The Best Diet

cemita a streetcar named devour

So I’m on this Cemita Diet. And it’s working out pretty well so far. You see, I am constantly recipe testing everything I make for this blog (and for my full-time job as a cook). Most of the things I note while I’m recipe testing, is of course, the taste of the products I’m making, the shelf-life of the food, and if it’s so good I can eat the product repeatedly. This tested true for this Cemita recipe, which I ate 4 times within the last 2 weeks. Hence, the Cemita Diet. And it’s not a bad diet to be on.

And what makes this sandwich even better? The FRESH BREAD I made. That’s right, fresh sesame seed buns. As Sir Mix-A-Lot protested: My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun. Clearly he was talking about bread buns, AMIRITE?

I can attest that this sandwich, a Mexican torta, native to the Pueblo region, is as tasty as it is beautiful. Layers of your choice of meat (in this case, I made shredded chicken), Panela cheese (a Mexican soft, white cheese, similar to Queso Fresco and Mozzarella), ripe avocado slices, chipotle aioli, crisp butterleaf lettuce, tomato and red onion, and a pápalo* salsa roja on a sweet and soft sesame seed bun. If you’ve never tried a Cemita, you’re in for a real treat–every bite is tastier than its predecessor. Perfect with an ice-cold beer on a hot summer day, I’m almost positive the next Big Diet trend, is gonna be that of the Cemita.

(*Cook’s Note: pápalo, also known as Bolivian Coriander, tastes a bit like cilantro, but isn’t actually related to either herb. It’s a relative to the daisy plant, and has a very astringent, floral and minty taste. All the reasons certain people who hate cilantro, are all the qualities that make the pápalo plant so refreshing and delicious.)

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Cemita Poblano de Pollo
(Pueblan-Style Chicken Torta Sandwich)
Yields 2-4 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
2 each Cemita rolls (recipe HERE)
1/2 cup prepared chipotle aioli (aioli recipe HERE)
2 avocados, cored and sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
5 ounces Panela cheese (about half a wheel), cut into batonnets
1 cup shredded chicken (recipe HERE)
1/2 cup pápalo* salsa roja (24 ounces canned tomatoes; 2 cups papalo leaves; 1 sprig fresh oregano, picked; 2 jalapenos, tops cut off; roughly chopped; 2 garlic cloves; 1 small red onion, peeled and roughly chopped; 1 lime, juiced, salt to taste)
4 pieces butterleaf lettuce
1/2 tomato, thinly sliced into 4 slices
1/2 small red onion, sliced into a fine julienne

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METHOD
Make the chipotle aioli. Add 1/2 cup of canned chipotles (with sauce) into 2 cups of aioli. Mix together. Place in refrigerator.

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Make the pápalo salsa roja. In a food processor or blender, combine all of the ingredients till well incorporated. Season to taste. Place in refrigerator.

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Slice each roll in the center horizontally. Place into a toaster oven or oven at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes, or until lightly brown.

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Liberally spread both inner sides of the rolls with the chipotle aioli.

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Add the avocado slices and Panela cheese to both sides.

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Place about 1/2 cup each of shredded chicken on the bottom halve of the cemita roll for each sandwich.

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Spoon 1/4 cup each of the papalo salsa over the chicken.

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Add the lettuce, tomato and onion.

Cover with the top halve of the cemita roll. Slice the sandwiches in half. Enjoy

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Bidi Bidi Bánh Bánh

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I first discovered Bánh mì sandwiches in Little Saigon–an area in the city of Westminster, California, where a large population of Vietnamese Americans live. The Asian Garden Mall, “Phước Lộc Thọ”, had several Vietnamese-owned restaurants, clothing, jewelry, electronic, and beauty shops. My family would go there often when I was a kid because my mom enjoyed shopping there, and the mall was only a 30-minute drive from where we lived.

Bánh mì translates to “bread.” The French-style baguette was introduced to the cuisine during the French colonization in Indochina in the late-1850s early-1860s. The sandwich is traditionally made with pork liver pâté (also from the French), cold cuts, pickled carrot and daikon, cilantro, and mayonnaise.

For this recipe, I decided to go with a throwback recipe from Bon Appetit from 5 years ago. I loved the recipe then and I love it even more now. With a few tweaks and the addition of crispy shallots and a homemade French baguette recipe, this is definitely one of my favorite sandwiches. This sandwich is so good it makes my heart beat like Bidi Bidi Bánh Bánh.

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Pork Meatball Bánh Mì Sandwich
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
Yields 4 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
For the spicy mayonnaise
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 1/2 tablespoons hot chili sauce (I used Sriracha)

For the Pickled Carrot
2 cups coarsely grated carrots
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil

For the Pork Meatballs
1 large shallot, minced and sautéed in oil till translucent
1 pound ground pork
1/8 cup basil, picked and finely chopped
1/8 cup cilantro, picked and finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as Nam Pla or Nuoc Nam)
2 tablespoons hot chili sauce (I used Sriracha)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
oil for frying

For the Sandwiches
4 each French baguettes (recipe here)
1 each jalapeño chile, sliced thinly
1/2 cup cilantro, picked
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced into rounds
oil for frying

METHOD
To make the Spicy Mayo, stir all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Season with salt. This can be made a day ahead. (Cover and chill.)

To make the Pickled Carrots, mix together the first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature for about an hour, mixing occasionally.

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To make the Pork Meatballs, stir all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Form the mixture into scant tablespoonful balls, rolling the mixture into 1 1/2-inch meatballs. You should have 12 meatballs. Arrange them onto a baking sheet. This can also be made a day ahead. (Cover and chill.)

Preheat your oven to 300°F. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add in half of the meatballs. Sauté until browned and cooked through, turning the meatballs to evenly sear all sides lowering heat if they begin to brown too quickly, about 15 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to another rimmed sheet tray. Place into the oven. Repeat searing and baking with the remaining meatballs.

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In a small sauce pot, add 1/4 cup of oil. Place the sliced shallot rings into the pan. Turn on the heat to medium and wait for the oil to heat. (Allowing the shallot rings to fry in cold oil makes it easier to control the heat and to avoid burning them.) Once the oil begins to heat up, toss the shallot rings until a light golden brown. Transfer rings to a paper towel-lined plate.

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Cut each baguette horizontally in half. Spread spicy mayo over each bread halve.

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Place 3 each meatballs onto the bottom halve side per sandwich.

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Arrange the jalapeños one one side, then adding the (drained) and pickled carrot, crispy shallots, and cilantro. Gently place the top on baguette tops. Repeat with all sandwiches.

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Roll Out!

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This is a great beginner’s recipe for making bread. I haven’t made baguettes since my Breads and Pastries class in culinary school, so this was a great refresher course. I made this bread specifically for this recipe. 

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Vietnamese-style French Baguette
Recipe adapted from Vietnam Online
Yields 4 small baguettes

INGREDIENTS
4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons melted butter
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 Tablespoons softened butter
extra flour for coating

METHOD
Dissolve the sugar and 3/4 cup of the lukewarm water, add the yeast and dissolve.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, melted butter and salt. Add the sugar water yeast mixture and beat slowly with an electric mixer. Add the rest of the lukewarm water gradually if the mixture is still dry. Beat and mix well until the dough has a smooth surface.

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Butter a large bowl and place the dough there, cover with a damp towel and allow to sit for about an hour or until the dough doubles in size. Once doubled, beat the dough slightly and knead well. Divide the dough into 4 equal-sized portions. Slightly deflate the dough to even out the flour and roll back into mini baguettes.

Place the rolls onto a sheet tray. Preheat the oven to 212°F. Allow the rolls to proof in the oven for 30 minutes, turning off the heat after 10 minutes. (You can spray a little water onto the rolls to give the bread some moisture.)

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After proofing, the rolls should be doubled in size. Remove from the oven and preheat the temperature to 375°F. Using a sharp razor, make a vertical slash onto the top of each roll. Smooth a tiny bit of water on the surface of the bread and dust with flour. Use the leftover butter to fill in each slash.

Bake the rolls for about 15-20 minutes until the bread turn light yellow and toothpicks come out clean. Remove and set aside to slightly cool.