On this sunny Sunday, Nathan and I joined some friends (as well as the entire city of San Francisco, it seemed) in Golden Gate Park for some free live music, courtesy of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Really, how can we turn down a line-up of Bonnie Prince Billy, Iron & Wine, and Gogol Bordello? And of course, you must know by now that I would never even think of setting out for a day in the park without packing some rations. Due to lack of time, though, we decided to just walk through the Sunset and buy some Vietnamese sandwiches to snack on. Which then reminded me that I have delayed blogging about Banh Mi for far too long.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t discover the glories of Banh Mi until I started living on a grad student budget. Until I tasted my first Banh Mi, I would never have believed that a hearty, delicious lunch can be had for $3-$3.50 in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now that my eyes have been opened, I’m totally obsessed and can seriously eat one of these every day and be happy as a kitty.

You might wonder with Banh Mi already so cheap, why would you even want to make your own? Well, because this cruel, cruel world has decided not to put Vietnamese sandwich shops anywhere near my school! So until the school’s cafe wises up, I either have to trek downtown every afternoon or to take more drastic measures and make Banh Mi at home.

You can use fillings like roast pork, roast chicken, or even tofu. This time, I chose to make my own meatballs using a recipe from Viet World Kitchen. While I was over there, I also found an excellent recipe for making your own pickled carrots and daikon. Thanks Andrea!

As for the rolls, the ones bought from Vietnamese markets work best because they’re made with a mix of rice and wheat flours. If that sounds too crazy, you can also cut up a sweet baguette or some other crusty French bread – it’ll just be slightly chewier. To score major points, though, make your own! (Recipe below)

Vietnamese mini-baguettes:
1 cup rice flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1.5 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp salt
~4 cups all-purpose flour

Fillings:
Mayonnaise
Meatballs – halved, then slightly crumbled
Cilantro – tear off the leaves
Pickled carrots and daikon
Jalapenos – sliced thin
Fish sauce

Make the baguettes: Combine the first 3 ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Put lukewarm water in bowl of a mixer and using a spoon, stir in the yeast to dissolve. Add sugar and rice flour mixture. Mix briefly. Sprinkle on the salt and 3.5 cups of the all-purpose flour. Knead on low speed for about 3 min. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for another min.

Place dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and flip the dough over to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1.5 hours.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board and divide in half. Cut each half into 4 equal pieces, then roll each into a ball. Flatten each ball slightly. Cover and let rest for 5-10 min. Meanwhile, line two baking sheets with parchment.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, first flatten the dough into an oval. Then, use a rolling pin to roll it out to a pointy oval about 8-in long and 6-in at its widest point. Roll up into a cylinder, starting from one of the pointed ends and stretching the dough slightly as you go, to make a mini-baguette about 8 inches long. You should see a clear V-shape seam on the bread. Place the baguette on the baking sheet, with the point down. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, leaving about 1.5 inches of space between the breads on the baking sheets. Cover and let rise for another 30 min, until doubled.

Put two racks just above and below the center of the oven and preheat to 425F. Fill a sprayer with water.

Bake the breads for a total of 20 min, spraying with water 2-3 times for the first 10 min to get a crispy crust. Rotate the pans after 10 min. The breads are done with they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer to cooling racks.

(Freeze any baguettes you don’t eat the same day or they’ll dry out very quickly. Reheat in the oven or a toaster oven before using for sandwiches.)

Assemble the sandwiches: I probably don’t need to tell you how make a sandwich, but wouldn’t a recipe look weird without instructions?? So, assemble the Banh Mi by toasting then splitting the bread, spreading with mayo, and piling on the meat and vegetables. Finish with a quick dash of fish sauce. Voila!

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