once. Remove from pan; repeat with remaining pork.
Combine 1/4 cup water, remaining 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, remaining 2 teaspoons sugar, and remaining 1 tablespoon fish sauce in a small bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Parting Shot: A bit of fun from El Zaguán Hotel Bed and Art
©Victoria Challancin. All Rights Reserved.
Flavors of the Sun Cooking School and Travel
San Miguel de Allende, México