Google Groups
Subscribe to The Culinary Creative
Visit this group

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Vietnamese Bánh mì Sandwiches with Fresh Pickled Radish & Carrots

My plate has been super full these days, but I am most fortunate to have foodie friends willing to help out. This post came about because on a recent food-filled trip to Charleston we saw a stall at the Saturday morning Farmer's Market selling Bánh mì sandwiches (Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread). Turns out my pal Deborah is a BIG Bánh mì sandwich fan and actually makes them at home (a lot). So for your eating edification, she offered to share not only the How To process but her recipe for crispy, Fresh Pickled Carrots and Radishes.

Vietnamese Bánh mì Sandwiches  

If you've ever had a Vietnamese Bánh mì Sandwich, you're probably already a fan. They are brilliantly magical! Starting with the lightly crisped bread, to the layered flavors of condiments, tangy crunchy vegetables, pungent fresh herb, the zesty bite of a chile pepper, and of course the savory protein star of the sandwich, everything about this sandwich is right.

The genius of the Bánh mì sandwich comes from its cultural fusion of French and Vietnamese flavors (from France's colonial period in Indochina). The Bánh mì sandwich pairs a sturdy French baguette, sausages and even pate with distinctly Asian flavors resulting in a portable meal that is both hearty and delicate. Bánh mì sandwiches can be made with any meat, from a thin-sliced garlicky chicken sausage or Asian-spiced pork tenderloin medallions to seasoned tofu or beef sate. You get the idea.

For many, the magic of these creations lies in the fresh vegetable pickles. Crisp and tangy, they elevate a humble sandwich into something sublime. Luckily, they are ridiculously simple to make and to experiment with. No canning or processing -- just slice up the veggies, add a hot sweet brine, wait at least an hour and voila! You've got fabulous pickles that are perfect for Bánh mì sandwiches, or to perk up any salads or antipasto plates.

Fresh Pickled Carrots and Radishes

2 large carrots (or 3 medium)
about 1 lb (16 oz.) Daikon or red globe radish both types of radish are easy to find in supermarkets
1 tsp salt preferably fine sea salt
2 tsp plus 1/2 cup sugar you can use Splenda or other substitute, you just need to experiment a bit to get the sweetness to your liking
1-1/4 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
Quart jar

Peel the daikon radish and carrots, then slice into matchsticks of roughly the same length and width. If using red globe radish, you can cut it into thin rounds vs. matchsticks. These radishes also give the pickles a beautiful pink tinge.

Place the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 tsp of the sugar. Gently massage the vegetables for around 3 minutes. They will release some liquid and soften up.

Rinse the vegetables and drain in a colander. Then transfer them to your quart jar. You can also make these in a tupperware container if you don't have a jar.

For the brine, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with vinegar and water over medium head until the sugar dissolves. No need to boil. Be sure all bubbling has stopped, you want the brine to cool a bit before pouring into the jar. This is important because you want to brine the vegetables -- not cook them! Fully cover your veggie pickles and discard any remaining brine.

Let them sit for at least an hour and then taste to adjust for seasoning. If you want them to be a touch sweeter, add more sugar. If you like them more tart, add a bit more vinegar. Play around!

You can use your fresh pickles after an hour, but the flavor is best after at least 24 hours. These pickles will keep in your fridge for up to a month, but I bet they don't last that long.

Note: radish pickles can seem a bit stinky when you first open the jar. Don't worry! They are still good. Just let them air out a bit before assembling your sandwich.

Now it's time to assemble your Bánh mì sandwich!

BREAD -- Slice open your bread roll, lightly toast, and take out some of the crumb on one side to make room for your vegetables. The only rule here on bread choice is don't pick a bread that is going to scratch up the top of your mouth when you eat the sandwich! You know what I mean. So use what works best for you: hoagie roll, ciabatta roll, baguette, etc.

FAT -- Use a homemade mayo, salted butter, garlic aioli, mashed avocado or my favorite -- sriracha mayo. Be sure to spread from edge to edge on your bread.

CONDIMENT -- Here's where you can get creative! Use hoisin sauce, Maggi seasoning (a wonderfully flavorful version of soy sauce), Sriracha sauce, or just a light sprinkling of fish sauce. Most any Asian sauce will work, it all depends on what you like. Again, be sure to spread from edge to edge on your bread so that every bite is perfectly flavorful.

PROTEIN -- You can use just about anything that makes your mouth water, just be sure it is sliced thin so it is easy to bite through. My favorite is a flavorful chicken sausage sliced on the diagonal.

CUCUMBER -- Thinly slice the cucumber of your choice. You can use any kind of cucumber, and peel them or not, as you wish.

CHILE PEPPER -- It's traditional to use thin slices of a chile pepper, but if that's not you're thing, no worries. Think jalapeno, thai chile, Anaheim or your personal favorite. I'm not so into the hotness, so I skip this part.

PICKLES -- Now it's time to use your favorite pickled vegetables! Drain them slightly before adding to your sandwich so it's not drippy and messy.

FRESH HERB -- Think cilantro, Thai or sweet basil, mint, or any pungent fresh herb that makes you happy.

Now take a look at your colorful, savory delicious masterpiece and enjoy!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Check It Out: The Yunnan Cookbook

I have a fabulous cookbook recommendation to share with you, I am very giddy about this book and can't wait to dive into it further.

The Yunnan Cookbook: Recipes from China's Land of Ethnic Diversity could just as easily be a coffee table presentation piece as it is a book of recipes. Located in southwest China where it borders Vietnam, Laos, and Burma, the Yunnan Province has an ethnic diversity that is reflected in the dishes presented in this book. Coupled with essays and vignettes of the people and food of Yunnan are gorgeous photos (read: food porn) of featured dishes.

Some of the treats you will find inside are Steamed Pumpkin with Walnut and Herb Salad, Pan-fried Spicy Squid, Crispy Spring Onion Cakes, Stir-fried Pork with Jicama and Asparagus.  If you are a fan of condiments, there is a chapter on Preserves, if you are interested in Street Foods, they have that covered too, and if you love Mushroom, they've got you covered.

The authors have done amazing research and have modified the recipes (only slightly) to make it more general-user friendly in terms of being able to find what you need. Fresh ingredients are the key and these days most are pretty accessible, especially if you have an international market near you, so you don't have to worry about not being able to find ingredients. Whether for yourself or the cookbook-collecting foodie in your life, I think you should definitely check it out.

The Yunnan Cookbook: Recipes from China's Land of Ethnic Diversity
Annabel Jackson and Linda Chia
Blacksmith Books, 2014
ISBN-10: 9881613973
ISBN-13: 9789881613973
List price: $26.95

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cooper's Super Soup -- Four Mushroom Barley

With all the rain we’ve been getting lately in NC (sorry West Coast!), it seems like an excellent time to feature another of Cooper's Super Soups...Four Mushroom Barley. This one goes great with a grilled cheese sandwich on the side, though it's certainly hearty enough to stand on its own. However you want to do it, it's mmm mmm great. This soup got the Two Thumbs Up from Dad.

Four Mushroom Barley Soup

1/2 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup boiling water
4 tbsp butter
2 cups (16 oz.) small white mushrooms, whole
2 portobello caps, cut in half, thinly sliced
3/4 cup (6 oz.) shitake mushrooms
1/3 cup sherry
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 bay leaves
1/2-1 tsp ground marjoram
pinch of dried dill weed
7 cups mushroom stock (see recipe below)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste

Place porcinis in 1 cup of boiling water, cover and set aside for 20-30 minutes. Once rehydrated, drain the porcinis, but reserve the water. Once the mushrooms are cool, chop them up.

Melt butter in stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.

Throw in mixed mushrooms and cook about 10 minutes or until softened and reduced.

While stirring the mushrooms, add the sherry and let cook for a minute or two so the mushrooms can soak up the flavor. To intensify the flavor, allow the liquid to reduce a bit.

Stir in onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent.

Mix in barley, bay leaves, marjoram, and dill then cook for another 5-10 minutes.

Add the reserved water from the porcinis, the mushroom broth, and crushed tomatoes. Let simmer covered for about 50 minutes, or until barley reaches desired level of cooking.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Cooper's Thoughts

Lessons I learned from my first attempt making this soup:

  • Barley grows a lot and is very thirsty. First try had 1-1/2 cups of barley. It made for a great risotto.
  • The first time, I used some "fancy" mushrooms (maitake and white beech) in this soup, but they were too mild in flavor to notice. They weren't worth the extra expense.
  • Porcinis might be the only fancy mushroom worth spending the extra money on and should not be left out.
  • I would make a couple of minor modifications only if you are planning on serving most or all of the soup the day/night of. A little more barley could be added (no more than a 1/4 cup) if you cook the barley to al dente. It will continue to grow in the fridge overnight though (you were warned!). Also, diced tomatoes instead of crushed tomatoes might be better the first serving. After chilling, however, the crushed tomatoes made this soup perfect!
  • For the stock on this soup, I had about 6 cups of my sweet and spicy mushroom broth left over and a cup of boxed chicken stock sitting in the fridge. Hopefully you saved the scraps from the Root Vegetable Soup, because that's what goes into the yummy stock (below).

Mushroom Stock

3 quarts of water
All the trimmings from the sweet potato, parsnip, turnip, carrots, and celery root (remove the stems from the celery root, but add a few leaves back in, maybe 4-5).
1 onion, quartered
4 portobello stems
Stems from 8 oz of shiitake
Gills from 2-4 portobellos
2 jalapenos, cut in half

Toss all ingredients in a stock pot and simmer for an hour.

Strain and set aside for later. As an aside, when I made this stock it was for another soup. I almost stopped at just the stock because it was so tasty!

This stock is incredibly flavorful, so it will overpower mild flavors (such as the dill that was added), but it really highlights the mushroomy flavor and adds a bit of heat that keeps everyone wondering where the peppers are.