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March 7, 2011 at 6:15 AM

Into the Vietnamese kitchen: do (chua) try this at home

As someone who’s been eating banh mi for more than 20 years, it’s never occurred to me to try to make those Vietnamese sandwiches at home. I love the fresh, crusty baguette-style rolls that help make a banh mi a banh mi — and often buy them at my local Vietnamese deli for 50-cents a pop. But I always use that bread to make something else (say, an Italian sausage sandwich).

Why? Because the cost of putting together homemade banh mi is a recipe for adventure, but given the plethora of banh mi options in my neighborhood, it’s faster and cheaper ($3 plus or minus a couple quarters) to buy the done-deal.

In order to make banh mi, I’d need the roll(s), plus cilantro, cucumber, jalapeno, carrot, daikon radish, mayo and some kind of protein as the central ingredient. And while I usually have many of those ingredients in my kitchen, the one thing I haven’t had around — till now, that is — is the daikon and carrot pickle (do chua) that adds crunch, oomph, sweet and sour to the sandwich.

A recipe for success: homemade daikon and carrot pickle, which keeps in the fridge a month.

For that recipe (a snap to prepare: it took me about 15 minutes) I can thank Vietnamese cooking authority Andrea Nguyen, whose website, Viet World Kitchen, is well worth your attention. There you’ll find her instructions for making banh mi at home as well as for the pickle to garnish them — which does double-duty as a side salad for grilled meats or a garnish for soup or rice noodles.

Though I’ve long been a fan of Andrea’s and own shelves full of Asian cookbooks (including her latest), I’ve only recently purchased her 2006 tour de force “Into the Vietnamese Kitchen.” Interested in Vietnamese cuisine and cookery? I’ll bet you you’ll be as impressed with this book as I am. Next up: homemade pho, right?

Better yet, I think I’m going to try the cover recipe first: bun bo Hue (spicy Hue beef and rice noodle soup). It’s sure to be a great precursor to her lemongrass ice cream, another recipe I’m looking forward to trying.

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