I wasn't always an adventurous eater. In fact, I was what you'd call a picky eater for my first couple of decades. One of my first real forays outside my rather limited comfort zone was dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant while I was on a trip to DC just before I moved there. It would not have been my choice, but I was with my friend Jennie, staying with her cousins who were taking us to the theater, and they picked the restaurant.
I was nervous. What if there wasn't anything I could eat? What if I couldn't pronounce the name of anything on the menu? It turned out though that everything was delicious. I think I did order some kind of sampler menu to avoid having to pronounce the unfamiliar words. This has turned out to be a pretty good strategy in the years since then, during which I've tried pretty much every kind of ethnic food available to me.
Recently, I was watching Anthony Bourdain eating his way through Vietnam and one thing in particular looked especially delicious to me. It was a sandwich called banh mi. I've learned since then that it's becoming a trendy food in the US. It's a legacy of the French colonization, what with the baguette and mayonnaise.
Inspired by Anthony Bourdain, I googled banh mi recipes and found one that looked both manageable and delicious. Broiled garlicky chicken breasts. Onions, carrots, and daikon radish quick pickled in rice vinegar plus thin sliced cucumber. Mayo, sriracha (more for Raj than for me), cilantro, and a squeeze of lime. You guys. Seriously, you want to make this. ASAP.
The recipe I started from is here. The problem with this recipe is that it's for one sandwich. Why on earth would I want to make only one of these? I quadrupled the recipe so we could each have a sandwich for dinner, plus leftovers for lunch. (What happened though was that we each had one and a half and then I ate the other one for lunch the next day. It pays to be the one who's home for lunch some days.) Here's how I did it:
2 cups rice vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup sugar (I'll use less next time, but I like things SUPER tart, so you may want to stick with the full cup)
1 cup carrots cut into matchsticks (I bought them precut to save time and lessen the chances of self-maiming)
1 cup white daikon radish cut into matchsticks (if your grocery store doesn't have it, you could check an Asian market or just increase the carrots and onion by 1/2 cup each to make up for leaving it out)
1 cup thinly sliced white onion
3 skinless boneless chicken breasts (sure, quadrupling the recipe should mean four, but they come in packs of three here and it seemed sufficient)
garlic salt and black pepper to taste
4 12-inch baguettes or sandwich rolls
1 cup thinly sliced cucumber
mayonnaise to taste
Sriracha to taste (the recipe calls for a jalapeno, but the comments suggested using sriracha instead, which meant less chopping and no searching the commissary to see if they happened to have jalapenos that day)
chopped fresh cilantro (the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon per sandwich - I'm pretty sure we used a lot more than that)
1 lime, quartered
Bring water, sugar, and vinegar to a boil over medium heat, stirring, and boil until the sugar has dissolved, about one minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
Pour cooled vinegar mixture over onion, carrot, and daikon in a bowl and let stand for at least 30 minutes. (Your house is going to smell powerfully of vinegar, just FYI.) Then drain off excess liquid.
Preheat your broiler (the recipe doesn't specify to what - mine was at 500) and set the rack 6 inches from the heat source.
Sprinkle chicken breasts with garlic salt and pepper. The recipe says to put it on a lightly oiled slotted broiling pan. I don't have one, so I put mine on tin foil on a regular roasting pan. Broil until chicken is browned and no longer pink inside, turning once. This is supposed to take about 6 minutes per side. Mine took longer, but my oven may not have been nearly hot enough when I started.
Slice and broil or toast your bread. (The recipe wants you to pull the middle out of your bread to create a cavity for your sandwich filling. I did not do that.)
Spread mayo on both sides of your toasted bread, add sriracha, then chicken, vegetables, cucumber slices, and cilantro. Squeeze lime over it and put the top on.
Enjoy over a plate. Some of your sandwich filling is going to fall out and you don't want it to end up in your lap or worse, on the floor, which may make you feel you can't then eat it. Trust me, you won't want to waste any.
*Apparently this can be done with any sort of protein (fish or shrimp seem like easy substitutions) or even scrambled eggs, in case chicken isn't your thing.