Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Banh Mi-Style Pickles

A few years ago, I don't think anyone that I was familiar with knew what a Banh Mi was. Now all my friends rave about it, and rightly so.

For those of you unfamiliar, Banh Mi is a French-inspired Vietnamese sandwich comprised of a rice flour baguette, a hollandaise-style spread, various forms of pork, jalapeno peppers, cilantro, cucumbers, and a carrot-and-radish pickle mix. Call it Colonialism at its best: The essential French elements of crusty-yet-fluffy baguette and hollandaise mingle with the Asian flavors of Daikon radish and rice vinegar to create a sandwich many consider a new favorite.

Pickles seem to play a key role in many famous sandwiches - you can't really have a Cuban sandwich without them, and pulled pork just isn't the same if it doesn't have tangy slaw or vinegary pickled onions to top it. Banh Mi-style pickles are easy to make and incredibly versatile. Don't limit their use to just sandwiches. Get creative and try them over grilled meats or in salads for a bright, sweetly-acidic bite.

Bahn Mi-Style Pickles
Makes about 2 pints

2 cups carrots, peeled and julienned*
2 cups radish (Daikon is best, but any radish will do in a pinch), washed and julienned
1/2 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, sugar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 1/2 cups rice vinegar
1 1/2 cups warm water

1. Combine the carrot and radish in a bowl and toss to combine. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and salt to the bowl, then "massage" the carrot and radish to release water and soften. When a piece of radish can be bent in half without snapping, the massage is done (about three minutes -- do not skip this step! Releasing moisture like this will help keep the veggies crunchy after pickling).

2. Place veggie mix in a colander and run under cold water for a few minutes to rinse away the sugar and salt. Drain thoroughly.

3. In a separate bowl, combine 1/2 cup of sugar, vinegar, and warm water. Mix until the sugar has completely dissolved (this is the "brine").

4. Divide the veggie mix evenly into two pint-size jars (or in one larger jar, if preferred). Pour the brine over the veggies, being sure to completely submerge the carrot and radish. Cover and allow to sit overnight in the refrigerator for best flavor. Banh Mi-style pickles will last up to six weeks in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

* To julienne is to cut into long, thin strips, like matchsticks or "shoe strings." For more information, watch this video.