Pickled vegetables are integral to any traditional banh mi and pickled carrots may hold the top spot. Not only does the pickling process bring a rewarding crispness to your carrots, it’ll help make them even more colorful! Marinade overnight in a mixture of rice vinegar, water, and sugar for best results.
In terms of herbs, cilantro is absolutely crucial to your sandwich. The fresh, citrusy, and subtly-spicy flavor of fresh cilantro exemplifies different aspects of the overall sandwich, and can help unify different ingredients. Always use fresh cilantro if you have access to it; the dried stuff isn’t strong enough to make a lasting impression.
Along with carrots, daikon radishes are the kings of pickled vegetables in banh mi. Daikons are actually native to Southeast Asia, so they’re paired in just about every traditional banh mi that you can think of. Like carrots, be sure to julienne daikons before pickling. Additionally, it might be a good idea to prep extra pickled daikons, as they can be used in a variety of Asian dishes beyond banh mi.
- Pro Tip: Standard radishes can be substituted for daikon, but be aware that the flavor profile will change slightly.
The signature cooling crispness of cucumbers is a phenomenal balancing agent in particularly spicy or strong banh mis. They’re greater partners to jalapeños too (more on that later), and bring a cooler color to the plate when paired with bright vegetables like radish or carrot.
Whether it’s chicken, pork, beef, or tofu, lemongrass marinaded portions constantly show up on banh mi menus. It’s easy to see why too; the fragrant ingredient brings some seriously classy citric and sharp flavors that steer clear from any overt bitterness.
- Pro Tip: Bruising your lemongrass helps release more flavor from the plant. To do this, simply crush your lemongrass with a pestle after you’ve discarded the outside layers.
Looking to dive even further into the “fusion” aspect of banh mi? Surprisingly, Mexico’s most famous pepper is right at home in a variety of banh mis, particularly lemongrass or BBQ marinated meat sandwiches. We’d recommend sticking with slices of green jalapeño to avoid overdoing the spiciness.