One of my favorite sandwiches in NYC can be found at Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches. I first discovered this place when I lived in the East Village a decade ago (has it been that long?!) and to my delight they opened a branch in Cobble Hill shortly after I moved to the neighborhood many years ago. (Sadly the EV location has since closed.)
Nicky's specializes in bánh mì, which are supremely delicious Vietnamese sandwiches comprised of pate and pork, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, jalapenos, and mayonnaise stuffed into a baguette. Thankfully for those of us who don't eat pork, Nicky’s makes a few other versions, including a vegetarian one with marinated portobello mushrooms. I used to get one about once a month, sometimes eating it in the tiny store, sometimes taking it home with me to my apartment just a few blocks away. They are simple, but so good – the combination of a crunchy baguette, pickled carrots, cilantro, and marinated mushrooms creates a very satisfying bite.
Given how simple the sandwich was, I decided to recreate it at home. It took a few tries to get the marinade down right, but each attempt was delicious nonetheless. You can make the pickled carrots in advance, which makes putting together the sandwich when you want it a much quicker endeavor.
This sandwich can be made vegan by using vegannaise or this ingenious homemade tofu mayonnaise. I don't recommend leaving out the mayo entirely - the smear of fat is very necessary to offset the acidity and snap of the pickled carrots and other vegetables.
Banh Mi Chay
(from Raspberry Eggplant)
vegan if you use vegan mayonnaise (don't omit it, though!)
For the pickled carrots:
½ cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
For the marinated mushrooms:
Juice of ½ lime (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon sriracha sauce
3 portobello mushroom caps (about 6 ounces total), cut into 1” strips
For the sandwich:
1 large baguette
2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ medium-sized seedless cucumber
½ jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup cilantro leaves
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Make the pickled carrots
In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil. Remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes.In the meantime, peel and coarsely shred or finely julienne the carrots, then transfer the shredded carrots to a non-reactive bowl or container. Pour the vinegar mixture over the carrots. Refrigerate overnight. (If you’re in a rush, you can leave it at room temperature for an hour, but overnight is best.)
Prepare the mushrooms
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a quart-sized plastic bag. Add the mushroom strips and marinate overnight in the refrigerator or for 1 hour at room temperature.
Assemble the sandwich
Heat oven to 400° F.Put the marinated mushroom strips and the marinade in a baking dish and bake until the mushrooms are soft, about 12 minutes. Let them cool for at least 5 minutes.Cut the baguette open by slicing it in half but not going all the way through.
Spread the mayonnaise on one side of the baguette. Place the baguette on a baking sheet and heat it until it is crisp and lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes before assembling the sandwich.
In the meantime, cut the cucumber lengthwise into ¼” thick slices and squeeze the liquid out of the pickled carrots. Assemble the sandwich by arranging the cucumber slices in a single layer on the baguette, then topping them with the mushrooms, pickled carrots, and cilantro. Sprinkle the soy sauce on top and close the sandwich.Cut into 3 or 4 sections and serve.