Recipes! Banh Mi

banh mi kari winterAlmost four weeks after my stove and oven broke, they still remain unusable. Now I could get myself really worked up about that fact, but I still need to figure out a way to feed my family. I’m happy that we have a grill, a microwave and now (a recent and very necessary addition) a single induction burner. But sometimes you don’t even need heat to get dinner on the table. Sandwiches are always a great way to go when you find yourself in this situation on a hot day. And one of the great sandwiches of the world, banh mi, will be on my menu this week.

Banh mi (pronounced, and this is as close as this non-Vietnamese speaker is probably going to be able to come, something like bung mee) originated in Vietnam during French rule, and both cultures are represented in this wonderful sandwich. You could think of it as one of the original fusion foods. From the French we get the crispy baguette (please don’t serve it on a sub roll), mayonnaise or aioli, and often pate. Vietnamese elements are the pickled daikon and carrot pickle, fish sauce, hot peppers and cilantro. You can play around with your fillings. A meat or protein of some kind is added, usually along with sliced cucumbers. It is crunchy and creamy, spicy and refreshing all at the same time. The combination of flavors and textures is a party in your mouth if done well.

One of the beautiful things about this sandwich is that in coming to America, it has stretched its wings, and people around the country are using the basic structure and making it their own. Tofu versions abound (although keep in mind that if you’re doing this to make it vegetarian, you’ll need to lose the fish sauce, which I think is one of the best aspects of a banh mi – those who have only ever smelled fish sauce and not tasted it are not likely to believe me on this); some use bbq pork slices, others use ham. I personally like mine with roast chicken and chicken or duck pate. You can play with flavors you like and make it your own and still be eating a banh mi.

Locally, Tyler’s has them, and Bistro Venable seems to keep a vegetarian version in rotation on many of their seasonal menus. Not surprisingly, the Vietnamese restaurant Lime and Basil on Franklin Street offers five different versions. But if you feel like making one yourself, here is how I make mine, with suggestions for variations:

My “Banh Mi”

The best French baguette you can find

Sriracha mayo (or however you’d like to fancy it up, garlicky mayo would be great)

Cucumber slices

Jalapeno slices

Fish sauce (skip if you’re going vegetarian)

Roast chicken (or other protein; I’ve also seen people substitute avocado)

Pickled daikon and/or carrots (recipe below)

Fresh cilantro

Pate (my preference is duck or chicken; you can buy a variety of pates from Southern Season and Whole Foods)

Slice the baguette in half and scoop out any excess bread if it seems too soft or bready.

Slather on some of your favorite mayonnaise. I simply add some sriracha sauce and a little salt to mayonnaise to taste and stir. Add a layer of the cucumber slices (they’re a little nicer if you peel the cucumber first, but do what time allows), then the jalapeno slices. This sandwich is not for the feint of heart. Jiggle the fish sauce onto it — you want to be able to taste it, but it is very strong so be careful not to add to much. Remember that you can always add more if you don’t feel you have enough. Next comes your protein. I use roasted chicken from a grocery store as the meat, but you can use whatever protein sounds best to you or whatever you have on hand. Next comes the slivers of pickled carrot and/or daikon, topped with the cilantro and then the pate is spread on the top slice of the baguette. This is a seriously flavorful sandwich if you add all of these things.

Warning: this is a very rough and tumble way of making the pickles, but also the easiest (unless you can find them pre-made, which you might be able to do at a local Asian store). To make enough of the daikon and carrot pickle for a few sandwiches, peel and cut the vegetables (about two of each should do) into matchstick sized pieces, sprinkle with salt and sugar and drain in a colander, then rinse with cold water and push down to get rid of excess water. Put about ¼ to ½ cup of sugar in a leftover jar big enough to hold the vegetables, add about a half cup of white wine vinegar and the same amount of warm water and stir to dissolve. Add the vegetables and close the jar and shake it up a few times. Let the vegetables sit in this for at least an hour. You won’t need much on the sandwich but they do give a nice sour flavor. Now, if all this seems like entirely too much work (and I understand how sometimes it would), I think a crunchy, sour, non-mayo coleslaw could stand in for this.

Recipes! Grilled Indonesian Chicken

2640124366_dac7889124_zSummer is winding down, but we’re lucky to live in an area where we can grill outside for most of the year. And with a broken oven and stove (grrrrr) we’ve been doing a lot of grilling lately. There are lots of different flavors you can use to grill a chicken (and trust me, I’ve tried most of them), but in the end my favorite is an Indonesian-flavored one.

I first came across this recipe when I got The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon. It is a compendium of different recipes from across Asia. Each chapter covers a different country. I like this aspect of it. I have books on Indian food, and Chinese, but I have to say I didn’t really have any on the foods of the Philippines, Japan or Sri Lanka. It is kind of fun to read and explore those cuisines, even if you only end up trying one or two new things you haven’t heard of before. The first edition is from 1992 (it’s been reprinted a number of times since then, and my copy is a paperback from 2005) so some of the substitutions she makes wouldn’t need to be made these days. We have much more access to ingredients that were hard to find 20 years ago. Still and all, most of what I’ve made I’ve really enjoyed and the directions are clear.

This chicken recipe is especially easy. You can toss the marinade together in about 15 minutes, add the chicken in (and leave for work), then come home and put some rice on the stove (or in your rice cooker) and start up the grill. This is slightly spicy, but nothing that is going to send most people rushing for a glass of water (my seven year old daughter eats it without any mention of spice). I’ve changed it up a bit to make it as easy as possible:

Ayam Panggang Pedis (Grilled Chicken with Hot Spices)

3 lbs chicken thighs or drumsticks

2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons ground black pepper (feel free to just eyeball this)

3 teaspoons sambal ulek (available in Asian markets and even many grocery stores) or Sriracha sauce

2 tablespoons grated onion (just use the large hole on your cheese grater; again, eyeballing this is fine)

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons dark or regular soy sauce (the dark adds a nice touch, and is available in Asian markets)

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons peanut or other oil

Make slices in the skin and flesh of the chicken. This helps the chicken soak up more of the flavor. Combine all  other ingredients in a bowl or a large zip-lock bag and rub all over the chicken. Cover or zip the bag and leave for at least an hour (it can sit overnight if you want to make it up the night before).

Heat your grill until it is glowing hot. Cook straight through – I do thighs for 15 minutes on each side. Be careful not to let the flames touch the skin and burn it – the skin is delicious and you’ll want all of it for the flavor.

Pretty easy, right? And delicious. I like to serve it with rice. A fairly plain vegetable will be fine to compliment because it has so much flavor. Enjoy!

phot by dbkfrog via flickr

Summer Produce & Recipes

img_0095smDo you walk by all the beautiful, fresh summer produce at the farmers market or the grocery store and want to dive right in, but are not quite sure what you’d do with it? I know that I’ve found my vegetable crisper filled with things I bought ‘spur of the moment’ and realized that there was no way we’d be able to eat everything while it was still fresh. Oops! Based on this, my first piece of advice is to be realistic about how much you can actually eat. But I have some other ideas if you’re trying to figure out how to make the most of what you’re seeing at the market right now.

Tomatoes are all over the place, and summer is the best time of year to enjoy them. It can be as simple as slicing and serving them as a side with salt and freshly ground pepper, or putting the slices on really good bread with a slather of mayonnaise. You can also cut them into chunks with some sliced or torn basil leaves and dress with red wine vinegar and some good olive oil and serve as a salad (adding some nice pitted olives is great too). This last one is also a great summer pasta sauce – nothing wrong with a room temperature sauce on a hot day.

Speaking of room temperature, you can make a nice salad by blanching green beans (boil salted water, put the cleaned beans in for 3-4 minutes, then put the drained beans in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking) and dressing them with your favorite salad dressing. If you’re feeling decadent you can garnish with some crumbled cheese. Nuts like almonds or pine nuts add a nice crunch.

While you have the grill fired up for burgers, hot dogs, steaks, etc., why not throw some sliced zucchini or pepper slices on too (brush with oil first so it doesn’t stick). And of course both of these (along with the green beans) are great thrown into a stir fry or add them to an omelet. And it might sound a bit odd, but there is something really tasty about a good zucchini curry. Replace the meat with an equal amount of zucchini, add some cashews for a nice textural touch and bingo – zucchini curry.

However, when it comes to produce, the fruit is much easier. Who couldn’t just eat fresh peaches every morning for breakfast, or covered with fresh cream each night for dessert? But if you’re looking for ways to branch out with fruit I can give you a couple of ideas. Have you ever tried grilling things like plums or peaches or nectarines? Delicious. You can add a little brown sugar to sweeten them up a bit if you feel they need it; or add a bit of mascarpone or ricotta or cream. Maybe add some thinly sliced mint or basil to fancy it up a notch. You can also sauté your fruit in butter until it almost turns into a sauce and serve it over ice cream. Make it more adult by adding a bit of your favorite liquor while it is cooking down. This is lovely with all sorts of berries. And finally, the world’s easiest cobbler is below. I love this dessert, and it really is very easy and you can play with whatever fruits you have available. My favorite mix is nectarines and pitted cherries; though my husband likes plain blueberry.


Easy Summer Cobbler

4 cups of fruit (you might want to peel the fruit if necessary, and definitely pit anything that needs it; mix and match as you like)

2 cups sugar

½ stick butter

¼ cup flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ cup milk


Preheat the over to 375.

In a medium bowl toss the fruit with 1 cup of the sugar and let sit for 20 minutes.

Stick the butter into a 13 x 9 inch baking dish or casserole and put in the oven until the butter melts (about 5 minutes). Remove from oven.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and the other cup of sugar. Add the milk and stir until just blended. Pour this batter over the melted butter and spoon the fruit over the batter. Bake until cobbler is golden brown — about 40 minutes.

Serve with ice cream or whipped or heavy cream. Worth heating up the kitchen!

Local Touch: The Bloody Brando

IMG_7796Brandon Herndon grew up in Chatham Country. He left North Carolina and tended bar for a while in Charleston, but has been back in the area since 1993. He has family here and plays guitar/sings for Twilighter (here is their Facebook page), a local band that does all original music. He also works at Backstreet Magazine, a quarterly print magazine devoted to Bruce Springsteen, which is located here in Chapel Hill. But Brandon has other talents than music and writing – he’s also the mix-master of his own tasty Bloody Brando mix. It is similar to — but better than — your average Bloody Mary mix.

During Brandon’s time bartending in Charleston, he started learning the bar owner’s family recipe for their special Bloody Mary mix. That bar owner was a member of the Argonne family which has a long history in South Carolina. He was a descendant of Gustav Argonne, who was born just outside of Charleston in 1838, the eldest of six children. The family business was cotton, rice and tomatoes. According to family legend, he used those tomatoes to come up with what is now called the Bloody Brando.

Brandon’s mix is thicker than most, and he attributes this to the blended celery and green olives in the mix. Naturally, this also gives it a more interesting taste than your typical Bloody Mary. And of course, the name of his mix is a play on his name.

Brandon grows tomatoes but unfortunately can’t grow enough to satisfy demand. He also hopes to start growing the horseradish that they use soon.

The mix is spicy, but if you’re not a fan of spicy drinks, he suggests cutting it with tomato juice. Brandon prefers to drink his virgin style, or with gin instead of the usual vodka. He likes the hint of juniper that this combination gives it.

A Bloody Brando and a grilled cheese on the side is pretty much the perfect combination. I also think adding a little to tomato based soups or pasta sauces would give them a little lift and more zing.

And if you feel like getting international with it, add some clam juice and vodka and call it a Bloody Caesar like our neighbors to the north do (my Canadian husband loves these). Or head to the other border and make a Bloody Bull – use the Bloody Brando mix, add some tequila, beef bouillon, lime and lemon juice over ice and stir.

The mix is going to be available at Southern Season starting in August or September. Brandon and his wife, Michelle Maclary, have started bottling it for them, and are just working out the logistics. They are hoping that it will be available at other places soon too, but right now it is just the two of them making the mix so they aren’t sure they are ready to meet higher demand.

Want to try one while out with friends? Bloody Brandos are available at The Station (in fact he uses The Station’s kitchen to make the mix!), The Cave, Dead Mule Society, and Slim’s in Raleigh.

Whether at home or out, this is a fun way to try something good, different and local!

Feature Photo by smee-me via Flickr