My brother was the one who first introduced me to banh mi, or “Vietnamese hoagies.” He lives in Philadelphia, ostensibly near the Italian market, but it’s a multicultural area since there are also Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants within walking distance from his house. Despite the French colonial overtones of the sandwich, I instantly fell in love with it, given the crisp, toasted baguette, the slather of garlicky mayo, savory barbecued meat, crunchy pickled vegetables, heat from the hot peppers, and the refreshing verdant splendor of fresh cilantro, basil and other herbs.
Perhaps another important aspect of banh mi that makes them so enjoyable is how cheap they are. Indeed, they became a staple for me back here in Seattle while in law school: my 1L summer was spent working at a nonprofit that was then based in the International District so sandwiches were a readily available and cheap $2 lunch, and because of that general price, it seemed like almost every student organization would regularly rotate them through the lunchtime event/meeting menu. Yet I’d never tire of them, perhaps because of all that variety in flavor.
So perhaps it’s sacrilege to ever consider making an upscale version of these sandwiches? That’s what a local restaurant chain does, including using kurabota pork, roasted lamb, and (pleasurable shudder) spicy chunks of fried chicken. The crazy liberal in me who screams that I shouldn’t be paying 3 times more than your average banh mi price is quickly silenced by the yuppie foodie when I take my first bite of one of their delicious sandwiches, preferably with a side of their hand cut, fresh fried truffle fries.
One of their sandwiches combines crispy, coconut braised tofu and avocado– coconut? avocado? SOLD! After seeing that on the menu, I became obsessed with wanting to make a tofu bahn mi with avocado of my own. That, combined with a lingering dissatisfaction with the marinade for a previous tofu dish drove me to make this sandwich. This time, I took a tip from my friend Heather and tried adding maple syrup to the marinade before baking the tofu. The result was fabulous: the tofu crisped up with a bit of caramelization from the sugars in the syrup blending beautifully with all those other sour, acid, spicy yet herbaceous flavors that I love from Vietnamese food. The avocado gave a buttery, creamy mouth feel, a perfect contrast to the crunch of the sweet, pickled vegetables. Really, with this sandwich, you just get the perfect bite every time!
- 1 16oz package, extra firm tofu
- 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce
- 2 tbsp grade A maple syrup
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp Chinese 5 spice blend
- 2 medium carrots, julienned
- 1 cucumber, seeded and julienned
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1/2 an avocado, sliced
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise (or keep it vegan with some soy mayo)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Thai chili, chopped
- 1 jalapeno, julienned
- cilantro, mint, basil
- baguette sandwich rolls
- salt and pepper to taste
- hoisin and Siriacha (optional)
In a medium bowl, mix together the rice wine vinegar and sugar. Add the carrots and cucumber then add enough warm water to submerge all the vegetables. Let sit in your refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Drain the water from the tofu and press between two plates weighted down with a bowl of water for at least 1 hour, pouring out the water and flipping over the tofu about half way through. Slice into 1/2 inch thick rectangles. In a baking dish, combine the soy sauce, syrup, sesame oil, five spice powder and a little salt and pepper. Place the tofu slices in the marinade and let it soak for at least 20 minutes, flipping the pieces over about half way through.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. On a foil lined baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray, place your tofu slices and bake for 30-40 minutes, flipping over half way through, until brown and slightly crispy. While the tofu is baking, mix the mayo, garlic, and Thai chili. Toast your baguettes. (hehehe… not sure why that sounds funny.)
Assemble your sandwiches by slathering some of the mayo mix in each toasted baguette, laying down about 4 tofu slices (enough to cover the length of your roll) and topping with some of the pickled vegetables, sliced jalapeno and mix of cilantro, basil, and mint. Drizzle with hoisin and Siriacha if you want, but if you’re like me and did not seed the jalapeno, that might be enough heat for you!
CSA Count: 3
Cucumber, carrots, fresh garlic