Just to clear the confusion at the very outset, the term “Bánh mì” is Vietnamese and denotes “all kinds of bread”. However, very mysteriously the Vietnamese, in all their wisdom, did not think fit to include even a single type of bread in this recipe! What it does instead is to use lettuce to wrap the really delicious ingredients that make up this tasty and healthy snack.
It is just that we automatically associate bread with wraps that make this dish all the more surprising and interesting to our jaded palates. After all, it is hard to find someone who could stay aloof from the fresh taste of a Bánh mì wrap, with it mildly-pickled vegetables coupled with crisp cucumbers, a really savory sauce and the freshness of cilantro. There could be nothing healthier, and perhaps nothing better to impress people around you with your culinary zest.
The Meaty Magic of Coconut
The way the Bánh mì wraps are constructed, they are very much akin to conventional sandwiches or burgers but contain a surprise ingredient that makes all the difference because most folks just do not anticipate its presence in a wrap. The surprise element is fresh coconut meat that is first marinated and then really thinly sliced. This treatment of the fresh coconut is quite novel to most palates that are used to coconut being flaked or shredded, because it ends up giving the salad wraps a meaty oomph. Most people would perhaps wince at the thought of having to buy a coconut and then splitting it open to get at the flesh, but you really don’t need to take the trouble. There are quite a few supermarkets that sell fresh coconut flesh separated from the shell and cut into more convenient chunks.
If you can’t find such a store or are anyway averse to coconut, you could very easily substitute it with tofu that can be marinated in the same sauce and then pan-fried or grilled, depending on how you like it. For people who may be wondering if the sweetness of the coconut is going to spoil the taste, they will be surprised to know that fresh coconut is not really that sweet, and it takes on the sauce flavor after it’s been marinated. However, the trick is to slice it fine as otherwise the denseness would make it hard to chew.
The Recipe That Will Set Tongues Wagging
The Bánh mì lettuce wrap recipe outlined below has a prep time of 40 minutes, and a cooking time of two hours. Served as an appetizer, it would suffice to six, and as a meal, four would be fine.
Ingredients for the coconut meat: One tablespoon each of minced garlic, shallot and tamari, ½ tablespoon of lemongrass paste and coconut sugar, juice of half a lemon, Thai chili to taste, and two cups of fresh coconut meat, thinly sliced.
Ingredients for curried cashew cream: Vegetable broth ¼ cup, soaked, drained and rinsed unsalted cashews ½ cup, garlic, red Thai curry paste, and freshly-grated ginger.
Ingredients for the pickle: one daikon and two carrots cut into strips, rice wine vinegar ¾ cup and salt.
Ingredients for the garnish: a head of Bibb lettuce leaves washed and dried;finely sliced cucumber, Thai chili, scallions, cilantro, sprouts, and Sriracha.
Making the Wrap
Mix well all the ingredients of the coconut meat leaving out the coconut itself in a bowl, add the coconut to the mix and marinate at room temperature for 1-3 hours. Combine all the curried cream ingredients in a blender until silky smooth. To make the pickles, dissolve the salt and sugar in the vinegar, and toss in the daikon and carrot strips and leave it to marinate for 20 minutes. Take lettuce leaves, make cups and add the coconut meat, cucumbers and pickled vegetables. The curried cream of cashew should be drizzled on top, and the sprouts and cilantro sprinkled on. Linger over each mouthful and enjoy the burst of freshness on your tongue.