I’ve said this before, but Bahn Mi is my favorite sandwich– ever. Made with an airy Vietnamese-style baguette stuffed with the vibrant colors, textures and flavors of Southeast Asia, it’s a brilliant melding of two famously good culinary cultures and is one of the few good things to come from French colonial rule of the country.
This easy plant-based banh mi only takes about 15 minutes to make and yet it’s packed with so much flavor you won’t miss the meat. To give the tofu a more substantial texture, I like wringing out the excess liquid it’s hanging onto, before pan frying it until it’s well browned on the outside. Then, an intensely flavorful sweet and savory sauce gets caramelized around the outside of each curd of tofu, which not only tints the tofu a meaty shade of brown, it loads the tofu up with heaps of garlicky umami.
The trademark flavor of the meat that’s often found in banh mi comes from Chinese five spice powder, which is a spice blend that usually includes spices like star anise, cloves, cassia, white pepper, fennel and sichuan pepper. You can usually find it already mixed at upscale markets, or Chinese grocery stores, or you can make your own five spice.
Another key to a great banh mi is the quick pickled radish and carrots that give the sandwich a marvelous crunch, while adding a sweet and sour juxtaposition to the spicy chilies and savory meat. Finally, I like to carve out some of the bread from the inside of each baguette before toasting them. This creates a trough that helps keep the ample fillings in check, and it also improves the filling to bread ratio.
Wrapped together with some cucumbers, cilantro and chili peppers and you have one of the most vivid and flavorful sandwiches you’ll ever wrap your two hands around.
Tofu Banh Mi
- 4.2 ounces daikon radish
- 2.6 ounces carrot
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 large clove garlic (grated)
- 1/4 teaspoon five spice powder
- 12.4 ounces firm tofu
- 2 small loaves French bread (10-inches long)
- 1 Persian or Japanese cucumber (cut into sticks)
- 10 sprigs cilantro
- 1-2 chili peppers (thinly sliced)
- Peel and julienne the daikon and carrot and toss them with the salt. Let this sit for about 10 minutes to release some liquid.
- When the vegetables start sweating liquid, add 1 tablespoon of sugar and the cider vinegar, and massage together to help everything mingle.
- Meanwhile, make the sauce for the tofu by whisking together 1 tablespoon sugar, the Shaoxing wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic, and Chinese five spice in a small bowl.
- For the tofu, drain it, and place it in the middle of a clean piece of cotton muslin. Gather up the corners and twist them together to squeeze the excess water out of the tofu. When no more water comes out, open up the bundle, rearrange the tofu, and repeat.
- Add the vegetable oil to a frying pan and heat over medium-high heat until hot.
- Add the squeezed tofu and crumble into big chunks using a spatula. Let the tofu brown on one side, and then flip and brown some more.
- Where the tofu is thoroughly browned, add the sauce and toss to coat evenly. The tofu is done when the sauce has caramelized around the outside of the tofu and there is no liquid left in the pan.
Yield: Makes 2 x 10-inch sandwiches
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.