We love Banh Mi sandwiches around here. On Saturday mornings, our local Asian market offers a few different types of fresh take and go foods. Among them is the Banh Mi. (They sell some killer empanadas, too!)
I was thinking that a fun take on the popular sandwich would be a Banh Mi Meatball Bowl. Taking all of our favorite elements from the classic, it’s reinvented--in a bowl with soft, fluffy Jasmine rice as a base. I’ve made addictive little meatballs with pork and typical flavorings found in the Banh Mi, and kept in the usual fresh, crunchy veggies and cool cilantro. This made a fantastic dinner that totally satisfied our cravings. Even my eight year old loved the meatballs! He’s a brave little taster.
What’s Banh Mi? A Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich served on a crusty baguette-type roll, and typically it’s got sliced pork, liver paté, spicy mayo, fresh cucumbers, cilantro, and pickled shredded daikon and carrot. It can also be made with grilled chicken, and have sliced jalapenos (a US addition) on it. There are many different varieties of the sandwich, and the meat on them can be prepared in several different ways. Other additions are sardines, tofu and fried eggs. Delicious no matter how you look at it!
Now, a bit about the daikon radish. What’s a daikon look like?
From Cook’s Thesaurus:
“daikon = white radish = Japanese radish = Chinese radish = icicle radish = lo bak = loh baak = loh buk = mooli = Oriental radish = lo pak Pronunciation: DIE-kon Notes: Daikon is larger and milder than its relative, the red radish. The Japanese like to grate it and serve it with sushi or sashimi, but you can also pickle it, stir-fry it, or slice it into salads. Japanese daikons tend to be longer and skinnier than their Chinese counterparts, but the two varieties can be used interchangeably. Choose specimens that are firm and shiny. They don't store well, so try to use them right away. Substitutes: jicama (This is especially good in recipes that call for daikon to be grated.) OR young turnip (for pickling) OR radish (not as hot) OR black radish (much more pungent) OR pickled ginger (as a garnish) OR parsnips (in soups or stews) OR turnips (in soups or stews) .”
Daikon radishes can be sort of pungent. Our friends at a local Japanese restaurant will shred it and soak it in water for about an hour to lessen it’s sharpness. I don’t find it particularly sharp tasting, but the aroma can be pretty strong. You don’t necessarily have to soak it, and it won’t affect the taste of the pickles in this dish at all, but it will smell strong. Sort of broccoli-cabbagey. I’ve included soaking it in the recipe directions, but again, it’s not something you must do--it’s just an option.
Banh Mi-eatball Rice Bowl
Pickled Daikon and Carrots:
1 medium daikon radish, about 8-9 inches long
1 (6-8 oz) bag shredded carrots (or you can shred 2-3 carrots)
3/4 cups rice vinegar
4 1/2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 pound ground pork
1 stalk of lemongrass
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP brown sugar
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fish sauce
Dash of sesame oil
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
Sliced cucumber (I love the small Persian ones.)
Sliced green onion
Your pickled daikon and carrots
Jasmine rice (or your favorite variety) plan on about 1-1 1/2 cups per person.
Soy sauce (optional)
An hour ahead of cooking, shred the daikon radish and soak it in cold water. When the hour is up, drain it and combine in a bowl with the carrots. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar with the sugar and salt--stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour over the carrot and daikon and toss well. Set aside.
To make the meatballs, in a medium bowl, mix all of the meatball ingredients. (If you've never used lemongrass before, remove the outer leaves, then cut off the top, dry stalky half and the very bottom of the stalk and discard. Carefully slice the remaining part down the middle lengthwise. Slice across in thin strips and then go back and mince the slices into finer pieces. Don’t worry, they soften during cooking.)
Form into small balls and set aside. I got 41 meatballs. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-medium high heat. Heat some oil in the pan. Just enough to coat the bottom. Add the meatballs and brown all over. If they’re browning too quickly, turn the heat down. Test your largest one and when it's done, remove them all from the pan and set aside.
Place a serving of rice in each bowl. Add some of the meatballs, some sliced cucumber, cilantro, green onion, and the pickled daikon and carrots. Serve with some soy sauce on the side, if desired.
- If you want these meatballs in sandwich form, just get some nice crusty rolls, and mix some hot sauce (like Sriracha) into some mayo, then add the meatballs and remaining toppings, but lose the rice.
- The meatballs would also make a great little appetizer with a nice dipping sauce on the side.
- If you can’t find daikon, there are substitutions listed in the info above. Can’t find lemongrass? Try lemon zest (zest from 1/2 lemon = 1 stalks lemon grass), lemon verbena, lemon balm, or lemon leaves. I suggest checking for them in your local Asian/ethnic market for them first. Sometimes big grocery stores surprise you and have these, as well.