Que Hong on John R in Madison Heights to try banh mi and pho. Bahn mi was last year's hot food trend (this year, it's going to be popovers and macarons), but given that there are no Vietnamese restaurants in Ann Arbor, I was a little behind in my food trendiness. Banh mi is what we call in Michigan a "sub sandwich" - you can get many flavors of banh mi. The one I tasted was barbecued pork and it was fantastic! My brother and I had to split one it was so huge, and it cost something like $2.50. It had lots of vegetables on it. I liked the pho too, which is a delicate noodle soup, but really loved the banh mi and can't wait to try to make it at home - here are some recipes to try. I made a batch of carrot and daikon pickle called Do Chua that is used on banh mi for this month's Can Jam challenge, which is carrots.
How the Can Jam works is each month, an ingredient is thrown down and all 160 plus can jammers have to preserve it using the boiling water bath method. There's lots of interesting carrot jam/jellies/marmalades/chutneys out there, but my family won't eat exotic jams/jellies and marmalades, and I have enough chutney in the larder to last me a while. So I knew I had to make a pickle. I thought of making a variation on Alton Brown's Firecrackers or the National Honey Board's Spicy Pickled Carrots, but the idea of making my own banh mi sandwich at home captured my imagination. Do Chua is an essential banh mi ingredient. This recipe is based on the one I found in the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, which is the one canning book I'd want if I were stuck on a desert island with some canning jars and rings and a case of canning lids. If you are new to canning, it's a great book to learn canning techniques. It also has some very unique recipe ideas that inspire me.
For this recipe, I made some changes to it, but the proportions are as they were written in the book. Speaking of making changes to canning recipes, it is often said that you can't improvise. Nonsense! When canning, it's important not to improvise on the proportion of acid to the rest of the content in the jar (vegetable, water, etc) or processing time, but everything else is fair game. For example, in this recipe, you could change the spices, adjusting the amount of sugar or ginger or omitting the star anise, but don't mess with the amount of vinegar, water or vegetables. You could make it solely out of daikon or carrot, I suppose, but I am not sure how it would taste. The combo works out great together. I know that star anise is a strong flavor that many people have opinions about, but I wouldn't omit it for making banh mi. A common ingredient of banh mi sandwiches is Chinese five spice powder, and star anise is literally the "star" of that seasoning, so I suggest you leave it in. Be not afraid - It doesn't seem to overpower this pickle at all. Sadly, I couldn't find local carrots or daikon at the farmer's market here in Michigan in deep winter, so I had to settle for American grown at the minimum - mine were grown in California. At least my sugar was local! Michigan ranks 4th in the nation for sugar beet production.
Some notes on technique:
When brining pickles, hard water can interfere with the formation of acid and prevent pickles from curing properly. Water that has been softened with water softening salts can discolor pickles or make the brine cloudy. So, I used to buy bottled distilled water for my food preservation projects until I learned about this technique to soften my own water. My Microplane citrus zester worked well to grate the ginger - peeling it wasn't even necessary. Also, the daikon and carrot was suggested to be julienned, so I started out making mine that way with my mandoline, but it was very time consuming. I switched over to using the large grating plate on my food processor, and the results were quite similar.
Do Chua a.k.a Vietnamese Carrot and Daikon Pickle
My notes: This recipe makes about 4 sealed pint jars with a little left over for sampling - plan for 5 jars just in case.
3 cups white vinegar
3 cups water
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 t. grated fresh ginger
2 lbs carrots, shredded
2 lbs daikon radish, shredded
5 whole star anise
Fire up your canner and prepare your jars. If you've never canned before, here's how. In a large enameled dutch oven, combine vinegar, water, sugar and ginger and bring to a boil, stirring to disolve sugar. Add carrot and daikon and stir for one minute. Remove from heat. Place one star anise into each of your hot jars, and pack the vegetables into the jars leaving about a 1/2 inch or so of headspace. Ladle some liquid in to cover the vegetables. Remove air bubbles with the weapon of your choice...chopsticks or swizzle sticks work well, and add some more brine to bring it up to a 1/2 inch from the top. Wipe off the rim and cap the jars. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Shut off the heat, remove the canner lid and let the jars rest for 5 minutes. This helps prevent the jars from spewing while they are cooling. Cool for 24 hours, remove the bands and store.