I don't post a lot of sandwich recipes on my blog because the ones I eat are usually pretty simple, like hummus and veggies on a bagel, tofu salad in a pita, or even plain old peanut butter and jam.
Up until now, my favourite sandwich combination was this pumpernickel sandwich with avocado, sprouts and a white bean spread. But now there's a new sandwich in town and its ready to take over the number one spot - the banh mi! Whereas the pumpernickel was soft, creamy, and comforting, this one is sharp, spicy, and in-your-face!
If you haven't heard of banh mi, it's a Vietnamese baguette that is usually made with some kind of meat filling and topped with pickled carrot and daikon radish, cucumber slices, fresh cilantro and a spicy mayonnaise and chili spread. I had seen recipes for both vegetarian and non-vegetarian versions of this sandwich online, but I had never tried one until a few months ago, when I came across a small take-out restaurant nearby that actually specializes in these popular sandwiches.
They offered a lot of different kinds of banh mi, and luckily there was one vegetarian option on the menu! I watched as the bun was toasted and spread with mayonnaise, then topped with a layer of tofu, followed by pickled vegetables, and whole sprigs of cilantro. When I got my sandwich home and tried it, I fell in love with the flavour combination. Even though my mouth was on fire from the spiciness, I couldn't stop eating!
The recipe does require a bit more work than your typical sandwich, because you have to prepare a lot of ingredients and marinate both the tofu and the veggies, but I promise it's worth the effort! The tofu is marinated in soy sauce and ginger, then sauteed on the stove. While the tofu is marinating, the carrot and daikon are soaked in a rice vinegar mixture to make them pickled. For the rest of the toppings, you need a large section of cucumber that you can peel lengthwise, and some fresh cilantro with the stems on (this may be the only time I've ever eaten the stems!)
Once all the components are ready, you just need to assemble the sandwich and spread on a layer of mayonnaise (or vegenaise) and as much spicy chili sauce as you like!
I have to say, I definitely enjoyed my homemade version better than the one I got from the restaurant (as is usually the case with homemade vs fast food). I loved the way each of the flavours played off each other with every bite - the spice from the chili sauce and red pepper flakes, sourness from the pickled veggies, the bite from the fresh cilantro, and even a touch of sweetness. The tofu had a nice texture and really soaked up the flavours of the marinade.
This was definitely not your ordinary or everyday sandwich, but it was so refreshing to try a new combination of ingredients and toppings! I made a big batch of each of the components so that I could make a fresh sandwich for dinner three nights in a row, and I enjoyed them just as much each time!
Just make sure you use a sturdy bun because you don't want it get too soggy from the sauces - Vietnamese subs would be best if you can find them, but I just used a French baguette from the grocery store. You can also toast the bread before hand, but I liked mine soft - it's up to you!
Tofu Banh Mi
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
4 oz firm tofu
3/4 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 - 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 cup grated or julienned carrot
1/4 cup grated daikon radish
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
Vietnamese sub or French baguette
1 tbsp vegenaise or low-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha), or to taste
~ 6 sprigs of fresh cilantro (including stems)
2 thin slices of cucumber, about 6 inches long
Drain the tofu and slice lengthwise into 1/2 inch thick slices (I used a 12 oz package and got three rectangular slices – enough for three large sandwiches). Press tofu strips between layers of paper towel with a heavy book on top. Let sit for about 20-30 minutes.
Mix the soy sauce and ginger in a shallow pan or bowl. Lay the tofu strips in the pan and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, flipping halfway through to coat all sides.
Mix the rice vinegar, salt, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and add the grated carrot and daikon. Let sit for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
When the tofu is ready, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu and cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Remove from heat and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
To arrange the sandwich, slice the bun or baguette in half (*Note: you can toast the baguette first if desired by placing it under the broiler for about 5 minutes). Spread the vegenaise on the top half and dot with the chili sauce. Place the cilantro on the top half.
Place the tofu slice on the bottom half of the baguette. Lay the cucumber slices over the tofu. Drain the carrot-daikon mixture and place on top of the cucumber. Close sandwich and enjoy!
Makes 1 large sandwich.