A few weeks ago, I found myself with a glut of shiitake mushrooms. A sudden spell of warm weather caused my five logs to flush all at once with these small, rather dry, cracked mushrooms. The next day called for rain, so I decided to keep them out a little longer to let them grow a bit more and rehydrate. When I woke up the next morning, the temperature had plummeted, there was snow on the ground, and I ended up with several pounds of huge, rather waterlogged, partially frozen mushrooms (insert frowny-faced emoticon here).
Frozen mushrooms aren't the best. The way mushrooms grow from tiny pinheads to full-grown specimens is basically by inflating with water. But if that water should freeze, it will expand and rupture the cell walls. The results are pretty slimy. I know because I cooked the frozen ones anyway. Not the best.
On the upside, some of the mushrooms didn't freeze and these banh mi-like sandwiches were a great way to enjoy them. A banh mi is a sandwich that evolved in Vietnam during the French colonial period. It's usually some kind of meat, like pate or pork belly, in a baguette with pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and spicy chili sauce—a fusion of both cultures in one tasty package. For this vegetarian version, shiitake slices are sautéed in soy sauce and garlic, then added to a baguette slathered with Sriracha mayo, layered with quick-pickled cucumbers and radishes, and garnished with cilantro and mint. Fresh-tasting and satisfying, this was lunch all week.
The idea was inspired by a recipe in the vegan cookbook Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, except I unveganed it by adding the mayo back in. Vegans and non-vegans alike will want to check out this book: it's full of things that even I would eat, and the food photography and overall design is great. And if you have the same pet peeve I have about authors' faces on the cover (no offense to anyone's face—all I want to see is the food), you can remove the dust jacket and underneath it, printed directly on the cover, is a nice colorful alphabet soup with little pasta letters spelling out "Let's Eat."
Avoid super-crusty baguettes for these sandwiches unless you want the roof of your mouth shredded. Aim for something mid-way between a soft sub roll and a traditional baguette (Russo's shoppers: try the medium sub rolls that come in bags of three on the bottom shelf). Also, I used regular red radishes, which turned the picking liquid pink and gave the vegetables a rosy hue by Day 2. If you want a more manly sandwich, maybe stick with the traditional white daikon radishes.
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup thinly sliced radishes
1 cup thinly sliced English or Persian cucumber
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, caps sliced 1/4-inch thick, stems removed
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Sriracha
Salt to taste
4 soft baguette rolls
Fresh cilantro sprigs
Fresh mint leaves
For the pickles, whisk together the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Stir in the vegetables and let them sit in the liquid until ready to serve.
For the shiitakes, preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil and then the shiitakes. Sauté until they soften, release their moisture, and brown a bit in spots, 5 to 10 minutes depending on how much moisture they contain. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds before adding the soy sauce, stirring until well mixed and fragrant. Remove the mushrooms to a shallow bowl to cool slightly.
For the Sriracha mayo, whisk together the mayo, Sriracha, and salt. As written, the spice level is about medium, but you can adjust it to your liking by adding more mayo or more Sriracha.
To assemble the sandwiches, split the baguettes lengthwise by cutting out a narrow wedge from the top. Then hollow out the rolls a little by pulling out some of the extra bread inside to make room for more filling. Spread the inside generously with Sriracha mayo. Add some cooked mushrooms, then some pickled radish and cucumbers, and then cilantro and mint. Eat up. Any remaining sandwich components can be stored several days covered in the fridge. Makes 4 sandwiches.
Source: Adapted from Isa Does It by Isa Chandra Moskowitz.