It has been decided that wherever we happen to move after this apartment, our next home has to be within walking distance to a banh mi shop. I know it sounds like a trivial matter, but believe me – it’s not. Andrew agrees, and adds to it a list of foods that must be nearby and excellent: Thai, Indian (something we sorely lack!), Chinese and so on. Before he finishes, I add in Italian, a wine shop, a place we can get good prosciutto and cheese and oils and bread; oysters and bourbon (though not necessarily together), and root beer floats. There needs to be a good book store. And superlative baklava. These are all very important things. And to satisfy all those requirements, it’s pretty certain that we can’t move out of the neighborhood.
Thankfully, this is a conundrum that isn’t so pressing. Yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, there’s another book project in the works and a wedding less than three months away.
Now, I’ve never been that girl who’d dream of her wedding day. I never fantasized about wedding dresses, or flowers, or color schemes. I’ve thought about it in the realm of, “What am I going to feed people?” But that’s just about the same way I go about every party – I think about what to feed people first and foremost and I don’t much bother with the rest. When you serve your guests good food, the rest pretty much takes care of itself. But as much as I like to convince myself that our wedding is just one giant party where I get to wear a big white dress, I am beginning to realize that I’m kidding myself. There’s never been a party with so many details to plan. What text to put into our ketubah? What colors and symbols do we want it to have? In reviewing the flowers budget, what is it that we can do to stay within the budget?
There are, in fact, so many details, that my usual type-A personality is slowly beginning to lose its grip on the A-type-ness. Here is a perfect example. I successfully completed the first half of the organizing, stuffing, stamping, and addressing the wedding invitations. The first batch went without a hitch, indisputably because Andrew was there to make sure I didn’t screw anything up. I decided to do the second half of the invitations on my own, and this is where, friends, I took a wrong turn.
I stuffed all the wedding envelopes with their proper materials, wrote out the addresses, and sealed them. And then, just as I was putting a stamp on the top envelope in a pile, I realized, much to my horror, that I forgot to put stamps on the return envelopes that the guests were going to send back to us. It was the kind of realization where you pause mid-sentence while your brain races backwards and backwards, retracing every step, and a voice inside your head says, “Oh no. Oh… no…” Until you count the number of return stamps and realize, indeed, that all those envelopes that sealed tight do, indeed, have to be opened, and new envelopes would have to be used, sealed, and re-addressed. Lucky for you, because you ordered twice as many save-the-dates as you originally needed, you have plenty of extra envelopes lying around. However, what you lack is that little, silly resource called time. And that is where you have a near breakdown while your fiancé holds you and tells you that it’s all going to be okay. But in your head you wonder how, how on earth will it be okay if that other book deadline is looming.
These days I find myself editing recipes for twelve hours at a time. This past weekend, that’s pretty much all I did. In fact, I’m supposed to be editing recipes at this very moment. But instead, I’m writing to tell you about banh mi sandwiches.
As you probably suspect, we, at the moment, live within walking distance of said banh mi shop. We are a tiny bit obsessed with it, though, in the spirit of full disclosure, we only get the chicken ones. I know this sounds like banh mi anathema. To forsake the holy trinity of pork, spicy mayo and the pickled vegetables seems like a culinary crime. But their chicken version is so good, I can’t pull myself away. And so we order these sandwiches on a weekly basis. Friday lunches are usually our banh mi days. It’s a good time.
But also for almost a year now, I’ve been making banh mi sandwiches at home, in addition to our weekly orders. One night, there was no bread in the house, and it was bitterly cold out. So, I made the banh mi without the bread and served it over brown rice. I called it “deconstructed banh mi” and the name stuck. In fact, we now kind of prefer it over rice all mixed into a spicy mess on the plate. And whatever leftovers we wind up with, are the makings of an excellent stir-fry the following day.
The recipe originally hails from Melissa Clark (who must have a secret map to what my palate craves) but I’ve played around with it in the many months I’ve been making this at home. Instead of ground pork, I use ground turkey instead, but mostly because it’s much easier for me to find hormone-free ground turkey than hormone-free ground pork. And I go crazy with the herbs using everything at my disposal: basil, mint, and cilantro. Lastly, I add a bit of grated ginger in the beginning, because I find that a touch of it, adds a lovely, smile-inducing dimension. Ginger is a happy ingredient.
I suppose, that at the end of the day, moving to banh mi-less place wouldn’t be the end of the world. I can recreate my own sandwich with bread or rice, no matter. But that’s not really the point. Whether or not I can make something at home, and I’m pretty confident that I can recreate just about most things in my kitchen, save for the kind of pizza that comes out of 900-degree ovens, or the like, I like living in a neighborhood that boasts lemony homemade hummus, superlative sushi, and masterfully made banh mi.
And besides, just about everything is made better by Sriracha.
Deconstructed Banh Mi
Adapted from Melissa Clark for the NYTimes
Love banh mi sandwiches? Can’t get enough? Apparently, neither can I! This is my second foray into banh mi land, albeit this time a bit more traditional than the last.
For the Pickled Vegetables:
3/4 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup shredded daikon radish
3/4 cup thinly sliced Persian, Kirby or European cucumbers
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Ground Turkey:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons Sriracha or another chili sauce, to taste
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat), or ground pork
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon palm sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime, to taste
Steamed brown rice, for serving
Sliced Thai chili, for serving, optional
1. To make the pickled vegetables: In a medium bowl, toss together the carrots, daikon, cucumbers, vinegar, sugar and salt and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, make the turkey. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons scallions and 2 tablespoons Sriracha. Cover tightly and set aside.
3. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining scallions, garlic, and the ginger. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the turkey and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining Sriracha, fish sauce, pepper, salt and sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the basil, mint, cilantro, lime zest, and the lime juice. Let cool 5 minutes, then stir in the mayonnaise mixture. Serve over steamed brown rice with the Pickled Vegetables and the chili, if using, on the side.
Serves 2 to 4, depending on how hungry you are; we usually have this for dinner and then Andrew takes the leftovers to work for lunch, or I make a stir-fry the next day for myself.