Composing Love Smoky Pork Bánh Mì Sandwiches

While Composing Love by Audra North might look like a conventional contemporary romance, in a lot of ways, it isn’t. There’s the primacy of work, even something as formal as what I might term “calling”. The hero and heroine are both enmeshed in questions of identity and ability as they relate to the world and even view themselves. And it’s an intercultural romance between white, rebellious, hipster guy Chris Reichert and half black, half Asian, staid, conservative classical musician Minh Jackson. And at every moment, on every level, these two throw sparks when they brush up against each other.

When we first meet Minh, she and her Greek friend Gali are decompressing at a club in San Francisco. Minh has recently been on a series of bad dates predicated on the assumption that she can use a check-list to identify a potential mate. The latest in this ill-conceived string is a guy who likes both black girls and Asian girls and refers to dating half black, half Vietnamese Minh as like getting two for the price of one. In her entirely justifiable irritation, she slams headlong into Chris, sending her drink flying and her desires skittering in his unlikely direction. And when he shows up at her apartment later with his sister, who is looking for a new place to live, it sets them on a path toward both personal and professional fulfillment.

Minh captured my quirky little reader’s heart immediately. She’s bright, talented, loyal, a little bit uptight and entirely unsure of herself and her place in it. She really wants to compose music for movies, but whenever she submits her portfolio, she’s told that her work is technically excellent, but has no passion. This has left her feeling uncertain whether she is really capable of composing at that level and getting ready to settle for something she views as “less”. Chris, on the other hand, is bright, talented and has passion, but he’s unwilling to compromise his unconventional outlook in order to fit in and it’s holding him back, even if it takes Minh’s gentle prodding for him to realize it.

A good portion of Composing Love takes place with Minh and Chris at work or discussing work, which is a relief in a romance marketplace full of billionaires and people who in theory have professions, but only seem to actually work when it’s convenient for the plot. So much of both Minh’s and Chris’s identity is tied up in their capabilities and notions of success. Minh in particular struggles because her family has always cautioned her against breaking out of the box in any way (including her music), keeping everything she wears and is and does within very conservative bounds so she might fit into a society that is always to some degree biased against her. Both this logic and prior negative experiences with taking chances are things she has to think about critically before she can embrace both Chris and her potential as a composer.

I really enjoyed Composing Love, zipping through it in the course of a morning. Thoroughly three-dimensional characters with friends, family, personal histories and definite aspirations shouldn’t feel this revolutionary in contemporary romance, but it did.

I found this recipe on Pinterest about a year and a half ago and it has become a staple of my weekly menu plan ever since. The title is “Smoky Pork Meatball Sandwiches”, which sounds super conventional and American–like it might be served on a hamburger bun and have coleslaw on top. But I remember thinking when I made my grocery list that week that the combination of quick pickled radishes, cilantro, jalapeño and mayonnaise sounded awfully strange. Culinarily speaking though, I’m pretty adventurous and I decided to take the recipe at face value, thinking that I would taste as I went and if something ended up being gross, I’d just nix it and drench the whole thing in BBQ sauce.

So I made the quick pickled radishes, sliced up a pepper, pulled off a couple handfuls of cilantro and dug the mayo out of the back of the refrigerator while my husband looked at me skeptically. I baked the meatballs, cut open the hoagie/sub rolls and threw together a quick salad.

When we sat down at the table, we assembled the sandwiches, layering mayo with big handfuls of cilantro and nestling the meatballs in with sliced radish and jalapeño. I looked and him and he looked at me and we bit into them clearly thinking, “Well, here goes nothing.”

I have no idea what my face looked like that day, but I know what my husband’s face looked like. His eyes got all big and the corners of his mouth quirked up. And when we both finished chewing and swallowing that first bite, we both said, “HOLY CRAP THAT’S THE BEST THING I’VE EVER EATEN.”

And once I thought about it for half a second, I realized that I’d been a complete idiot because even though the title of the recipe sounded all safe and conventional, what I’d really concocted was a very simple Vietnamese Bánh Mì similar to one I’d once had in a little sandwich shop in Falls Church. But when you’re ordering off a menu that’s mostly in Vietnamese and imperfectly translated, you just kinda avoid the tripe, you know what I mean? Once I understood that this was actually what the recipe was aiming at though, it suddenly became normal, familiar and honestly, not strange at all.

Check out the recipe here at Every Day with Rachel Ray. It’s perfect just as it is.

Edited to add (10/13/14): If there’s a reason for avoiding pork in your household, I would be totally comfortable substituting ground chicken or ground turkey in this recipe. Or even your favorite vegetarian meat replacement. I haven’t tried it, but there’s no reason at all why it shouldn’t be equally delicious.

Disclosure: Audra North and I are friendly on Twitter and she gave me Composing Love for review purposes.

3 comments

  1. This is amazeBALLS! Ha ha. Seriously, though, thank you so much for "getting" this book. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate that. And the food looks delicious, as always…I'm definitely going to have to try this! Do you think I could modify to make it with ground beef instead of pork? Might be weird with the vinegar…

  2. You're welcome! I'm glad you thought I "got" it! I always worry a little bit about that when I'm reviewing stuff that's outside my own experience. Yay!

    Oh, a pork substitute! I should have thought of that. I might replace the pork with ground chicken or turkey though rather than ground beef if you can. Or heck, even someone's favorite vegetarian meatball substitute would be excellent in these.

  3. […] of based off an Asian flavor palate too so it would be really good added to ground turkey turning these pork meatballs subs into turkey burgers with quick-pickled radishes, cilantro & jalapeno, but the options are really […]

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