deconstructed banh mi

deconstructed banh mi

It has been decided that wherever we happen to move after this apartment, our next home has to be within walking distance to a banh mi shop. I know it sounds like a trivial matter, but believe me – it’s not. Andrew agrees, and adds to it a list of foods that must be nearby and excellent: Thai, Indian (something we sorely lack!), Chinese and so on. Before he finishes, I add in Italian, a wine shop, a place we can get good prosciutto and cheese and oils and bread; oysters and bourbon (though not necessarily together), and root beer floats. There needs to be a good book store. And superlative baklava. These are all very important things. And to satisfy all those requirements, it’s pretty certain that we can’t move out of the neighborhood.

Thankfully, this is a conundrum that isn’t so pressing. Yet. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, there’s another book project in the works and a wedding less than three months away.

Now, I’ve never been that girl who’d dream of her wedding day. I never fantasized about wedding dresses, or flowers, or color schemes. I’ve thought about it in the realm of, “What am I going to feed people?” But that’s just about the same way I go about every party – I think about what to feed people first and foremost and I don’t much bother with the rest. When you serve your guests good food, the rest pretty much takes care of itself. But as much as I like to convince myself that our wedding is just one giant party where I get to wear a big white dress, I am beginning to realize that I’m kidding myself. There’s never been a party with so many details to plan. What text to put into our ketubah? What colors and symbols do we want it to have? In reviewing the flowers budget, what is it that we can do to stay within the budget?

There are, in fact, so many details, that my usual type-A personality is slowly beginning to lose its grip on the A-type-ness. Here is a perfect example. I successfully completed the first half of the organizing, stuffing, stamping, and addressing the wedding invitations. The first batch went without a hitch, indisputably because Andrew was there to make sure I didn’t screw anything up. I decided to do the second half of the invitations on my own, and this is where, friends, I took a wrong turn.

deconstructed banh mi

I stuffed all the wedding envelopes with their proper materials, wrote out the addresses, and sealed them. And then, just as I was putting a stamp on the top envelope in a pile, I realized, much to my horror, that I forgot to put stamps on the return envelopes that the guests were going to send back to us. It was the kind of realization where you pause mid-sentence while your brain races backwards and backwards, retracing every step, and a voice inside your head says, “Oh no. Oh… no…” Until you count the number of return stamps and realize, indeed, that all those envelopes that sealed tight do, indeed, have to be opened, and new envelopes would have to be used, sealed, and re-addressed. Lucky for you, because you ordered twice as many save-the-dates as you originally needed, you have plenty of extra envelopes lying around. However, what you lack is that little, silly resource called time. And that is where you have a near breakdown while your fiancé holds you and tells you that it’s all going to be okay. But in your head you wonder how, how on earth will it be okay if that other book deadline is looming.

These days I find myself editing recipes for twelve hours at a time. This past weekend, that’s pretty much all I did. In fact, I’m supposed to be editing recipes at this very moment. But instead, I’m writing to tell you about banh mi sandwiches.

As you probably suspect, we, at the moment, live within walking distance of said banh mi shop. We are a tiny bit obsessed with it, though, in the spirit of full disclosure, we only get the chicken ones. I know this sounds like banh mi anathema. To forsake the holy trinity of pork, spicy mayo and the pickled vegetables seems like a culinary crime. But their chicken version is so good, I can’t pull myself away. And so we order these sandwiches on a weekly basis. Friday lunches are usually our banh mi days. It’s a good time.

But also for almost a year now, I’ve been making banh mi sandwiches at home, in addition to our weekly orders. One night, there was no bread in the house, and it was bitterly cold out. So, I made the banh mi without the bread and served it over brown rice. I called it “deconstructed banh mi” and the name stuck. In fact, we now kind of prefer it over rice all mixed into a spicy mess on the plate. And whatever leftovers we wind up with, are the makings of an excellent stir-fry the following day.

The recipe originally hails from Melissa Clark (who must have a secret map to what my palate craves) but I’ve played around with it in the many months I’ve been making this at home. Instead of ground pork, I use ground turkey instead, but mostly because it’s much easier for me to find hormone-free ground turkey than hormone-free ground pork. And I go crazy with the herbs using everything at my disposal: basil, mint, and cilantro. Lastly, I add a bit of grated ginger in the beginning, because I find that a touch of it, adds a lovely, smile-inducing dimension. Ginger is a happy ingredient.

I suppose, that at the end of the day, moving to banh mi-less place wouldn’t be the end of the world. I can recreate my own sandwich with bread or rice, no matter. But that’s not really the point. Whether or not I can make something at home, and I’m pretty confident that I can recreate just about most things in my kitchen, save for the kind of pizza that comes out of 900-degree ovens, or the like, I like living in a neighborhood that boasts lemony homemade hummus, superlative sushi, and masterfully made banh mi.

And besides, just about everything is made better by Sriracha.

Deconstructed Banh Mi
Adapted from Melissa Clark for the NYTimes

Love banh mi sandwiches? Can’t get enough? Apparently, neither can I! This is my second foray into banh mi land, albeit this time a bit more traditional than the last.

For the Pickled Vegetables:
3/4 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup shredded daikon radish
3/4 cup thinly sliced Persian, Kirby or European cucumbers
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Ground Turkey:
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons Sriracha or another chili sauce, to taste
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat), or ground pork
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon palm sugar
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Finely grated zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 lime, to taste

Steamed brown rice, for serving
Sliced Thai chili, for serving, optional

1. To make the pickled vegetables: In a medium bowl, toss together the carrots, daikon, cucumbers, vinegar, sugar and salt and let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the turkey. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons scallions and 2 tablespoons Sriracha. Cover tightly and set aside.

3. Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining scallions, garlic, and the ginger. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the turkey and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining Sriracha, fish sauce, pepper, salt and sugar. Remove from heat and stir in the basil, mint, cilantro, lime zest, and the lime juice. Let cool 5 minutes, then stir in the mayonnaise mixture. Serve over steamed brown rice with the Pickled Vegetables and the chili, if using, on the side.

Serves 2 to 4, depending on how hungry you are; we usually have this for dinner and then Andrew takes the leftovers to work for lunch, or I make a stir-fry the next day for myself.


  • steph

    sriracha certainly *does* make everything better! i must try this recipe, thanks! and congratulations on the upcoming wedding, enjoy your big party!!

  • Gayle

    The solution is clear. You have to move to DC, somewhere just east of the Capitol building, halfway between Eastern Market and H St..

    And may readdressing envelopes be your biggest wedding planning SNAFU. It really will all be okay.

  • Radish

    Gayle – Andrew’s lived in DC before and loved it. And great to know that there are areas like this that exist out there.

  • kickpleat

    I’m so making this! We’re so close to a bahn mi shop (and I only get the vegetarian, I know, but it’s so perfect!). I love the sound of this recipe and will give it a go soon. As for your wedding planning, I’m sure it will be beautiful. Seriously, all the snafu’s in the world can’t replace sharing your day with all your friends and family. It’s all about the party and everyone will have a great time!

  • Margarita

    I have come to accept the fact that where I live doesn’t have anything good except for Mexican food and some so-so Thai. I love Mexican and the more authentic the better (which is what we have), but I want variety too… Indian, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Korean, Greek, you name it. So, I am looking forward to a spring break trip out of town and eat myself to death in Portland and Seattle. This bahn mi recipe will make me not seek out a bahn mi place out there, because this is a reassurance that it will be good when I make it at home!

  • Stewart Putney

    This is a great idea, we will try this. We love making rice bowls as a casual meal- and the bahn mi flavors rock. We may try this with heritage pork as well. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Molly

    Just last week I stood in our hallway and read our ketubah. I’m really happy we took the time to think about what we wanted it to say, and it sounds like you will, too. The pattern was another matter completely: We found much more success online than in Judaica stores. Are you guys getting married on the North Shore? And don’t worry about an envelope or two. No one needs to know, and you’ll be having so much fun at your party you’ll forget it ever happened. As for the banh mi, I’m slightly obsessed with the one that is conveniently sold between our home and my ofice. I’m not the biggest turkey fan, so I think I’m going to give this a shot with roasted tofu, instead.

  • Radish

    Molly – we’re working with a lovely lady in CA, and Andrew’s mom is going to do the artwork for our ketubah, isn’t that grand? We’re getting married in Beverly, MA – very excited. And yes, roasted tofu sounds terrific. I actually only like the dark meat on the turkey, and I didn’t like the results I got with the chicken. But the tofu sounds terrific!

  • ilyabr

    Thank you for the recipe. It seems, though, that the more common spelling would be “banh”, not “bahn” – noticed it while bookmarking in delicious…

  • Rebecca

    Wow can I relate about your wedding venture—my own is in a couple months, and I’d LOVE to forget the details and focus on charming my guests with food and cake! Best of luck–you’ll get there!

  • Terri Sue

    i can’t wait to try this recipe. i’ve never had banh mi. i live in texas the land of steak and potatoes, tex-mex, and more steak. we moved here 29 years ago as vegetarians. boy was it tough. when my huband flew down for his interview he expained to his soon to be boss that he was a vegetarian as they were going out to eat. so his boss took him to a steak house where they had a salad bar! in making your ricipe i would probably just make it with tvp for the texture as it seems all of the flavor is in the other ingredients. i also have a recipe somewhere around here for a vegetarian fish sauce. i can’t wait to try this. thank you so much!

  • Georgina Tobiska

    Hey there,

    This recipe looks really inspiring, thanks for your post and a great blog! I just started a collaborative cooking blog last week. Please check it out, as I just posted a new recipe today. It is so fun!

    I really like your upbeat and informative writing. Thanks again and keep it coming!

    Join us at
    Georgina @ Caramelize Life

  • Mikaela Cowles

    I love the blog world because at the end of a long day you see a link on one of your regular reads to something that just makes you sigh with contentment. Oh to live somewhere within walking distance of ANYTHING! I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s on my must-have list. Or at least with easy peddle distance – the flat costing kind of distance. I can’t wait to hear more about the fabulous licking, planning, budgeting your about to wade through before your feed-people party. Oh, and the deconstructed bahn mi looks pretty darn good too!

  • Candice

    SOLD! I will definitely try this. The first glance at the ingredients list almost, ALMOST, shewed me away…but then I read the instructions and realized it’s a dish filled with layers upon layers of flavor. I like that the herbs are added at the end, this must taste amazing.

    Btw i just started reading your blog, and when i read your ‘One year ago’ post, it really touched me. I work in the financial industry and desperately want OUT. So you made me see there is life and even possibly a better one on the other side. THANK YOU.

  • Radish

    Candice – yes, layers of flavors is exactly it. But also, re: your dreams. Make the leap when you feel is right. Not necessarily when you’re ready, but when it feels right. Hope that makes sense and thanks for stopping by!!

  • Anna

    This looks so good! Thank you for the recipe. I travelled through Vietnam in December and the food was so incredible. Ever since I got home I’ve been trying to recreate the dishes I had (with mixed success!). I love the caramelised pork banh mi recipe from Food 52 but I can’t wait to try this. Love the idea of serving this over rice, if only because I don’t usually have fresh baguettes on hand. And I know what you mean about living close to banh mi, a deli etc. It’s a 15 minute walk to a decent coffee from my place and even though I could make coffee at home, it’s just not the same!!

  • Star@PeaceLoveWander

    Oh my gosh what an ordeal!!!! It sounds like you recovered nicely from the invitation mishap!!

    This recipe looks delish – thanks for sharing!

    XOXO Star @ Peace Love Wander

  • The Cozy Herbivore

    May I suggest that the next time you move, you move to the Italian Market section of Philadelphia? It’s where I live, and although the name suggests otherwise, it’s a giant smorgasbord of many different Asian, Latin American and yes, Italian immigrants. It’s wonderful. There are banh mi shops right next door to taquerias. You can get your proscuitto and parmesan right next to the fresh tortilla bakery. Dim sum and pho restaurants abound.

    Anyway, I also LOVE banh mi (although naturally I go for the tofu variety), and this is such a great idea! I can’t wait to try it…

  • Radish

    Cozy Hebivore – that sounds great! Honestly though, we’re not sure where we will wind up bc of Andrew’s horrible commute. Ideally, his work would get an office space in NYC so we could move to a more affordable area in Brooklyn and maybe even get a car (gasp!). We just don’t want to move to NJ yet bc no kids and all my work-related stuff is in Brooklyn/NYC and I have to run all over the place.

  • Emily

    This was SO. GOOD. The BF and I nearly licked the bowl. It almost didn’t make it to lunchtime the next day. If you cook Asian food with any sort of regularity, you’ll have 90% of these ingredients on hand. This very quickly has made its way into our dinner rotations. Thank you for sharing!!

  • Martin

    Radish (lol), there are a couple of great Vietnamese restaurants on Avenue U in Brooklyn (“Chinatown”) that serve banh mi (not to mention a number of great Chinese restaurants of course). You might want to consider the “uncool” South Brooklyn near there (I live in Bergen Beach, next to Mill Basin – unfortunately all we have are pizzerias and Chinese takeout places).

    Found your site randomly, love it!

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