Banh Mi Fried Rice (Yes, You Read That Right)

No bread needed -- banh mi fried rice.
No bread needed — banh mi fried rice.

If fried rice is an edible blank canvas, then get ready to channel your inner Jackson Pollock.

Fast, easy, and a perennial favorite, this homespun dish veers decidedly outside the box in the new “Fried Rice: 50 Ways to Stir Up the World’s Favorite Grain” (Sasquatch Books), of which I received a review copy.

James Beard Award-winning food writer Danielle Centoni, a former food colleague of mine she was at the Oakland Tribune and I was at sister newspaper the San Jose Mercury News, greatly expands on the notion of what fried rice can be.

The book includes globally-inspired 50 recipes. Of course, there are standards such as “Classic Chinese Fried Rice with BBQ Pork” and “Spicy Fried Rice with Chinese Broccoli, Ground Pork, and Szechuan Chili Oil.” But there is plenty more that you’d be hard-pressed to have considered before, including “Fried Rice with Halloumi, Pickled Onions, and Zhug,” “Carbonara Fried Rice,” and “New Mexican Chili Fried Rice with Queso and Pork.”

She also includes tips for making fried rice (always start with day-old cooked rice), proper water ratios when cooking rice, and ways to avoid pests growing in your stored rice (freeze it for three days first).

Her “Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi Fried Rice” has all the vibrant flavors of your favorite inexpensive Vietnamese sandwich, but its foundation is rice rather than a French baguette. That means this dish is gluten-free, especially if you swap out the soy sauce for tamari instead.

This dish is almost like a grain bowl in the way that it has little bits of this and that, which you can slide your fork into for a different taste in every bite.

If you swap out soy sauce for tamari, this dish is gluten-free, too.
If you swap out soy sauce for tamari, this dish is gluten-free, too.

Tiny pork meatballs, flavored with lemongrass, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, and sriracha ,get tossed in the wok or saute pan with the rice that gets an additional squirt of sriracha and a finish of sliced jalapenos. You’ll end up with about 30 meatballs, plenty to feed four.

A quick pickle of julienned daikon and carrots garnishes the dish for crunch and brightness.

It’s a true bowl of comfort — spicy, tangy, meaty, and herbaceous.

And a canvas worth lingering over.

Meatballs galore.
Meatballs galore.

Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi Fried Rice

(Serves 4)

For the Do Chua:

1 small daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup distilled white vinegar

1 cup water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

For Vietnamese Meatballs:

1 stalk lemongrass, root end trimmed, outer leaves removed, finely sliced (white part only; about 2 tablespoons)

2 cloves garlic

2 green onions

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon sriracha

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 pound ground pork

For Fried Rice:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

5 green onions, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths

4 cups cold cooked rice (2 cups uncooked medium- or long-grain rice will yield at least 4 cups when cooked)

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon sriracha, plus more for serving

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

To make the do chua: Combine the daikon and carrot in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle with salt, and massage the vegetables until they’re bendable and have expelled their liquid. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar, water, and sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the carrot and daikon, pressing to make sure the vegetables are mostly submerged. Cover and refrigerate at least an hour before using, and up to several weeks.

To make the meatballs: In a food processor, combine the lemongrass, garlic, and green onions. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the fish sauce, sriracha, salt, and pork; pulse until just combined. (Alternately, you can very finely chop the lemongrass, garlic, and green onions by hand or use a mortar and pestle, then mix with the remaining ingredients.) Roll the meat mixture into heaping teaspoon-size meatballs (alternatively, you can roll just half into meatballs and use a combination of ground pork and meatballs in the fried rice).

To make the fried rice: Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. (If you rolled only half the mixture into meatballs, now saute the ground pork in the pan until cooked through, then transfer to the plate.) Add the green onions and saute until browned, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and saute until warmed through and softened, then continue sauteing until the rice seems firm again, about 3 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook until warmed through. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, fish sauce, and sriracha. Drizzle the mixture over the rice and stir until evenly coated.

Divide fried rice among plates and top with do chua (drained), cilantro, and sliced jalapeno.

From “Fried Rice” by Danielle Centoni

Another Danielle Centoni Cookbook Favorite: Aebleskiver with Lemon Curd

Plus: My Chinese-Italian Fried Rice

And: Uni Fried Rice by Alexander’s Steakhouse

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