Smokey Sweet Potato Bánh Mì

Back in 2007, the college roomies and I decided to enjoy spring break West coast style. As luck would have it, Yen-Nei's sister lived in Orange County and graciously agreed to play tour guide/host. She mapped out almost every culinary detail of our visit. We enjoyed bubble tea daily, authentic Chinese food, plenty of sushi, and sweet treats galore. Oh how I will never forget thee, magical black sesame bubble tea. 

It was during this trip that my taste buds became acquainted with a Vietnamese staple: bánh mì.  It is a sandwich that marries the best of two culinary cultures with a French baguette and Vietnamese fillings. The most common version that I have seen is filled with an assortment of meats (thinly sliced pork, head cheese, liver pâté) and topped with cilantro, a splash of fish oil, and pickled carrots/radishes. What really blew our minds was how these incredibly delicious sandwiches were so affordable; they were being sold at $3.50 a pop. It was a college kids dream come true! 

Until recently, finding good bánh mì in Virginia had been a struggle. We have found two spots that serve them right, Bánh Mì DC and Caphe Bánh Mì. It was my pleasure to introduce Mike to this tasty samich and anything with good bread is a win for this guy. We make a lemon-grass tofu version on a regular basis at home (one day I'll get around to documenting it). This post for Smokey Sweet Potato bánh mì piqued my curiosity. I love sweet potato but really... in a sandwich? Isn't that kind of like starch on starch on starch?  Only one way to find out.

Much to my surprise, this is recipe is satisfying and tasty. The sweetness of the potato becomes slightly caramelized in the baking process.  I tried to make even, thin slices but ended up with a few chunky parts as well. We kept these bulky ones to the side and treated them like fries, dipping them into a side bowl of extra sriracha-canola oil mayo.

The fillings were easy to make and basic- just chop up some carrots and radish and let them soak in white vinegar. I love the vibrancy that the radish provides in any dish with its blazing pink exterior. We chopped these toppings rather than do the common match-stick variety. They feel like more of a side salad. It's a matter of preference.

The recommended sauce (a white-miso and soy base) failed. I'm not sure if the miso went bad, the expiration was fine, but we felt that combination was no good. It was super salty and went straight to the sink. Instead, we busted out our "old faithful" of sauces as mentioned above: sriracha-canola oil mayo. It's so easy to make, easy to customize, and easy on the taste buds. As far as garnish, the peanuts were a little out of place. When I think of peanuts in Asian cuisine, it's more Thai-based in curries and dipping sauce. Try a handful and adjust from there.

Thanks to Earthly Feast for this wonderful dinner! Follow the link below for original recipe; below is our minor tweeks.

Smokey Sweet Potato Bánh Mì
slightly modified from Earthly Feast
generously serves 2

Quick Pickle Carrots 
3 carrots, cut into matchsticks or thinly sliced
4 radishes, cut into matchsticks or thinly sliced
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup white vinegar

Smokey Sweet Potatoes 

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced into strips about 1/4 inch thick
2 tablespoons high heat oil (i.e. olive oil)
Pinch of sea salt
Black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Dash of liquid smoke

Spicy Mayo 
2 tablespoons canola oil mayonaise
1 teaspoon srichacha or canned adobo pepper sauce

Sandwich Assembly 
1 baguette
1 jalapeño

Start by making the quick pickle. Bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil. Let cool for a minute. Pour liquid over the sliced carrots and radishes into a clean jar with a lid. Cover and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 425F and line baking sheet with aluminum foil.  

In a medium bowl, toss the sweet potato with oil, salt, black pepper, red pepper, and a dash of liquid smoke to evenly coat. Spread evenly across the baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes and check the tenderness of the sweet potato. Depending on how thinly you sliced the potato will determine how long it needs in the oven. If they're still too hard, give it another 10 minutes and check again. 

For the spicy mayo, simply combine the canola oil mayo and hot sauce. Adjust to your heat preference.

To assemble, slice the baguette and spread a thin layer of mayo. Top with the carrots and radishes so that they stick to the samich. Top with sweet potatoes, add a splash of lime, and garnish with cilantro and jalepeno.