What do Vietnamese and Mexican cuisines have in common? Cilantro, which happens to be one of my favorite herbs. That’s the key ingredient here in a Vietnamese-inspired bánh mì pork rolled into a delectable taco, Mexican style. This brilliant fusion idea comes from the Lemongrass Truck, a D.C.-area food truck that serves up delicious Vietnamese fare in a different neighborhood each weekday. I’ve been dreaming of and pining for these little pockets of zingy flavors with a spicy mayo sauce and pickled carrots since we left the U.S. a long, long time ago. So here I’ve tried to create my own version. It’s not quite the same without homemade tortillas and bubble tea, but it’ll do until I’m back in the Lemongrass Truck’s radius.
Pork Bánh Mì Tacos
For the pork & marinade:
- 4 boneless pork cutlets
- 1 tsp. canola oil
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 Tbs. finely chopped shallot
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 Tbs. hoisin sauce
- 1 Tbs. soy sauce
- ½ tsp. sriracha or other Asian-style hot sauce
- ½ tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
- ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 squirt of fresh lime juice
- 1 stalk of lemongrass, pounded briefly to release the oils
For the fresh slaw:
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup carrot, cut into matchsticks (about 10 baby carrots)
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 cup granny smith apple (about 1 apple), cut into matchsticks (Note: the authentic version uses daikon radish, but I like the sweetness of the apples to balance the spiciness)
- 1 bunch lettuce leaves (1/4 head), well washed & dried, broken into bite-size pieces
- 1 large bunch cilantro leaves
- 1 green scallion, chopped
For the taco assembly:
- 8 small flour tacos
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp. sriracha or other Asian-style hot sauce
- 1 squirt of lime juice
Pound out each cutlet with a mallet (I tuck the cutlet between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound with a mallet to avoid contaminating any surfaces) until it is 1/4 inch thin, then slice into thin strips against the grain (1/4-inch thick, 1/4-inch wide, and 2-inches long). In a bowl, mix all the remaining marinade ingredients and add marinade and pork to a ziplog bag and seal. Mix the marinade around and massage it well into the pork, then refrigerate for two hours.
Prepare the slaw by bringing the rice vinegar, sugar & water to a boil in a medium pot; stir to dissolve the sugar and remove from heat. Add the carrots and salt and set aside for at least 30 minutes, and up to a couple hours. When pickled enough to suit your taste, drain the liquid well and set the carrots aside. Have apples, lettuce, cilantro & green scallion ready but set aside separately for assembly later. Prepare the spicy mayo by mixing the mayonnaise with the sriracha/hot sauce, add a squirt of lime, and adjust amounts to taste.
When pork is well-marinated, heat a skillet over high heat and with a slotted spoon, transfer the pork to the hot skillet (remove the lemongrass stalk and discard any leftover liquid). Cook the pork, turning frequently, for 5-6 minutes, or until browned on all sides and cooked through (check one to ensure it isn’t still pink inside). Meanwhile, on a plate, place a moist paper towel, then tortillas, then another moist paper towel on top and microwave for 30-40 seconds, or until warmed and moist. Then heat a small flat skillet over medium heat (no oil) and cook warmed, moist tortillas one at a time, for about 1 minute per side (this should make them puff up a bit after getting moistened).
To assemble, spoon some spicy mayo onto the tortilla, add the cooked pork, the pickled carrots, the apples, lettuce, cilantro (lots of it!), scallion, and roll up. Slice each tortilla in half for easier eating. Serve with extra spicy mayo and cilantro leaves.
Makes 8 small tacos/serves 4.