Buns Before Flowers

While we do appreciate a colorful bouquet of blooms and a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, we all know the best way to win someone's heart is through their belly. Cancel that prix fixe meal reservation and grab ingredients for our rendition of the perfect sandwich, bánh mì, to make at home with your perfect someone. Fresh crunchy bread, sweet and savory meat, tang and spice will earn you double points – trust us. What to serve on the side? Check out Lucky Rice: Stories and Recipes from Night Markets, Feasts, and Family Tables for some tasty options.

Vietnamese Bánh Mì
serves 4

Banh mi, which translates simply as “bread,” is a packed hoagie-style sandwich that is a product of French colonialism in Indochina. French ingredients like fresh baguettes and mayonnaise are combined with Vietnamese ingredients such as cilantro, fish sauce, and pickled carrots to create this everyday fusion sandwich. Today in the United States, especially in large Vietnamese communities like those in Houston or the San Francisco Bay Area, banh mi shops are seemingly everywhere. There the French baguette dough is cut with rice flour to create a crispier crust and an overall lighter bread, a perfect container for savory meat fillings balanced by a fresh, crunchy, sweet-sour pickled vegetable slaw.

FOR THE MEAT:      1 shallot, coarsely chopped      3 garlic cloves      1 1-inch knob fresh ginger, coarsely chopped      1 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces      1 teaspoon dark brown sugar      1 tablespoon dark soy sauce      1½ tablespoons fish sauce      1 tablespoon vegetable oil      1½ pounds pork tenderloin   FOR THE SLAW:      1 large carrot, shredded      1 medium daikon, shredded      ¼ cup distilled white vinegar      1 tablespoon granulated sugar      1 teaspoon kosher salt   FOR THE SANDWICHES:      6 large, crusty baguette rolls (or 3 large baguettes cut into 10-inch lengths)      ¾ cup mayonnaise      ¾ cup fresh cilantro sprigs      ½ large seedless cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise Sriracha, for serving

PREPARE THE MEAT: Combine the shallot, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, brown sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, and vegetable oil in a food processor. Pulse to chop up the aromatics; then let the machine run for 1 to 2 minutes, until you have a smooth paste. Put the pork tenderloin in a self-seal plastic bag and add the spice paste. Seal the bag and massage the paste onto the pork, turning it to coat it completely. Let the meat marinate at room temperature for 1 hour, or in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours.

MEANWHILE, MAKE THE SLAW: Toss the carrot and daikon together in a medium heatproof bowl. Combine the vinegar, granulated sugar, kosher salt, and ½ cup of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Pour the mixture over the carrot and daikon. Cover the bowl, and let the slaw sit for 1 hour at room temperature or in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Before serving, drain the slaw, discarding the liquid. When you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 400.

COOK THE MEAT: Put the marinated pork in a small roasting pan or cast-iron skillet. Roast for 12 to 15 minutes, until the center reads 145°F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the pork from the oven, cover it loosely with foil, and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing.

ASSEMBLE THE SANDWICHES: Thinly slice the pork and halve the baguette rolls or pieces horizontally. Spread mayonnaise on each side of the bread, and top one side with pork, slaw, cilantro, and cucumber. Cover the toppings with the other side of the bread. Serve with Sriracha on the side.