Monday, August 24, 2009

Good Dining, Vietnam!

So lately my impatient and not-so-impatient friends have been asking, "When are ya doin' another 80 Plates?!" Well, surprise, surprise, Michael and I did one before I left on my 3 week odyssey in the Northeast, I just never had time to post about it. I had wanted to do Vietnam back in June since my sister-in-law took a trip over there and we ribbed her just a little bit about eating fish guts and stuff, which I'm sure is not what they eat, but it was all in good fun and she took it well. (Speaking of which, P., what DID you eat in Vietnam?)

Anyway, after doing a little research, I discovered the Vietnamese dish banh mi. Banh mi is a popular sandwich in Vietnam which consists of a salad and a meat filling. It is often called a Saigon sub. There are banh mi shops all over Vietnam, apparently, or at least so says Wikipedia.

I wound up using Emeril's recipe from the Food Network site for my banh mi, but he does call it "Vietnamese-style" versus "Vietnamese" so I'm not sure how authentic it is. In any event, if you want to follow the recipe I used, you can visit it HERE. I'm not sure where we learned about banh mi, but I'm glad we did! Banh mi has a variety of filling, but we used pork. Some of the recipes we read called for things like "Vietnamese style bologna". First off, I'm not that crazy about bologna, but I wouldn't even know where to find Vietnamese style bologna--I did look at Wegman's, but no dice.

Because the pork tenderloin has to marinate overnight, it was the first thing I tackled. The marinade is a delicious combination of scallions, chili peppers, garlic, sugar, fish sauce (got to use up some more fish sauce, woo hoo!), black pepper, and lime juice. It's pretty simple and doesn't look like much, but it smells AMAZING. I was excited to put my pork in there and stick it in the fridge overnight. I knew it was going to be delicious!

The next day, I preheated the grill, brushed the pork with a little bit of vegetable oil, and tossed it on the 'coals', which of course I don't have since I have a gas grill!

While that was cooking away, it was time to focus on preparing my vegetable toppings for the banh mi. Traditional banh mi has a vegetable filling that consists of carrots, jalapenos, cucumbers, daikon, and cilantro. Emeril's recipe called for all that, but what the heck is daikon? I went to a couple of different stores looking for it and couldn't find it. At first I thought it must be some sort of cabbage, but I couldn't find it near the cabbage, then I suspected it might be like a radish, but I couldn't find it there either, and then I wondered if it wasn't like a root vegetable of some stripe, but I couldn't find it. So my banh mi didn't include daikon. If anyone wants to tell me a) what it is and b) where to find it, I will happily try it if I make this dish again!

The prep work here is pretty simple. You need to make a dressing for the vegetables and then prep the veggies. The dressing is a simple mixture of sugar, crushed red pepper, rice wine vinegar, and salt. You combine it in a saucepan and bring it to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then put it aside off the heat to cool. For this reason, I suggest waiting to do the vegetables until after you finish making the dressing.

Also, I neglected to read the directions. It would seem that you are supposed to put the carrots and daikon into a bowl and put the dressing over them. Well, by the time I got that far, I had done all the veggies and everything was all mixed together, so I didn't get the chance to follow that direction to a T. Oh well! After you combine the carrots, daikon and dressing, you're supposed to let it cool in the fridge for 30 minutes. Oh well! Sorry, Emeril! I didn't have that kind of time!

Meanwhile, I chopped up the carrots, cucumbers, seeded and chopped the jalapenos (I'm not good with a lot of heat in my food and I figured the crushed red peppers was good enough!), and lots of cilantro, which you know I love! I also sliced a nice French baguette in half so it was ready to go and poured the dressing over the veggies. Can you guess which half is mine and which half is Michael's?

By then, the pork was ready to come off the grill. If I do say so myself, I'm starting to master this grilling thing!

I decided to chop or shred the pork with my handy dandy Pampered Chef kitchen shears. I wanted it to be bite size and for us not to have to battle through it while we were trying to eat. I really love these shears because they do a great job chopping and shredding meat. Then I added the meat to the baguette and voila! We were ready to eat!

Then it was time for the ultimate taste test. As usual, the General took the ceremonial first bite. He was slightly underwhelmed, calling it 'dry'. I disagreed and thought it was great. I think he thought it was dry for 2 reasons: 1. He didn't have the salad with the dressing on his portion and 2. Banh mi is traditionally served with mayonnaise, which neither one of us likes. Consequently, he asked me to add some barbeque sauce to his sandwich. I decided to leave mine like it was, since I thought it was quite moist and flavorful.

This sandwich could easily serve four people for a very good lunch. Neither one of us finished our half of the sandwich. Good bread is essential to the success of a banh mi, however! We both really enjoyed this taste of Vietnam. It was not our favorite dish we've made as part of 80 plates, but it was up at the top of the middle of the pack, and nowhere near the bottom. I really, really liked the dressing and the salad part of it, I can't imagine just eating the meat! The flavors really came alive in my mouth, most definitely!

I am keeping hope alive that the Axis of Evil dinner will happen this weekend. That's my next 80 Plates adventure. I am also open to doing requests! If you have a country you'd like to see featured, drop me a comment and I'll do it!

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