Vietnamese Inspired Sandwiches 16

I recently came back from the Bay Area. It was one of those stunning Bay Area weekends–the sunny kind where the streets scream to be strolled and the air is still crisp enough to warrant a coat.

I love the Bay Area. I love that you can end up on BART rubbing shoulders with a woman reading the Bible, while staring at a man reading the Koran. I love that you find Pumpkin Waffles topped with cinnamon cream cheese. (Try and visit the Rockridge Café without ordering one. I dare you.) I love that Frisbee golf and mystery coffee cups go hand-in-hand, how the hills around the Caldecott Tunnel remind me of Ireland, and that hugging a new acquaintance is completely normal.

The trip was for a basketball tournament. I haven’t played three games in two days in quite some time. If I thought grey hairs made me old, my joints made me feel ancient! But, being on the court again was exhilarating. I was running, hitting–competing against athletes who cared, with fans who cheered, and refs who made real calls.

My team finished 2–and–3. We unfortunately lost in the championship. The good news is, we get to play them again during Nationals at the end of April. The better news is, through a strange course of my teammate’s-boyfriend’s-parents, I had dinner at Le Colonial. It was definitely not a Saturday Steal. It was an extravagant treat. Each dish was served family style, my favorite because it’s perfect for sparking conversation. There’s something about sharing clean, bold, and distinct flavors which makes you instantly bond with others.

French-Vietnamese inspired, Le Colonial is located in a three-story building tucked among San Francisco’s skyscrapers. Walking down the “allyesk” street to the entrance gave the impression you were in on a closely held secret. A patio walkway, cloth chandeliers, and wicker chairs begged to be in foreign country.

But, let me tell you the real reason to go: Ca Nuong, a grilled escolar with finger lime relish. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the meal was exceptional. All that was left of the five-spiced rubbed pork ribs were the bones. And, the pan-fried Brussel sprouts in sweet chili sauce were so addicting I slapped the waiter’s hand when he tried to take the “empty” plate away. (There were two sprouts left.)

Even after the filet mignon and lamb chops in house made mint sauce, I kept going back to the Ca Nuong. It wasn’t the escolar, a succulent fattier version of swordfish, which caused me to eat until I waddled. It was the finger lime relish. The bright bursts of acid tempered by a salty touch of fish sauce played with my senses like a Scottish man’s accent. The more you get the more you want.

If you aren’t familiar with finger limes, they are relatively new to the United States and quickly becoming popular. There’s no doubting how this Australian fruit earned its “finger” name once you see their long tuber shape. Filled with caviar like balls, they pop in your mouth delivering a burst of lime flavor. Unfortunately here, they are rare, out of season, and VERY expensive (ranging from $30 – $50 a pint). They’re so hard to find, every distributer I’ve found in Seattle is sold out. I’m secretly hoping a box of them will appear on my doorstep. But, I think for a while I’m SOL.

For a less refined Vietnamese bite of tart and salty goodness, I made my Vietnamese Inspired Sandwiches. Just try and put this baguette down!

Vietnamese Inspired Sandwiches
Serves 4

One of the great things about these sandwiches is how well they travel. They’re better after sitting an hour or two. Wrap them up and take them on the road. You won’t be disappointed.

My other favorite part is how versatile the ingredients are. You can use nearly any meat, particularly something with a neutral or Asian inspired flavor. The mayo is fantastic on other sandwiches. You can pump up the pickled veggies with daikon or beets. And, who doesn’t love caramelized onions?

2 baguettes
Lime & Garlic Mayo (optional)
24 ounces sliced, grilled chicken (Optional substitutions include: sliced sausage;
ground beef, pork or chicken; salmon; and escolar)
Pickled Carrots & Jalapenos (optional)
Caramelized onions (optional)
Sprouts or your choice of greens
¼ cup cilantro, lightly chopped

Slice each baguette in half vertically (creating 4 shorter sections). Slice each short section in half, along the long side of the bread, without creating two separate pieces. (You’ve created an open-ended boat shaped vessel, ideal for holding all your goodies.)

Generously slather both insides of bread with mayo. Add ¼ meat. Strain carrots and jalapenos. Add ¼ pickled veggies. Add ¼ caramelized onions. Top with a small bunch of sprouts and cilantro. Repeat with remaining baguettes. Serve with salty potato chips and sliced green apple.

Lime & Garlic Mayo
1 lime, zested and juiced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup mayonnaise

Combine lime zest, limejuice, garlic, and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Pickled Carrots & Jalapeno
½ cup water
3 TBS sugar
¼ cup distilled white vinegar
½ cup carrot, julienned
1 jalapeno, seeded and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt

Combine water, sugar, and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Remove and allow to cool. Add carrots, jalapeno, and salt. Cover and refrigerate.
NOTE: Carrots will pick up more vinegar flavor over time and the jalapeno’s heat will become more tempered.

Caramelized Onions
3 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
¼ tsp sat
½ cup water

Heat olive oil in a medium fry pan (Don’t use a non-stick one). Add onions. Season with salt and cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until onions begin to brown and grow limp.

Add ¼ cup water, stirring onions and scrapping the bottom of the pan to pick up browned bits. Allow water to fully cook off. Let onions begin to brown again. Add the second ¼ cup water, scrapping the bottom of the pan to pick up browned bits. Allow water to fully cook off, stirring onions constantly.

Transfer onions to a small bowl and set aside.
NOTE: Onions can keep refrigerated up to one week in a sealed container.

Recipe in print-friendly format

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About Mikaela Cowles

I’m a food-gobbling, book-reading, aspiring photog. Born and raised in Seattle, I love dancing in the rain, bouquets of fresh basil and green grass between my toes. I like how kneading butter into flour makes my fingers soft. I’m passionate about all things sweet potato. I prefer my coffee black, my scotch on the rocks and my steak bloody. I hunt, when I have time; play basketball; and hike. I’ve been known to laugh so hard I hyperventilate. And, I’m the owner of Making Language Count, a boutique freelance writing business.

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