Vegan Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches with Baked Tofu
Vietnamese cuisine borrows quite a bit from France. For example, the bánh mì. Bánh mì is apparently a Vietnamese term for all kinds of bread. But, here in Houston, it is most recognized as an incredible Viet-French fusion sandwich.
The elements of a bánh mì are:
- French bread
- Fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, Thai basil)
- Do Chua (pickled carrots and daikon)
- Protein (usually pork, sometimes with pate, but just as often prepared with tofu)
The combination of all of these flavors and textures is quite addictive.
It is important to use fresh bread that is not tough or too chewy. You want it to be soft and easy to bite through and not so crusty that it hurts your mouth to chew it up.
In Chinatown, Parisian Bakery makes fresh French rolls every day, both in a standard and small size. You can think of these as a full sandwich and half sandwich size. They are the perfect bread for bánh mì. If you don’t have access to these, Mexican bolillo rolls or french or italian rolls should work as an alternative.
My friend, Helen, is gluten-free and has eaten this with a gluten-free baguette in the frozen section of Whole Foods.
The Fresh Herbs and Veggies
For the fresh herbs, you can use all three or just one or two – whichever combination you prefer. If you cannot find the Thai basil, I would not recommend substituting Italian basil. Just use the cilantro and/or mint. The cucumber and jalapeño offer cool crunch and heat, respectively and are essential.
If you can’t find the Persian cucumber (the short ones, sometimes called baby cucumbers), then just use English cucumber or a standard cucumber. You will have to cut them in half or thirds before slicing them long ways. Cut them to be about the length of the bread you are using. If using a standard cucumber, I would recommend peeling it.
The Do Chua (pickled carrots and daikon)
If you can find the do chua, you could easily purchase it, but it is not difficult to make. A mandolin makes quick work of the julienned carrots and daikon. If you want to just use carrots, this is totally fine! The first time I made these, I just used carrots. Once you make the pickled veggies, it will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
For speed, I would venture to guess that the best tool to use to julienne the carrots and daikon is a food processor. But, I don’t have one, so I used the 2nd best option: a mandolin. It makes quick work of turning them into thin strips. If you have either, a plain old knife will work just as well, although it will take longer.
As you can tell, it was popular and didn’t last long.
This sandwich can be enjoyed without a prominent protein added. But, to make it a complete meal and add some heartiness, I recommend adding a marinated, baked tofu. You could potentially also add seitan or even experiment with soy-marinated and cooked jackfruit or hearts of palm. The tofu we use is marinated in soy sauce, lime juice, garlic, ginger and a little bit of sugar and then baked.
- 1 package extra firm tofu, sliced into 8 rectangle pieces
- 2 tsp crushed garlic
- 2 tsp crushed ginger
- ½ tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- juice of half a lime
- 2 cups carrots and daikon, julienned
- 1 cup unseasoned rice vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 4 French rolls or bolillos
- 4 Persian cucumbers, sliced into thick long quarter slices
- 1 jalapeño, de-seeded and thinly sliced
- Fresh cilantro, mint, Thai basil
- Veganaise or other vegan mayo
- Prepare the do chua by adding the veggies to a jar. Mix the rest of the do chua ingredients together in a large measuring cup or bowl. Stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Pour over veggies and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving.
- Prepare the tofu by pressing it gently in a clean dish cloth. Mix marinade ingredients in bowl, then brush over pieces of to fu on a baking sheet lined with a silpat mat or parchment paper. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.
- Slice French rolls lengthwise, not cutting all the way through. Remove some of inside of the bread to make room for the filling. Then, warm in oven for 60 seconds.
- Spread mayo on bread, then add cucumber, jalapeño, herbs, pickled veggies and 2 pieces of tofu. Serve right away.