Goodnight Saigon...

Rounding out our week of post H-Mart visit Asian meals (that included some stuffed cabbage leaves that I disliked so intensely that I'm not bother to blog about them, even though Justin loved them), was tonight's dinner of banh mi, the increasingly trendy Vietnamese sandwiches. Bahn mi vendors have been popping up all over the city in the past couple years, fueled by the rising popularity of street-food and global street-food-inspired fare, and Justin and I have checked them out on several occasions.

I tend to like the idea of banh mi more than the reality, because they're traditionally garnished with jalapeños and cilantro, neither of which I particularly enjoy. However, I do love sandwiches and Vietnamese food, so I keep giving them a try anyway, since I can't seem to resist the banh mi's particular fusion of Asian and French influences. The crispy but soft baguette, the mix of European cold cuts with Vietnamese-inspired meats, and pickled vegetables provide a complex and well-balanced combination of flavors.After spotting this recipe on a slideshow of recipes showcasing sriracha, the Southeast Asian hot sauce that Justin adores, I thought perhaps if I tried making banh mi at home, I could create one more to my liking.

As it turned out, I was correct. These pork meatball sandwiches are one of the tastiest meals to come out of my kitchen. They were somewhat labor-intensive to make in one evening, especially on a weeknight, but many of the components can be made in advance if you plan ahead. Plus, I read a suggestion from one of the comments on Bon Appétit's website that they like to make a double batch of meatballs and freeze the extras to make the dish even easier to prepare on the fly. I didn't want to do that when I didn't know if I would like the result, but I'll certainly be doing that in the future, because these sandwiches were outstanding.

Justin and I took a tag-team approach to preparing this dish, as he stayed home and made the pickled vegetables, chili mayo, and the meatball mix while I was out doing a grocery run for some entertaining we have planned for this weekend.When I got home, he took a break and I formed and cooked the meatballs, then assembled the sandwiches. We've tried this divide-and-conquer approach before with cooking elaborate meals, and we've found that it works really well for us.

Whether you live in an area that has plenty of Vietnamese restaurants where you can sample banh mi, or you've never had Vietnamese food, I think you owe it to yourself to give these sandwiches a try. I think the meatballs would even make a delicious party appetizer, served with some chili mayonnaise on the side for dipping. If you can't find daikon radishes where you are (we had to go to H-Mart for ours), I think thinly-sliced regular radishes would probably fine as well.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi
adapted from Bon Appétit

Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 c. mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon sriracha

Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season to taste with salt. (Can be made one day ahead; cover and chill.)
1 lb. ground pork
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons corn starch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Line rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap. Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. (Can be made one day ahead; cover and chill.)

2 c. coarsely grated carrots
2 c. coarsely grated daikon radish
1/4 c. unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 c. sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 10-inch individual baguettes
thinly sliced jalapeño peppers
cilantro leaves

1.Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
2. Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
3. Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables; place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.

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