Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Banh Mi Birthday Dinner

Hi Everyone,

Today was my mom's birthday and in lieu of me sending her flowers on Mother's Day, I decided to slave away in the kitchen and create a flavorful birthday dinner for her (and me!) to enjoy. Growing up, my mom always cooked dinner for us. In fact, missing dinner was considered a cardinal sin in the Lee household. Everyone knew that dinner was synonmous with family time so you'd better be dead if you weren't there, and if you were alive and absent, then yikes, you might as well be dead. Suffice it to say I rarely missed dinner with my famiy and over time, thanks to this tradition, I grew to associate food with love. So what better way to show love for my mom than preparing her a scrumptious feast?

Have you heard of or ever tried banh mi? It easily makes my top 20 list of favorite things to eat. Banh mi is essentially a Vietnamese-style sandwich. Most often you'll find it consists of mayonnaise, cilantro, pickled daikon/carrots, jalepeno, cucumber, and your choice of protein (beef, chicken, and pork are the ones that first come to mind) all stuffed in a freshly baked baguette. Are you drooling yet? It is absolutely delicious and has every component of what I consider and look for in a perfect food - harmonious and balanced flavors that effortlessly coincide with differentitated textures.

The meal was a tad bit prep intensive, but the assembly and actual eating of the sandwich went by faster than you could say, "Banh mi, oh my!" (Sorry, I couldn't resist. There will probably be another banh mi pun at some point, but just one more I promise!)

Here's my tutorial if you will, for a homemade build-your-own banh mi dinner. I think this would be an ideal dinner if you're hosting a lot of people who have adventurous taste buds. First you'll need to gather all the ingredients.

Every sandwich starts with great bread. For banh mi, you really want to aim for a crustier bread like a french baguette as it will provide that contrast in texture that I mentioned earlier.

Next, you'll want to consider the type of additional flavoring agent you want to use to dress up your sandwich. You can get really creative here but I love a simple spicy mayonnaise so a few healthy squeezes of the Sriracha bottle with some mayo is right up my alley. I don't have a set recipe for this. Just eyeball it, dip your finger, taste, adjust accordingly, and repeat as necessary. Remember, you can always add more, but you can't take away so take it easy.

Then, you want to thinly slice up some cucumbers. I used persian cucumbers because that's what we had lying around in the fridge. The cucumbers add just the right amount of crunch and I like to strategically place them between my protein and my bread so it acts as a barrier against the dreaded soggy sandwich effect. DUN DUN DUN.

Next, you want to prepare your choice of protein. I prefer chicken or pork over beef in my banh mi so I went with my favorite go to crockpot chicken recipe found here (sans cornstarch and add ginger). The teriyaki flavor goes wonderfully with the other condiments and the chicken is beyond tender.

Then, you'll need to make (or buy the premade version of) what I believe to be the make-it-or-break-it ingredient in a great banh mi - pickled daikon radish and carrots. Typically the daikon and carrots are served julienned, but it's quite tedious work if you don't have a shredder or zester. I ended up thinly slicing the daikon and carrots too. It ended up being a welcome slicing technique as the pickles stayed in the sandwich better.You get a beautiful sweet and sour flavor from the use of vinegar and sugar in the brine. This is a classic Asian pickling brine and quite versatile if you want to explore using it with other vegetables.

Next, thinly slice up some jalepeno or serrano peppers. I used a mixture of both here because I caught a whiff of the serrano pepper and knew it was going to light our mouths on fire!

Finally, roughly tear some sprigs of cilantro. If you're like me and are obsessed with cilantro, you'll want to tear more than just some sprigs. A lot of people just use the leaves and throw away the stems. I cry every time. There is so much flavor in the stems! Cilantro sprigs or bust, people.

If you followed my deliberate ordering of these ingredients, then you have built your very own banh mi. Cheers! :)

My mom and family could not stop complimenting me about their sandwiches. I blushed. It's such a powerful gift to be able to prepare and share food with the people you love. Happy Birthday Mom. I love you. May all your wishes and more come true from banh mi to you (told you there'd be one more).

As always thanks for reading, and please, try your own twist on this classic sandwich and pass your recipe along!

"If it wasn't for people sharing recipes, mankind would not have survived."
Laurie Colwin


  1. Oh how yummy! I've only had banh mi once, from a food truck that unfortunately wasn't impressive. But your photos make me eager to give it another chance. What a delicious birthday gift for yo mamma.

  2. It is definitely worth another try! Too bad the food truck experience wasn't a good one. I've heard of a really good banh mi food truck although the name escapes me at the moment.