cookbook review: The Banh Mi Handbook

Andrea Nguyen has written several Vietnamese cookbooks and has now added one all about banh mi.  The Banh Mi Handbook is a compact yet comprehensive book.  When I saw how thin it was, I was a bit skeptical, but this book does a good job of covering all of the different components that make up banh mi.

Banh mi in Vietnamese means bread, but it also refers to Vietnamese sandwiches.  Often, the sandwiches include a schmear of pate (optional, but pate makes it taste better), meat or other protein, pickled veggies (usually carrots & daikon), some cilantro, and thin slices of jalapeno.  It’s a meal that you can eat with one hand and may provide all or almost all of the food groups.  It’s no wonder that it’s so popular.  The problem that I have is that I live in the Midwest, which isn’t exactly known for its Asian cuisine.  The other problem with banh mi is that, even though it is a simple concept and it’s hard to mess it up, it’s also hard to get it just right – just the right amount of pate, just the right ratio of meat to pickled veggies … and it’s hard to get just right because everyone has their own preferences.

The Banh Mi Handbook shows home cooks how to make their own banh mi to suit their own tastes.  It includes a recipe for making banh mi (although I’m lazy and just buy some small Italian/French loaves from the grocery store), pate recipes (again, I’m lazy and just use liverwurst), Vietnamese meatloaf (her book calls it garlic pepper pork tenderloin – I was able to find some premade stuff at an Asian grocery store).  The pickled carrots & daikon are super easy and fast to make, especially if you have a food processor.  The book includes other pickled veggie recipes like snowpea and lemongrass pickle, but I’ve never seen those things on banh mi before so I just stuck with the carrots & daikon.  The meat or other protein is the part that takes the longest to prepare … and really, it’s entirely up to you if you want to spend more time making some of the more complicated recipes that require more ingredients (I’m looking at you, Sri Lankan Black Curry Chicken) or something simple but still delicious such as the  Grilled Lemongrass Pork.  For vegetarians, edamame pate, coconut curry tofu, baked maggi tofu, and lemongrass sriracha tempeh recipes are included.  I think, though, that you could substitute tofu for the meat in many of the other recipes and it would be fine.  The grilled lemongrass pork seemed versatile – just put the tofu between 2 plates to get rid of more of the water and to firm it up more.

The one pretty minor complaint I have about this book is that I would have loved to have seen more pictures of the different recipes.  Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few color pictures, but I’m greedy like that.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books for my honest review.

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