Is this banh mi salad a banh mi? Yes, because banh mi means bread and sandwich in the Vietnamese language. This salad uses elements of the banh mi sandwich to create a light and refreshing summer dish. Bread is the star and this banh mi salad is a great way to use day-old baguette. After all, Vietnamese-style baguettes are light and airy. They’re meant to be eaten the day they’re bought but that does not always happen. Cue uses for day-old-bread. When I was young, we’d cut old, hard baguette into thick slices and steam them with green onion oil. It was a great little snack and way to use up the bread and some green onions, which there always seemed to be some around.
This week, I had a couple of old rolls and a small harvest of tomatoes and cucumbers and herbs from the garden. There was a lingering jar of daikon and carrot pickle in the far back of the fridge, too. All those ingredients pointed to a banh mi salad, a recipe that I have in The Banh Mi Handbook.
I’d been using a Marcella Hazan panzanella (Tuscan tomato and bread salad) recipe for years before I realized that her Italian ideas could be applied to create a Vietnamese banh mi salad. I simply swapped fish sauce for anchovies, Viet pickles for capers, pickling brine for vinegar, hot chile for sweet pepper, and Asian herbs for Italian basil. Marcella’s recipe included cucumber, so I was set!
Looking up panzanella history, I found out that before the 20th century, the bread salad employed onion, not tomato. The tomato is much friendlier for date night and it’s umami laden. But the onion got me thinking that if you make the red onion or shallot pickle from The Banh Mi Handbook, this banh mi salad would have an extra edge. But perhaps the funk of classic daikon and carrot pickle is enough for you. In any event, a little edge via the pickle lends extra dimension.
My tomatoes turned out to be rather meaty so they didn’t collapse as usual to totally soften the banh mi croutons. Nevertheless, the banh mi salad was stained orange-red as it should be.
Enjoy the salad alone for a light lunch or present it as a side dish with one of the banh mi proteins for a filling meal. Or, cut up the protein. Laura McCarthy, one of The Banh Mi Handbook recipe testers, suggested, and add it directly to the salad; leftovers would work too. A banh mi salad is as flexible as a banh mi sandwich.
Banh Mi Salad
Yield 4 servings
If you want to make your banh mi salad vegan, simply use Maggi Seasoning sauce, Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce to reinforce the umami depth. Otherwise, use the fish sauce. It's made mostly of anchovies, like the anchovies that would go into an Italian panzanella.
- Half a baguette or 2 rolls suitable for banh mi
- Salt, kosher preferred
- About 6 tablespoons canola, grapeseed, or a mild-tasting olive oil
- ⅓ cup banh mi pickle (choose from pages 33 to 37, including the classic daikon and carrot pickle)
- ¼ cup pickling brine (from the pickle)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce, Maggi Seasoning sauce, Bragg Liquid Aminos, or regular soy sauce
- 1 small garlic clovec, minced and mashed or put through a garlic press
- 1 jalapeño or Fresno chile, chopped
- 8 ounces cucumber, any kind
- 1 pound juicy, ripe tomatoes
- Black pepper
- A large handful of coarsely chopped fresh herbs, such as Thai or Italian basil, cilantro, and Vietnamese coriander (rau ram)
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Use a serrated knife to cut the bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Put into a large bowl and toss with a couple sprinklings of salt and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until crisp and golden. Let cool completely, about 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, use the bread bowl to prepare the rest of the salad. (If you’re using the snow pea pickle, cut it into pieces to roughly match the bread.) Put the pickle in the bowl along with the pickling brine, fish sauce, garlic, chile, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of oil.
- Peel the cucumber, if you like, then quarter it lengthwise. Seed the pieces, then cut them crosswise into 1/4-inch thick fans. Add to the bowl.
- If using cherry tomatoes, stem and halve each one before adding to the bowl. With other kinds of tomatoes, halve each, then seed them over the bowl (hold the tomato cut side down and squeeze gently) to release the gelatinous insides into the dressing. Cut the tomato into pieces to match the bread, then add them to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Finish the salad or set aside for up to 1 hour.
- Shortly before serving, add the bread and herb to the tomato mixture. Toss well, then let sit for several minutes to allow flavors to meld. Taste and fine-tune by adding pickling brine and/or oil by the tablespoon. Divide among shallow soup bowls or plates and serve. If handy, garnish with sprigs of herb.
From Andrea Nguyen’s The Banh Mi Handbook (2014, Ten Speed Press)
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