Several years ago, I had to go on a very restricted low-iodine diet to prep my body for some medical treatments. And a year later I had to repeat it (and most likely will have to do so again). It was definitely not my favorite time in the history of ever. Until then, I had no idea that so many foods contain iodine and therefore could not eat them. I basically subsisted on oatmeal with no salt and avocados for 14 days. Yummy, right?
My self-imposed therapy (or torture, depending on how you look at it) was to sit around talking about what I was going to eat after I was released from low-iodine prison. I was suuuuuper fun to be around.
And weird as it may be, the one thing I craved most of all was a sandwich. Not just any sandwich. No PB&J or wimpy meat and cheese sandwich thankyouverymuch. I wanted bread. Good bread. And thick, too, please. Loaded with succulent meat, bacon and garden fresh tomatoes. Lettuce? Sure, throw that on. And slather it righteously with some mustard and chipotle mayo. And don’t forget the chips. Crunchy, salty chips stuffed in between layers of sandwich might be one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I can remember vividly the first day I could eat normally again. Brian, wonderful man, made me the sandwich of my dreams. I can’t even remember what was on it but it was enormous and totally divine and I ate every crumb and licked my fingers and asked for another.
My love for really, really great sandwiches runs deep. To be able to eat anything after basically a 2-week fast and have it be a ridiculous sandwich craving…well, that speaks volumes (since I love food of all shapes and sizes and flavors).
And since this is the longest intro to a post ever (BFF’s if you’ve read this far), let me just say that had I known about this Banh Mi sandwich all those years ago, you better believe it would have been my liberating request after the diet of doom. I have gushed over several sandwiches on this blog, but this Vietnamese meatball sub is one of my very favorites. They are very similar in flavor profile to the wraps I couldn’t stop talking about all last January – except the subs have meatballs (obvs) and some minor variances in ingredients.
The result is still very magical. Beautiful, thick bread stuffed with meatballs bursting with Asian flavors and smothered in a creamy, spicy sauce with the delightful crunch of quick-pickled veggies. Oh my goodness, will you just make these already? I am not kidding. Best.Sandwich.Ever. Don’t let the name or ingredients or prep (most of it can be done in advance) or uniqueness scare you off. It is pure love in sandwich form.
For the creamy dressing, use the sriracha sauce if you like things spicy. I've made the sandwiches both ways and while I enjoy the heat, my kids don't as much, so I usually use the sweet Thai chili sauce which still has a kick to it but also has a bit of sweetness.
Fish sauce tends to scare some people but don't be; it adds great flavor. If you don't have it or prefer not to use it, consider adding a bit of soy sauce and increasing the salt if needed (fish sauce packs a salty punch).
The traditional bread vehicle for a Banh Mi is a crusty-type baguette. I go the unauthentic route and stuff all the goodness inside fluffy homemade bread (baked into the shape of longer hoagie buns instead of dinner rolls).
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise or plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce (like sriracha) or sweet Thai chili sauce (see note above)
- 1 green onion, white and green parts finely chopped
- 2 large carrots, coarsely grated or cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 English cucumber, coarsely grated or cut into thin matchsticks
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 pounds ground pork, ground turkey or a combination
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried
- 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce (see note above)
- 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce or sweet Thai chili sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 teaspoons sesame or vegetable or coconut oil, for browning
- 4 to 6 (6-inch) baguettes or hoagie buns (I use this recipe to make my own)
- Bunch of fresh cilantro
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the dressing. Cover and refrigerate. This can be made several days in advance.
- For the relish, toss together the carrots and cucumber. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, salt and sesame oil. Pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate. The relish can be made a day or so in advance.
- For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork (or turkey), basil, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, hot sauce, sugar, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Scoop the mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs. Heat the sesame oil (or other oil, if using) in a large 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot and rippling. Add the meatballs in a single layer and brown on all sides.
- Transfer the browned meatballs to a foil-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining meatballs (adding additional oil if necessary). Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven (I like to place the cooked meatballs one by one on a layer of paper towels to absorb any excess grease).
- To assemble the sandwiches, slice the buns or baguettes in half. Spread the dressing on the top half of the bread. Layer cilantro to taste on the bottom half. Place 3 or so meatballs (will depend on how big you made them) on top of the cilantro. Drain the relish and place a heaping spoonful on top of the meatballs. Press on the sandwich top and devour.
Recipe Source: adapted from this recipe at Bon Appetit (after a reader, Sarah, sent it to me)