Piña Colada Kulfi Pops

This was my son's first taste of kulfi. I think he liked it, don't you?
This was my son’s first taste of kulfi. I think he liked it, don’t you?

When we lived in Central California, we often weekend-tripped to San Francisco to visit friends. We had a standard list of must-do’s: cable car rides, City Lights Books, dim sum, Burma Superstar restaurant, the California Academy of Sciences, etc… And Bombay Ice Cream.

A tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it storefront, this was where I fell in love with an ice cream suffused with the sharp, earthy scent of cardamom and the intoxicating sweetness of rose petals. This wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill ice cream. It was kulfi. Some argue that kulfi shouldn’t be called “ice cream” because it’s thicker and denser than the Western ice cream ideal. But I suppose the word “kulfi” doesn’t elicit the same wide eyed excitement from everyone so Indian ice cream it is!

Read more…

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3-Ingredient Challenge: Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

For this month’s Let’s Lunch challenge, we were tasked with making three-ingredient recipes. Now I’ve seen and attempted five-ingredient recipes but three ingredients? That’s a tough one.

As often happens in life, things organically fell into place.

Last month, I wrote a story on building a gluten-free pantry and I was intrigued by all the alternative flours available for baking. Almond meal in particular caught my eye. I love almond flavored anything. I can still remember little-girl-me at weddings scraping off the marzipan frosting from the cake slices we were served (yes, I attacked my family’s share as well) and leaving the (yucky) fruitcake behind.

Almond meal cookie
Made with almond meal instead of wheat flour, these gluten-free almond cookies are a fascimile of my favorite Chinese almond cookies but they’re still yummy!

In adulthood, my almond obsession continues: I swoon for sweet frangipane tarts and I can devour a dozen delicate amaretti cookies at one sitting. And then there are Chinese almond cookies. I don’t remember having them in Singapore but as a college student in Seattle, I’d often buy them at the Chinese bakery in Chinatown in addition to the barbecued pork buns and egg tarts that offered a taste of home. When I was researching The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook, I saw many recipes in old cookbooks but it never occurred to me to make them at home. Until now.

By chance, I came across this honey almond cookie recipe. Another coincidence occurred when fellow Let’s Luncher Grace of HapaMama.com resurfaced an old blog post about Chinese almond cookies in commemoration of Chinese Almond Cookie Day on April 9 (who knew?).

You don't have to wait long for these cookies to bake--go water your plants, read a page or two from your book and ding... they're done!
You don’t have to wait long for these cookies to bake–go water your plants, read a page or two from your book and ding… they’re done!

The almond cookie I came up with tastes similar to Chinese almond cookies but are softer and chewier, lacking the crunch of the true specimen (visit HapaMama.com for Grace’s version of a more traditional Chinese almond cookie). But I’m not complaining: This cookie is mighty tasty considering it’s gluten-free, has no refined sugars, and takes barely10 minutes of active time. Plus, it fulfilled the three-ingredient challenge!

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Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

cookie stack

This is a basic, basic gluten-free cookie recipe made with almond meal. If I weren’t restricted to just three ingredients, I’d add vanilla, baking soda (1/4 teaspoon) to give it more rise, and some almond extract (1/4 teaspoon) for a more almondy flavor. Oh and crown each cookie with an almond sliver to pretty them up some more! Almond meal is basically ground blanched almonds. It’s a pricy package–$8.99 per pound but it’s very useful in gluten-free baking. Even if you’re not gluten-free, try replacing some of the wheat flour with almond meal in a favorite cake or muffin recipe–you’ll reduce total carbs and give yourself a good dose of Vitamin E and manganese.

Makes: 3 dozen cookies
Time: 10 minutes active, 30 minutes resting, 8 minutes baking

1/4 cup salted butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
2 -1/2 cups almond meal
Turbinado sugar for sprinkling (OK, so I cheated and added a 4th ingredient, but it’s only for decoration!)

In a medium bowl, mix the butter and honey until well blended. Add the almond meal and mix until a soft dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes or so until the dough firms up a little.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Take dough out of the fridge and roll into 1-inch balls with damp hands. Place them on the parchment and flatten with the back of a wet spoon. Sprinkle turbinado sugar with or without abandon!

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until the edges turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes before removing to a cooling rack. The cookies will be soft so handle with care.

Enjoy immediately or store in an airtight container.

**Addendum: if you refrigerate the baked cookies, they’ll be firmer and in my opinion, taste even better!

~~~

Today’s post is part of our monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck and we’re featuring 3-ingredient recipes!

For more Let’s Lunch posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Mac and Cheese and Peanut Butter Cookies at Tea and Scones.

Filipino Sticky Rice Logs at Asian in America.

Easier Chicken and Dumplings at A Cook and Her Books.

Turkish Sesame Sweet at Monday Morning Cooking Club.

Trinidadian Mango Chow at Spicebox Travels.

Mango Coconut Chia Pudding at HapaMama.

Peanut Butter Cookies at Hot Curries & Cold Beer.

Easy Kaya (Coconut Egg Jam) à la Martha Stewart

A jar of homemade kaya
A jar of homemade kaya

I’ve been thinking about kaya a lot lately—that creamy, unctuous coconut egg jam that was the foundation of many a childhood breakfast. I ate kaya at home between toasted sandwich slices (Gardenia, of course). I ate the holy trinity of Singapore breakfasts–kaya toast, soft-boiled egg, and iced Milo–at the neighborhood kopitiam (coffee shop). And I ate kaya swirled into soft loaves of bread that my mom bought from the local bakery.

Kaya set2
The components of kaya toast–kaya and butter

I was definitely craving kaya. Unfortunately, the store-bought specimens looked like jam only ET could love but maybe even he would be put off by the fluorescent yellow or green hue. And not surprisingly, it tasted bad too.

So I did a little research to see what it would take to make kaya at home. After skimming a few recipes that required freshly-squeezed coconut milk, 10 eggs, and/or hours of stirring over a hot water bath, I all but gave up.

Then it hit me. Kaya’s ingredients and texture are similar to a curd! So I looked up the recipe for lemon curd in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook and realized it would be so easy to tweak to make kaya. The ingredients are surprisingly similar. The biggest difference was that instead of whole eggs, only the yolks are used. And it takes only about 10 to 15 minutes from start to finish!

To be honest, I was a little skeptical. But the recipe was easy to follow and the curd/custard turned out perfect in taste and texture the very first time!

Thank you, Martha!

~~~

Easy Kaya (Coconut Egg Jam) à la Martha Stewart

Kaya with knife

Martha Stewart didn’t really come up with a kaya recipe but her lemon curd recipe was the inspiration for my version. Instead of palm sugar, you can also use brown sugar—light or dark, it doesn’t matter–and/or use a mix of white granulated and brown. And feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to suit your taste. If you can’t find pandan leaves, don’t fret, just leave them out. Or you might want to try vanilla. Personally, I don’t find vanilla to be an adequate substitute for the complex flavor and aroma of pandan leaves. But, if you didn’t grow up with it, you probably won’t care. Just sayin’.

Makes: 1 cup
Time: 15 minutes

¾ cup unsweetened coconut milk (not light coconut milk please!)
4 egg yolks
3-1/2 ounces palm sugar (2 discs), crushed, or 1/2 cup sugar
2 to 3 pandan leaves, tied into a knot

Combine the coconut milk, egg yolks, and sugar in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan and whisk until smooth. Add the pandan leaves and cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, 8 to 10 minutes. To be doubly sure the custard is cooked, it should register 160 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides!

Remove the saucepan from the heat and discard the pandan leaves. Strain through a fine sieve into a small glass bowl or jar with a lid. Leave uncovered until completely cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

 

Kaya Toast

Kaya toast

The authentic way to make kaya toast is to grill your sandwich slices—white bread is best, Gardenia or WonderBread is even better–is over coals. Since this is not always possible,  just toast it. Slather a thick layer of butter (at least ½-inch according to some sources), followed by a hefty layer of kaya. This is not meant to be diet food!! Remove the crusts, halve, and serve with coffee, tea, or Milo!

For something a little different, sandwich kaya and butter between two Jacob’s Cream Crackers.

Cold Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding (Champorado) and a Cookbook Giveaway

chocolate on top
Breaking up the chocolate bar was easy. Before unwrapping, I just broke it apart with my fingers. No mess!

You might think me crazy for craving rice pudding in the middle of summer. But this past week or two, we’ve had a deluge of thunderstorms here in northern Virginia.

And we all know there’s nothing more comforting than curling up on the couch with a rich, creamy bowl of rice pudding as you listen to the pitter patter of raindrops and spy the occasional flash of lightning above the rooftops. Especially when it’s chocolate rice pudding!

Now rice pudding recipes are as common as golden poppies carpeting a California hillside, but I was delighted to find Marvin Gapultos’s Filipino champorado (Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding) in his new cookbook, “The Adobo Road Cookbook–A Filipino Food Journey–From Food Blog, To Food Truck, And Beyond” (Tuttle Books, May 2013). If you didn’t know already, Marvin is the voice behind the very entertaining  Burnt Lumpia blog. And if you haven’t visited his blog, you should!

Marvin's new cookbook is an exciting treasure trove of both classic and modern Filipino recipes.
Marvin’s new cookbook is an exciting treasure trove of both classic and modern Filipino recipes.

More mocha than chocolate since it contains coffee, this rice pudding uses a particular type of rice called “malagkit,” the Tagalog name for long grain glutinous rice. My last encounter with malagkit was when I was making suman with Gloria for my cookbook.

While I was making the champorado, I imagined Gloria standing next to me in the kitchen reminding me to constantly stir the rice. “C’mon, Pat, keep stirring.” I have to admit, without Gloria at my side, I was a delinquent student and only picked up the spoon maybe once every 10 to 15 minutes. Thankfully, the rice didn’t burn and meld to the bottom of the pot (well, at least very little did!).

You are probably thinking, “I’m not going to make rice pudding in summer.” Oh, but you should.

I don’t have a problem eating hot foods in summer–I grew up eating steaming noodles and hot dessert soups in 100 degree F weather. However, as Marvin mentions, you can refrigerate the rice pudding for a few hours and eat it cold. And when the rice pudding gets cold and thickens up a little, you can do fancy things with it.

Et voilà!

cold rice pudding3
Cold rice pudding is a nice change from same ole same ole mousse or panacotta. Add some fresh summer berries and you have dessert for your next dinner party.

Aside from giving you Marvin’s awesome champorado recipe, I’m also giving you a chance to win Marvin’s cookbook. Tuttle Books has generously donated 3 copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook” so please leave me a comment telling me how you like your rice pudding and any special touches you add. Or just say, “hi!” 

The giveaway ends Friday, July 26, 2013. (Sorry, we can only mail the book to U.S. addresses.)

~~~

Chocolate and Coffee Rice Pudding (Champorado)

chocolate rice pudding5

Marvin writes in his book that Filipinos eat champorado for breakfast, and accompanied with dried salted fish. Being the modern Pinoy that he is, Marvin adds his own twist to with bacon. I, on the other hand, chose to eat it plain. Sorry, Marvin, couldn’t do it! Know that this recipe is so simple and so adaptable. If you prefer to eat rice pudding for an afternoon snack or dessert after dinner, then use decaf coffee. Or leave it out entirely (substitute with water) if you’d like to feed it to your kids. If you don’t have malagkit, use Japanese sweet rice (short grain glutinous rice) or any short grain rice like Japanese sushi rice. Even Arborio will do. You can also vary the type of chocolate. I used a bar of bittersweet chocolate instead of semisweet chocolate chips.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

3/4 cup (150 grams) malagkit
3 cups (750 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) strongly brewed coffee
1/3 cup (75 grams) sugar
Pinch of salt
1 (6 ounce) bar bittersweet chocolate, crushed, or 1/3 cup (250 grams) semisweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur (optional)

Combine the rice, milk, coffee, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat. While stirring frequently, bring everything to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until the rice is tender and the mixture thickens, 30 to 40 minutes. (Be the better cook and stir more often than I did!).

Remove the rice mixture from the heat. Add the chocolate and stir until they are melted and thoroughly incorporated into the rice. Stir in the coffee liqueur if using.

Spoon the pudding into individual bowls and serve warm. Or cover and chill till cold and serve with fresh berries.

Notes: If you’d like to garnish your rice pudding with bacon, cook a couple of slices till crisp, in a pan or in the oven (my preferred method—no splatter). Crumble and sprinkle over your champorado.

Don’t forget to leave a comment for a chance to win one of three copies of “The Adobo Road Cookbook!”

~~~

Full disclosure: I tested recipes for Marvin and my lovely quote also appears on the cover of his cookbook. Plus, I received a free copy. However, I am writing this post because I think it’s a great cookbook and you should buy it!

Munchie Mania: Sausage Rolls

When I was a little girl, I was quite the snacker (who am I kidding, I’m still a snacker!). Although potato chips and Planters Cheez Curls were readily available, I went for more “local” snack items like Chickadees and Twisties, or perhaps chili-coated tapioca crisps.

As a tween, I realized I required heftier munchies to sustain me throughout the day and that’s when I turned to curry puffs, fried fishballs on a stick, and my all-time favorite, sausage rolls.

one missing

Sausage rolls may sound like a strange snack to grow up eating in Singapore but it’s no doubt a colonial legacy. In fact, when we lived in England for a couple of years, sausage rolls and Devon cream teas were both staples in my diet, much to the detriment of my waistline. Sausage rolls used to be sold at just about every school canteen and roadside snack bar. Sadly, on a recent trip to Singapore I couldn’t spot them anywhere.

A few years ago, I picked up the “Singapore Heritage Food” cookbook and was excited to find a recipe for sausage rolls in there. However, the resulting product was not up to par with my taste memory—or perhaps nostalgia just made it murky.

Thankfully, my mother came to my rescue. Mum is good like that. Since we’ve moved to the U.S., she’s managed to recreate just about every childhood favorite (I’m talking about dishes that we used to go out to eat) from mee siam to chili crab. And every dish has been just as tasty, or even tastier.

One day, after I lamented about the disappointing sausage roll recipe, she decided to experiment and came up with a winner. Unlike the many sausage roll recipes I’ve seen, she uses nutmeg (it’s an Indonesian-Dutch thing) and lots of sugar to satisfy our Javanese taste buds I assume. Plus, she cuts them into smaller two-bite pieces so one is less likely to overindulge, a sensible precaution since it’s hard to stop at one. You have been warned, they are mighty greasy!

I don’t recall what my childhood sausage rolls taste like anymore. Nor does it matter as Mum’s version makes my family and I very happy–perfect for whenever we have an attack of the munchies. Amazing how fickle those taste buds can be!

~~~

Mum’s Sausage Rolls

close up

Pork and puff pastry—I can’t imagine a more sublime marriage. My mum uses the Pepperidge Farm brand of frozen puff pastry but for some reason puff pastry isn’t always stocked at the neighborhood grocery store. I ended up buying Dufour brand at Whole Foods and that set me back a pretty penny–$10 for 14 ounces! Granted it’s made with real butter but still … That’s definitely an incentive to make my own puff pastry next time. If you have a good recipe let me know.

Makes: 20 pieces
Time: 20 minutes, plus cooking time

2 slices white or whole wheat bread, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup (2 percent or whole) milk
1 pound ground pork or chicken
3 to 4 teaspoons sugar (my family likes it sweet so add less if you prefer)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon white or black pepper
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I use freshly grated, and feel free to substitute with a different spice, say sage)
1 (14 to 17 ounce) package puff pastry, thawed completely
Flour, for dusting
1 egg, lightly beaten, and diluted with a tablespoon or two water
Black or white sesame seeds for sprinkling, optional

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Soak the bread in the milk. Combine the ground pork with the sugar, salt, pepper and nutmeg in a medium bowl.

Sprinkle some flour on your work surface and unfold the puff pastry, rolling out if necessary. Cut into half to form two rectangles measuring 8 x 24-inches.

Add the soaked bread to the pork mixture and mix with your hands.

Divide the pork mixture into half and shape a mound of meat (like a mountain range) along the horizontal of each puff pastry rectangle, leaving an inch or so on either side.

meat on dough

Brush the long edges of each rectangle with the egg, then fold the sides up and pinch together to seal.

wrapping dough

Turn the rolls over so that the seams are on the bottom. Brush generously with the egg, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 inch pieces.

sprinkle sesame seeds

Arrange the rolls on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

cut into pieces

Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes, or until golden brown. (If using a different brand, adjust temperature and time according to package directions.) Remove to a cooling rack and leave to rest for a few minutes but devour while still warm!

Note: You can freeze the sausage rolls to keep them fresh for a later date. Just reheat them in an oven at 325 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes or in a toaster oven. I find this a good strategy as gobbling too many too quickly (and you will!) may be hazardous for your health.

~~~

This post is part of the monthly Let’s Lunch Twitter blogger potluck. This  month we pay tribute to “The Marijuana Chronicles,” an anthology that  features Cheryl Tan’s short story. For more Let’s Lunch “Munchies” posts, follow #LetsLunch on Twitter or visit my fellow bloggers below:

Annabelle‘s Scallion Pancakes at Glass of Fancy

Anne Marie‘s Pepper-Stuffed Tater Tot, Fried Pickle, Cheese Whiz and Garlic Bread Burger at Sandwich Surprise

Cheryl‘s Spam Fries with Key Lime Mayo at A Tiger in the Kitchen

Emma‘s Homemade Pizza Rolls at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Fry Sauce, with an Asian Twist at HapaMama

Linda‘s Sam Sifton’s Trinidadian Chinese Five Spice Chicken at Spice Box Travels

Lisa‘s No-Time-To-Wait Nachos at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Vivian‘s Spam Bacon & Kim Chi Sandwich at Vivian Pei

Mango-Banana Bread–A Perfect Post-Nap Treat

mango chunks
Mango chunks add tropical delight to a simple banana bread recipe

My parents aren’t natural storytellers (perhaps I should ask more often?) but every once in awhile a gem from their childhood pops up. Like this one story my mum recently told me: Ma remembers always waking up from her afternoon naps to the intoxicating aroma of freshly-baked-or-cooked something wafting in from the kitchen. To get her and her siblings to fall asleep with the least amount of fuss, Popo, her mother and my grandmother, would promise her and her siblings a treat when they woke up. The post-nap delights ranged from roti bakso (savory meat-filled buns) to kue mangkok (“cup”cakes), and all were delectable.

While Ma and my uncle and aunts wriggled restlessly in their beds anticipating what lay in wait for them when they woke up, I envision Popo (whom I only know from photos) hard at work in her tropical kitchen. As she rolled and flattened soft balls of dough, she’d occasionally wipe sweat from her brow with a hanky she stuffed into her bra strap. Taking a teaspoon in hand, she’d scoop a mixture of pork, candied winter melon, and green onions into the middle of each dough disc. Gently, she’d bring the dough edges together and wrap it up into a neat oval package as she listened for rogue sounds coming from the children’s bedroom.

When Ma and her siblings woke up in a couple of hours, the buns would be out of the oven and ready to be grabbed by little hands and devoured with squeals of delight.

All this I see in the sepia tones of my mind’s eye, imagining what my mom’s childhood was like and what Popo was like.

Inspired by this perfect anecdote, I decided to recreate this experience for my son with my own post-nap treat.

One Tuesday afternoon after Isaac goes down for his nap, I busy myself in the kitchen. I want to bake banana bread but I only had two bananas (three at first but one was so ripe it fell splat on the floor when I accidentally dropped it). Desperation incites innovation and digging around my kitchen, I discover two bright yellow mangoes, ripe and ready to eat, in my fridge.

Bananas and mangoes are both tropical, I convince myself, they’ll couple very well in a quick bread recipe!

mango
The easiest way to peel and chop a mango is to first slice off the flesh, skin and all, on either side of and as close as possible to the seed. Holding the skin-side down in one hand, cut a grid into the flesh without slicing through the skin. Then turn the skin inside out and pop the cubes off the skin.

As I prepare all the ingredients, I hear a squawk. My heart sinks, it’s been barely 30 minutes since Isaac went down! Sure enough, the little guy emerges from his room, his disheveled hair in a post-nap Mohawk. I panick for two seconds before realizing, wait, he can help me bake! All kids love to measure ingredients and mix batter don’t they?

Isaac has never really shown much interest in helping me in the kitchen and I’ve never forced him. But this time, I drag his stool into the kitchen and try and talk up the mother-and-son baking experience.

“This is going to be so much fun! You can measure the sugar, flour and butter, and mix everything together. Come help mommy in the kitchen.”

“I don’t want to. I want to watch TV!”

“But baking is so much fun! Don’t’ you want to help mommy?”

“I don’t want to! I want to watch TV!”

A few volleys back and forth ending with a promise of “Thomas the Tank Engine” later, Isaac steps up onto his stool. He starts by scooping sugar into the mixing bowl. Then he helps me add the butter and proceeds to “cream” the mixture with a wooden spoon. After two or three turns around the bowl, he declares, “I’m done!” He hops off the stool and goes off to play with his airplanes.

Isaac mixing
Isaac took some time out from the laborious task of creaming butter and sugar to smile, or rather grin, for the camera

Nothing I can say henceforth can cajole him back into the kitchen.

Feeling dejected, I finish mixing the batter and shove the loaf pan into the oven.

As I sit down to wait for the bread to bake, I realize how silly I was for getting frustrated. Did I really expect everything to go according plan? Hah, it was definitely wishful thinking on my part.

If there’s one important lesson to take away from raising a toddler, it’s that you should always expect the unexpected. It builds character and encourages a flexible outlook on life. And sometimes results in a new favorite recipe!

~~~

Mango-Banana Bread

mango banana bread vertical

Simple and straightforward, the original banana bread recipe came to me on the back of a bag of flour many years ago when I was in college. It’s been my go-to recipe ever since. Over the years, I’ve mixed it up a little: varying the ratio of white to brown sugar, using a combo of all-purpose and whole wheat flour (I add some applesauce or yogurt to moisten it up), substituting butter for shortening, etc., etc. And the sweet smelling loaf—crusted in a shiny mahogany veneer–comes out lovely every time!

Time: 10 minutes prep, 50 minutes baking
Makes: 1 loaf

3/4 cup granulated raw sugar or brown sugar (I really like Wholesome Sweeteners brand)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 eggs at room temperature
1-3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 very ripe honey (Altaufo) mango, peeled, seeded, chopped and mashed (about 1 cup)
2 large bananas, mashed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs and beat well.

Sift flour, baking powder and soda and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Stir in the mango and banana and mix until just blended. It will be lumpy but don’t fret.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning the loaf onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing (if you can wait!).

~~~

A Summer Bánh Mì Buffest (Buffet+Fest)!


The Vietnamese sandwich, a.k.a. bánh mì, is the epitome of cheap, good food.

In fact, so remarkable is the bánh mì’s reputation, the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire article to this glorious sandwich. The article also suggests that Seattle, with its thriving Vietnamese community, could very well be the center of Vietnamese sandwich culture. My favorite place to get bánh mì: Seattle Deli in the International District. Nowhere else can you get a satisfying lunch for $3 or $4. Yes, you read right–$3 or $4.

Born to parents who are nationals of a former colony (Indonesia) and having grown up in another (Singapore), I feel that the most significant legacies our colonials bequeathed us are food-related. Think sausage rolls and curry devil or debal (a dish with Portuguese roots) in Singapore, or Indonesian-Dutch pastel panggang (a shepherd’s pie of sorts) and pisang boelen (banana wrapped in puff pastry).

Vietnam is yet another country with a rich colonial influence. Some suggest that the rice noodle soup, phở, is a variation of the French beef stew, pot-au-feu, and then we come to the item of today’s discussion, bánh mì.

In my opinion, bánh mì is equal parts French, equal parts Vietnamese. A baguette (French) is sliced open, slathered with mayo (French), and various fillings ranging from pâté (French and my favorite!) and/or ham, barbecued pork (Chinese-Vietnamese), lemongrass chicken (Vietnamese) and fried tofu (name your Asian country of choice). Add to this a bright, crunchy slaw of carrot and daikon radish (do chua, definitely Vietnamese), cilantro sprigs, cucumbers, and sliced jalapenos.

Last weekend, I was having a vegetarian friend over for dinner and I wanted a quick, easy meal that would satisfy everyone. Thinking back to a hot dog buffet a friend mentioned on Twitter, I came up with the idea of a bánh mì buffet to feed all five of us, toddler included.

Clockwise from top left: Carrot pickles, celery pickles, citrus tofu, lemongrass chicken, baguettes

Next, I had to decide on the components of the buffet.

Sometime ago, I sampled a delicious citrus tofu from PCC Natural Markets and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to attempt it at home. And this was it. I did tweak the recipe a little. First of all, I halved the amount of tofu. And instead of orange juice concentrate, I used regular orange juice and reduced it. Then I cut the block into 2×4 rectangles, not 1/2-inch squares like the recipe says. After baking, I cut them into sticks.

Since I was on a lemongrass kick, the meat dish for the carnivores in the group came to me easily–lemongrass chicken.

And instead of pedestrian orange carrots and daikon for the pickles, I bought burgundy and white carrots from the farmers’ market for extraordinary color, and celery just because I was looking for ways to love this often maligned vegetable. For the record, I did! (Here’s the recipe).

I also made it a point to buy Vietnamese-style baguettes, which are usually available at any Asian store. They tend to be softer and airier than French baguettes and I find them to be easier on my mouth (don’t you hate it when the crisp shards scrape against the roof of your mouth?). Andrea over at VietWorldKitchen suggests Mexican bolillo rolls as second best choice and also offers up a well-tested recipe if you are feeling adventurous.

Finally, I declared my spread a buffest, because it’s not just an ordinary buffet but a very festive one too. I hope you’ll attempt it, and do tell me what you think!

~

Bánh Mì with Lemongrass Chicken and Citrus Tofu

Store-bought pâté  or any of your favorite grilled meats or vegetables would make an exciting filling for a bánh mì buffet as well. If you have pickled cucumbers, beets, and/or onions on hand, go ahead and tuck them in too.

The whole spread might look daunting to prepare but most items like the pickles and marinating can be done ahead. Just before your guests are due to arrive, lay everything out and let them wield a wild hand, picking and choosing, mixing and matching. All you have to do is concentrate on the ginger-melon spritzer (or other some such drink) in your hand!

Time: 2 hours or so over a couple of days
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

For the fillings:
Lemongrass chicken:
3 stalks lemongrass, smashed and cut into rings (see this post for more detailed prep)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons granulated coconut palm sugar (I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, a SWAG gift from BlogHerFood. It’s a little less sweet than regular brown sugar, so adjust accordingly if substituting)
4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons canola oil
2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (about 8 medium thighs)

Citrus tofu

For the sandwich:
6 to 8 Vietnamese baguettes
Mayonnaise or aioli (store-bought or homemade)
Vietnamese pickles
Cilantro
Jalapeno rings

Make the lemongrass chicken. Debone the chicken and save the bones for making stock. (Or skip this step altogether by buying boneless, skinless chicken.)

Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a container large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and turn to mix. Marinate for at least 4 hours, but no longer than overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the skin is burnished a beautiful bronze, and a meat thermometer inserted into the flesh reads 165 degrees F. Or grill the chicken on the barbecue for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. When cooked, slice each thigh into ½-inch thick slices.

To make a sandwich, halve a baguette and toast or grill if desired. Spread with a thick layer of mayo and layer with fillings and garnish as desired.

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