I have discovered, that in my mind, there is always one classic dish or drink that defines a country or region for me. For Mexico, it’s street tacos. For Italy, it’s limoncello, espresso and gnocchi. For San Francisco, it’s sour dough bread. For Vietnam, it’s a banh mi sandwich. Invariably, there are a million ways to make that dish and every restaurant has their own “way” of doing it.
I dream of going to Vietnam someday, mostly for the food. I would eat my way across the country, taking cooking classes from the locals as I go. The banh mi sandwich was originally very simple, peasant food, really, just pate smeared on a baguette. Today, the traditional banh mi sandwich is usually pickled vegetables, chilies, sauce and a protein on a baguette. (For a much fuller history of the banh mi sandwich, I recommend visiting Andrea Nguyen’s site here.) Someday, I will get to Vietnam, and I will eat a hundred different versions of a banh mi sandwich while I’m there, but until then, I made up my own, which is not particularly authentic at all, (whoever heard of putting a brie like cheese on a banh mi sandwich?) But I figure there is room for interpretation – it is a sandwich after all. And at the end of the day, it sure is tasty.
(Note: if you are making the baba ganouch, grilled chicken, and pickled cucumbers in order to specifically make the sandwich, it is a fair amount of time and effort to make your meal. However, if you’ve made these things previously, and your sandwich is really just “leftovers”, it will come together in a snap.)
- Baba ganouch (recipe below)
- Pickled Cucumbers (recipe below)
- Grilled chicken breast – sliced
- Tomme Crayeuse (a cheese similar to brie)
- Fresh cilantro
Part of the beauty of baba ganoush is the flavor of grilled char that comes from cooking the eggplant on a grill. Do not underestimate the importance of grilling your eggplant – you won’t be disappointed. Also, traditionally, baba ganoush is made only with tahini, but one particular day, when I simply had to have baba ganoush, and I didn’t realize I was almost out of tahini, I substituted additional sunflower seed butter at the last moment – it turned out divine. I don’t actually measure the tahini or sunflower seed butter – since eggplants are never a consistent size either, the measurements below are “guidelines”. The point is that I used about the same amount of tahini and sunflower seed butter, but if I erred, it was on the side of adding a touch more sunflower seed butter. Don’t worry, this is a very forgiving recipe.
Baba Ganoush Ingredients:
- 2 Eggplant (med to large sized)
- 1/8 cup of tahini (found in Mediterranean markets or most health food stores)
- 1/8 – 1/6 cup of sunflower seed butter (you can find at most health food stores)
- 4 Tbls lemon juice
- ½ – ¾ teas cumin powder
- ¼ teas cayenne
- 1 teas salt
- ½ teas ancho chili powder
- 3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped
Baba Ganoush Directions:
Heat your grill on high for 5-10 minutes – it should be about 550 degrees. Once the grill is hot, make sure you’ve oiled the grate. Cut each eggplant in half vertically and use your knife to cut 3-4 slits in the white meat of the vegetable. Do not salt or oil the eggplant, but place the eggplant face down over direct heat, closing the lid of the grill for 5-7 minutes. Turn the eggplant over so that it is sitting on the purple skin, close the lid and let it continue to cook for an additional 10-12 minutes. If you use tongs, the eggplant should be fairly soft at this point. Take the eggplant off the grill and allow it to cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh out of the skin, or conversely, peel the skin off the flesh, and discard the skin. Place all the eggplant in a food processor with the remaining ingredients and whirl on high until fully pureed, approximately 45-60 seconds. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. This will keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for one week.
Pickling is making resurgence, and you can pickle just about anything. This recipe is for a quick pickle, but one that will also keep in your fridge for several days.
Pickled Cucumber Ingredients:
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- 2 Tbls sesame oil
- 1 ½ Tbls sugar
- Salt and pepper
Pickled Cucumber Directions:
You can peel or not peel the cucumber as you like. I actually half peel mine, meaning I peel stripes of skin off, leaving some of the dark green skin on. In addition to keeping some great nutrients found in the skin, I just think it’s prettier. Slice the cucumber into coins and set aside.
Whisk the vinegar, oil, sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and taste – it should be tangy with just a hint of sweetness. Add additional salt if needed. Add the cucumber coins to the bowl – the pickling liquid should nearly cover the cucumber. Let it sit for at least ten minutes, before using. The cucumbers will keep in their pickling liquid in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Tear off the amount of bread you want for your sandwich. Of course, you can use a knife to neatly cut the right amount, but I love the rustic look. (True confession, I did use a knife to slice the baguette in half, the top from the bottom.) Smear a healthy amount of baba ganouch over both top and bottom pieces of bread. Building from the bottom, add your layer of sliced grilled chicken breast, the cheese, pickled cucumbers and cilantro before adding the top of the baguette. Enjoy!