When I worked downtown, there was a Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away that had great lunch specials and very quick service. There, I learned to love green papaya salad, pho and banh mi. I would usually get pork banh mi, a crusty French baguette with delicious marinated pork, a mayonnaise-based sauce with soy sauce and a little spice, cilantro, jalapenos, and pickled carrots & daikon radish. I believe that the pickled vegetables are the secret to elevating banh mi from just some sandwich to something special. The combination of ingredients is magical– it doesn’t sound like much if you’ve never tried one, but it is the perfect mix of textures, spice, sweetness and tanginess.
When I started eating less meat, I missed those sandwiches so much, but found quickly that tofu banh mi are pretty awesome, too, with coconut milk-marinated fried tofu pieces in place of the pork. My favorite tofu banh mi comes from Baguette Box; I could walk to the Capitol Hill location on my lunch and often did. Baguette Box has a location in Fremont, too; one day, R and I were out and about there and I dragged him in to try a sandwich. He was skeptical at first about the tofu, but the avocado BB adds swayed him, and a few bites were all it took for him to agree that they were worth seeking out. We were sitting outside on a beautiful spring day, watching boats and kayaks go down the ship canal, eating these wonderful tofu banh mi, and he casually and very innocently mentioned that I should try making the carrot and daikon pickle. The other ingredients are straightforward, so if we could get that part down, we could make our own banh mi at home. And so another canning quest was born, and I made some, and it was okay– but my second batch was tweaked to my satisfaction and I now have a Keeper Recipe for do chua, or Vietnamese daikon & carrot pickle.
Do chua is sweeter and less vinegary than a dill pickle; the daikon and carrot stay crunchy, which is highly desirable (according to me) because it gives an element of texture to your banh mi. The acid highlights the freshness of the other ingredients and is also a nice cooling taste to contrast spicy flavors. I do can mine, but you could definitely make some as a fridge pickle and expect that they would last for a while; the picture below is of a double batch I made in January, so expect about 3 pints or 6 half-pints from this recipe. I am starting to experiment with other ways to use do chua; later this week I will tell you my current favorite way to eat it. If you don’t want to make your own do chua, you can find it in most Asian markets, and if you can get some, do it! Banh mi is worth making at least once in your lifetime, and I bet you just might get hooked.
Do Chua (Vietnamese Daikon & Carrot Pickles)
- 1 1/2 c. white vinegar
- 1 1/2 c. water
- 1-2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 c. + 2 tsp. sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 lb. carrots, julienned*
- 1 lb. daikon radish, peeled & julienned*
- 1/2 tsp. coriander seed PER JAR (use 1 1/2 tsp. if making fridge pickles in a big container)
If you plan to can the do chua, prepare your jars and lids and have your canner ready to go. Place the cut vegetables into a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and 2 tsp. sugar; use your hands to knead the salt and sugar into the vegetables for 2-3 mins. to remove some of the excess water. Drain them in a colander and rinse well under cold running water; set aside.
In a non-reactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and ginger; bring to a boil and cook just until sugar is thoroughly dissolved. Working quickly, one jar at a time, measure 1/2 tsp. coriander seed into the bottom of a hot jar and then pack it full with vegetables, pressing down gently but firmly until the jar is filled. Ladle boiling hot brine over the vegetables, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Wipe the rim and put on the flat lid, then screw on the ring lid. Repeat until your jars are filled. Process in a water bath for 10 mins.; remove from the water bath and set aside, untouched, for 24 hours.
If you are not canning them, follow the same recipe and steps, but instead of putting the carrots and daikon into small jars, put them into a container large enough to hold them all but small enough to allow them to be submerged in the brine. Add coriander to the container, cover the vegetables with brine, cover and place in the fridge.
Whether canning or making them in the fridge, do chua should sit for at least a week before eating; it gets better and better with time.
*The key to julienning the vegetables is keeping a consistent size so they pickle evenly. The size of your canning jars may also determine whether you keep them in short matchsticks or longer pieces.