wannabe banh mi
Praise the lord, Mercury is finally out of gatorade. To be able to even say that is such a relief for me because this retrograde has been HARD on a personal level (pardon the vagueblogging), and it’s lasted pretty much since the last time I checked in here. Which was much longer ago than I had intended because - coming full circle - Mercury in retrograde always always slows me down. It’s a slow heaux, a rude one too.
In case you’re not that into astrology (even though you should def check out your chart because it’s very interesting and fun to keep track of), the tldr is that Mercury retrogrades are known for waking up old ghosts and forcing us to look backward. Typically retrogrades suck for me because I’m a stubborn person (Taurus rising, if you care) and tend to be relentless in my demand for personal progress, regardless of circumstance and often to my own detriment. This retrograde showed me the difference between personal progress and personal growth, or at least that I need to consider them separately.
Sometimes a good ole retreat to move forward is the only way, you know? And to keep the juju of this blog in sync with what’s going on with me, I’ve done some looking back here too, refreshing a few recipes that I published early on but still make all the time. This one is, hands down, my favorite sandwich; a recreation of the signature Num Pang banh mi. This version is far from authentic but is damn delicious. It’d be super cute for a patio date night at home, or a casual do-it-yourself bar for a dinner party.
You’ll see I left the original narrative from the first time I posted this at the bottom (along with a pic of me slamming an actual Num Pang back in the day), but feel free to skip the extra words because Mercury’s gone direct now anyway, and that means onward and upward. And wannabe banh mis for the weekend. Let’s do it!
Fall 2016: Once upon a time - a whopping 1.25 years ago - I worked at the Rockefeller Plaza in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. It's probably the coolest (and certainly the fanciest) place I've ever worked. There were so many happening things going on in and around Rockefeller Center with NBC headquarters and Radio City Music hall just down the block, and an underground concourse that opened up on one side into the entryway of the famous Rockefeller ice skating rink. (Where I may or may not have spent an unseemly amount of time waiting around in hopes of a Tina Fey sighting. Shh, what?)
But of course, the biggest perk for me was less about landmarks and star gazing (hi Tina!) and much more about being right across the street from Num Pang, a local NYC chain famous for its magical Cambodian sandwiches, which I am blessed to have once had in my belly.
Last time I was in NYC I noticed the menu has expanded pretty significantly, (rice bowls? okuur!) but back when I was a local it was all about the sandwiches. A no frills operation, serving a variety of proteins ranging from barbecue brisket to shrimp, pulled pork to roasted cauliflower, all banh mi-style on the most perfect mini semolina baguette dressed with pickled veggies, cilantro, and chili mayo. Gah, they were incredible, and I still miss them like crazy. And while I have no doubt that there's an equally amazing place here in SF to pick up the banh mi sandoozle of my dreams, my cravings led me straight to the kitchen. You know how I do!
This version is as close to a Num Pang as I needed it to be. It’s pretty pretty damn similar, but simpler for the same amount of taste bud satisfaction. The flavors are loud with plenty of funk and spice, and the most cumbersome part of prep is the chopping. The meatballs could easily be made with turkey instead of pork, and you could also substitute any type of protein you like - catfish blackened with cajun seasoning or sautéed tofu with a little sesame and soy would do just fine, leftover pork shoulder or brisket would be a dream!
As a Not Sad Desk Lunch: These sandwiches knocked it out of the park as a desk lunch and were just as easy to assemble at the office as they were at home. The only slightly irksome aspect is that transporting the ingredients required quite a few different containers – one for the dressing, one for the pickled veggies, a baggie for the bread, and a Tupperware for the meatballs with the cilantro thrown in there too. I used a larger than necessary Tupperware for the meatballs and then shoved all of the other small containers and bags in there too.
2 large carrots, coarsely grated on a box grater
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced into thin matchsticks
1-2 jalapeños, thinly sliced (seeded and pith removed to tame the heat)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonaise
Sriracha to taste, (about 1 1/2 tablespoons for me)
1 lb ground pork (turkey works too)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp dried)
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 or 3 green onions, finely chopped (how oniony do ya like it?)
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 - 1 tbsp Sriracha
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten (or 2 tsp cornstarch, see note)
1-2 teaspoons sesame or vegetable or coconut oil, for browning
Lots of cilantro and sliced green onion for garnish
4-6 Hoagie rolls
Egg or Cornstarch: This recipe is a mashup of two different ones I’ve made and liked. The main difference between the two is the binding, one uses cornstarch, the other egg, and they work equally well. The photo above was from a cornstarch time obvvvs.
These meatballs are super soft, so two things
One - Roll them with wet hands,
Two - Let them brown completely on each side before turning in the pan because they will break.
Yields 15-18 meatballs when rolled golf ball-sized
Pickle the veggies. Pile up the grated carrot, cucumber matchsticks, and jalapeños into a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, salt and sesame oil. Pour over the vegetables. (Or be lazy like me and just dump everything in a bowl and stir it until it looks decent.)
Sriracha dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. It keeps in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
Prepare the meatballs. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except for the sesame oil for frying and mix lightly with a fork. Heat the sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat until it is hot and rippling. Add the meatballs in a single layer and brown on all sides. See note above about browning.
Transfer the browned meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and repeat with remaining meatballs. The pork will render a fair amount of fat into the pan, so adding additional oil shouldn’t be necessary if using pork, but might it might be if you’re using turkey.
Once all of the meatballs have all been browned, drain most of the oil from the skillet and place the meatballs back into the skillet. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake the for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes to cool enough for you to handle them without taking off your fingerprints.
Assemble sammies. Slice the bread and toast it if you’d like. Spread the Sriracha dressing on both slices. Pile on the meatballs, orrrrr if you’re into my fave hack for these, cut the meatballs in half and place them cut-side down onto the bottom slice of bread. Using your hands, grab a pile of pickled vegetables, shake off any excess liquid, and pile it over top of the meatballs. Throw on some cilantro on there, smoosh the top half of the bun down, and get into it!