Spicy, savory and sweet, sandwich piles on flavor

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01/19/2010 7:30 PM

01/19/2010 9:25 PM

I'm not a sandwich fan. Too much bread and not enough filling.

Sure, there are exceptions. Like the chicken Caesar sandwich from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Chicken, bacon, creamy dressing and more creamy dressing. No skimping there.

And banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich filled with pork and marinated veggies. There are a couple of restaurants near Modesto High School that sell these. The sandwiches are a handful, to say the least.

That's why I picked banh mi for this week's recipe. I figured the sandwiches would make a substantial, flavorful meal without much work. Plus, they're interesting. It doesn't hurt to change things up a bit when it comes to dinner.

Shopping was easy. My grocery store had ground pork in the butcher case, and I found the Asian ingredients — fish sauce and sriracha sauce — easily.

The only thing the store didn't have was daikon, so I used regular radishes instead.

Making the sandwiches was a bit more time-consuming than I would have liked, especially for a weeknight. First, prepare the mayo. You might want to cut down on the amount of hot chili sauce you add to it. My mayo turned out extra-spicy.

Then, make the meatballs. Be sure to chop, chop, chop the green onions. No one likes a blast of onion in their meatball.

Veggies come next. This step looks more time-intensive than it actually is. The result is a sweet-tart slaw of carrots and radishes that could stand-alone as a salad.

Next, fry the meatballs. I would use a bit less sesame oil than the recipe suggests. My meatballs turned out greasy.

A note on assembling the sandwiches: Sure, the chili mayo may taste great, but don't use too much. The heat overpowered my meatballs. You want to taste the gingery flavor of the pork.

In the end, I ended up with two hefty sandwiches with lots of meatballs and other ingredients leftover for the next day. The sandwiches didn't look like much on the plate, but they were flavorful and filling.

What The Testers Had To Say

This dish was worth the time it took to chop/grate the veggies. I did expect it to be spicier. The mayo complemented the meat, along with the cilantro and crusty bread.

— Donna Boots, Modesto

This recipe provided an opportunity to taste daikon, sriracha and nam pla. We liked their flavors. Although most unusual, the sandwiches were tasty and filling — too filling, really (too much bread, too much pickled vegetable). Preparation is time-consuming; there is much grating and chopping and a bit of mincing. The pickled vegetables need to be drained thoroughly. Finally, a 10-inch piece of baguette per person is much too much bread for those of us long past our teenage years. One suggestion: the vegetables might be better shredded rather than grated.

— Ralph Moore, Modesto

This is fabulous! It was very tasty and easy. I used ground turkey instead of pork to cut fat and calories. Baking the meatballs for 20 minutes at 400 degrees on a foil-lined baking sheet eliminated stove-top cleanup. I thought the fish sauce would make these too salty or too fishy, but they were perfectly seasoned — don't skip this ingredient. Daikon was not available, so I used red radish and more carrot. Also, I julienned them for more crispness. I thought if the veggies were grated they'd be too thin and then soggy in the marinade. My husband doesn't care for hot, spicy foods, so I eliminated the jalapeño, as the spiciness of the hot chili mayo provided enough heat. The leftover meatballs, and the leftover mayo as a dip, made a very good next-day snack.

— Jan Gibson, Modesto

This was a time-consuming sandwich to make, but very flavorful. On a friend's recommendation, I used ciabatta bread instead of a baguette. Both the mayonnaise and meatballs were spicy, so on my sandwich, I left off the chilies. I really like the cilantro on the sandwich. Unfortunately, this mixture does not smell wonderful. Next time, I will use less hot sauce in the mayo and make less of it.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

These sandwiches were different but delicious! Only one substitution, regular radishes for the daikons. I finished the meatballs in the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes. The pickled vegetables cooled the heat from the sriracha; pile them on, and make sure the baguette is fresh — it's a mouthful.

— Sandy Loya, Modesto

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