Another February is upon us, and with it, comes Imbolc … that time of year exactly midway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox when the days start to get longer, sun-seeking rodents (Wiarton Willie for those of us here in Canada), and for sports fans … Superbowl Sunday!
This weekend has become something of a gathering point for folks — even those who aren’t sports fans. Perhaps its because we’re edging out of winter and need an excuse to gather and eat, perhaps its just because the festivities of Christmas are just far enough behind us to be fond memories. Whatever the reason, “The Big Game” has become a traditional rallying point, replete with all manner of meaty treats and finger food.
Unfortunately for those avoiding gluten, it can feel like there is little choice available. Many of the boxed treats come pre-breaded and fried, dips are served with bread or wheat-crackers, and even if gluten-free options are available, it can be a nightmare of cross-contamination! So what to do?! Banh mi is a great party-food option, and its quite easy to make gluten-free! All of the typical fillings are easy to purchase or make in advance, and I’ve got a bread recipe that requires no special mixer, and works well as a French Bread roll!
I’ve served banh mi as a party food at a couple of catered events I’ve done, and people really like being able to pick and choose their toppings. For those limiting their carb intake, they can opt for an open-face version. Just remember, its that magical combination of cured meats, with the crisp sweet/sour zing of the pickle, and the crunch of cucumber all together that make these such a satisfying snack option.
Typical meat fillings include:
- pork terrine or pate (if you get a good quality one from a local charcuterie, it should have NO fillers — but always ask about ingredients and production!)
- headcheese, or my favourite trotterbrawn
- meatloaf – you can make this ahead of time, with asian spices. If you want to add filler while keeping it gluten-free, just use gluten-free bread crumbs, or my favourite, cooked quinoa!
- thin-sliced cold cuts (my favourite — but not at all traditional, is Mortadella!)
- BBQ pork
- sliced omlette
- marinated and sauteed chicken
- marinated and braised tofu
Other toppings that are traditional:
- pickled carrot and daikon (shred equal amounts of carrot and daikon. For every 1 c, add 2 T rice vinegar, 2 T sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt)
- cilantro sprigs
- mint leaves
- other herbs such as basil
- cucumber slices
and finally, the condiments
- traditional banh mi has a slathering of plain old mayonnaise – NOT aoil, and NOT gussied up mayonnaise with fish sauce in them. Basic banh mi actually start with mayonnaise cut with softened butter, BUT I have to say I really like the Japanese squeezy-bottle mayo in mine — its a little bit sweet and a little bit tangy which plays well off the rich meats.
So finally, dear folks we get to the bread, which is the crux of the banh mi. While we won’t be making something that is as feathery and light as the traditional wheat/rice french bread rolls that are typical of some of the best banh mi, we will be making something that is nice and soft when fresh or toasted in the oven, AND completely gluten-free. For those of you looking for something a little more wholesome, I’ll have a whole-grain version for you in the next blog post, with amaranth, sorghum and millet flours. This bread is done as a no-knead style bread — while it won’t be quite as fluffy as a more delicate bread, it will still be plenty soft on the inside, with a bit of a chewy crust on the outside. You will mix the dough, cover with plastic wrap and walk away for about 2 hours, then form the loaves or buns, let rise another 30-45 minutes and bake. By trading time for effort, you are allowing the gum and flours to fully hydrate, which, fwiw, takes more time than wheat breads.
So here you go, French bread for all! I hope you and yours have a great game-day 🙂