Two traditional sources of the Great Sandwich are a near-empty refrigerator and overlapping cultures. The bánh mÌ falls into the second category, a byproduct of the French occupation of Indochina. In retrospect it makes great sense (the sandwich, not so much the occupation). Two great French staples—crispy baguettes and slices of rich pate—are balanced with tart and crispy daikon-carrot pickles, a jolt of heat and the unique flavor of cilantro.
In this version, turkey meatloaf stands in for pate. I make meatloaf mostly for the leftovers, as I imagine many people do. The daikon-carrot pickle is a must as are the sprigs of cilantro. After that, you’re on your own. I suggest mayo mixed with sriracha for the heat and to add a little of the richness of the original pate. But you can use slices of not-too-hot chiles like jalapenos or serranos. I had half a cuke on hand, so in it went. Red onion or thinly sliced tomato wouldn’t make a bad addition.
All you need to make this a spur of the moment dish (besides the leftover meatloaf) is the pickle which is essential and needs at least a day to come into its own. Here’s what I do: while the meatloaf is cooking, I put together the pickles and refrigerate them. By the next day, when cold meatloaf is ready for slicing, the pickles are ready for adding.
Amounts are vague because each bánh mÌ should be built according to what you like and what is on hand. The finished sandwich should be fairly full and just a little bit messy but not overflowing.
Makes 2 sandwiches
1 thin and crisp baguette, about 16 inches long and 2 inches wide
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon Sriracha
2 teaspoons soy sauce or Asian fish sauce
Daikon and Carrot Pickles (see below)
Thinly sliced leftover meatloaf
Thinly sliced jalapeno or Serrano chiles, optional
Thinly sliced tomato and/or sliced red onion, optional
Heat the oven to 350° F. Put the bread in the oven, turn off the oven and let the bread crisp up for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, stir the mayonnaise, sriracha and soy or fish sauce together in a small bowl.
Cut the baguette lengthwise. Spread the top and bottom halves with the mayonnaise. Pat dry enough of the daikon and carrot pickle strips to more or less cover the bottom of the bread. Lay the meatloaf slices on top. Layer the cucumber slices, cilantro sprigs, chiles, if using, and the lettuce leaves over the top of the bread. If you’re using onion and/or tomato, layer over the meatloaf. You also might want to avoide using some or all of the cucumber or lettuce to avoid overstuffing. Close up the sandwich and cut it in half crosswise. Cut the halves in half again, if you like.
Daikon and Carrot Pickles
Found in many, many Viet dishes, these pickles are simple to make and delicious on their own. Because these are a ‘refrigerator pickle,; i.e. not processed in hot water, they should be eaten within 3 to 4 weeks. The quantities can be easily doubled.
Makes about 2 cups
½ pound daikon
½ pound medium carrot
¼ cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup warm water
Cut the daikon and carrot into fairly thin matchstick strips. Toss them in a bowl with 1 teaspoon sugar and ½ teaspoon salt. Let them stand, tossing once or twice until the vegetables bend easily, about 5 minutes. While the vegetables are sitting, stir the warm water, white vinegar and remaining ¼ cup sugar together in a bowl until the sugar is dissolved. The mix should be no warmer than body temp.
Drain and rinse the vegetables and pack them fairly tightly into a jar or jars. There should be enough space between the vegetables for the brine to season them. Close up the jars and refrigerate them for a day or two before using.