How to: Make Vegetarian Banh Mi!

I am soooo excited to be sharing this recipe, it is my baby. :)) So 'Banh Mi' is a special type of Vietnamese sandwich. A very very, mouth-wateringly special sandwich. In Sydney, banh mi's are infamous. I actually feel like I've grown up knowing these banh mi stands all my life. I probably came out of the womb and the doctor offered me a banh mi (NB: Just a joke) (But I would not have declined).

shakes all offThat smooth buttery paste being spread on. That single stick of coriander that the lady grabs with her tongs, shaking off all the others as you hope in vain she might've just included it all. All classic Sydney-side memories for me haha.

So when I went to Amsterdam and realised Mr. Human had never tried a banh mi, I wanted to share the food of my people with him. Because Mr. Human is vegetarian though, I was challenged to find an alternative.

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So here it is, my Marinated Tofu Banh Mi recipe! :) I've tested it many, many times and I feel soooo flushed with happiness when people like it. Even my dad, who doesn't believe in vegetarianism (don't ask) and is a pure meat fan, tried it and liked it. :)

Pickled Carrots (at least 1-2 days ahead of time)

  • Carrots x 5
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1.  Prepare and peel your carrots (Ignore my half carrot over there. I got overly excited.)

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2.  Grate them up real good. Now, if you dread grating like I once did, then let me show you the light. My tip isn't revolutionary but it turned me from a poor grater to a fine grater, testify! Now, when grating, ALWAYS aim to go from right at the top ALL the way to the bottom-most point.grating olympics 72dpiThis maximises how much grating you get from each time your arm goes up and down. You get through the grating a lot faster and with less effort.

If there was a Grating Olympics, I'd enter it. And I'd win my country that Gold Medal baby, wear it around with pride.

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3.  During the process of grating, lightly scatter salt here and there, mixing it up. The salt is important because it helps to get the water out of the carrots.

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4.  After you've grated all the carrots and tossed it with the salt (needs to mix with the salt for around 3 mins or more), then there should be some liquid coming out. Drain all this out and SQUEEZE the carrot shreds with your hands to remove any of that liquid. This helps to make your carrots more crunchy and less soft-liquidy later on. :)

5.  Next dissolve the sugar into the vinegar, parts at a time.

6.  Throw the shredded carrots (no liquid) into the vinegar mixture and toss, toss, toss.

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7.  Pour everything into an air-tight jar or container.

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8.  Leave these for at least a day in the fridge and, voila, pickled carrots (should last around 4-6 weeks in the fridge)! Once you've made one batch, you can enjoy banh mi's for weeks to come. These are also super tasty to eat, not just with banh mi, so its nice to have a batch for all-round purposes.

Marinated Tofu (at least 30-60 mins beforehand)

  • ~450g Firm tofu, cut into blocks (this should be enough for 3-4 banh mi's)
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced (Rule: One clove per 100g)
  • Soy sauce
  • Oil (any would be fine, as long as it doesn't taste awful)

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9.  Place the tofu and garlic together in a bowl, splashing on a generous splash of soy sauce, and a few tablespoons of oil (I honestly have notofu survivors 72dpi exact measurements for this part, you sort of just splash and judge haha).

10.  Toss it all together with a spoon, being careful to try minimise breaking the tofu (a little breakage is fine though, helps teach the tofu to be strong and resilient in life).

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11.  Let sit in the fridge for at least 15 minutes, preferably up to an hour.

TIP: If you have leftover tofu, just put it in a container and cover with water. Place in fridge and it'll last a few more days.

Assembling the Banh Mi (makes about 3)

  • 3 baguette breads (I get these from my local Vietnamese bakery, but I've also bought the type where you buy packaged in the supermarket and then pop in the oven to heat up, gives it a great crustiness!)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Sriracha / Hot sauce / Chilli's (can remove if you REALLY cannot take hot, but highly recommended)
  • Marinated tofu (from above)
  • Pickled carrots
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 1/3 Red onion
  • Small handful Coriander (also called cilantro)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Soy sauce (drizzled at end)

12.  Slice the bread length-ways to open it up, but DO NOT cut it into two separate pieces. Under any circumstances!!

13. Butter one side of the baguette bread with plain mayonnaise, according to however much creaminess you can handle. But bear in mind we don't want to be skimpy here. A skimpy banh mi is a sad banh mi. :(

14.  Mix up 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise in a small bowl with however much Sriracha/chilli you think is appropriate for you.

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15.  Butter the other side of the baguette with this chilli mayo. If you're real into chilli, then why not skip step 13 and just do BOTH sides with the chilli mayo. Don't ever let anyone hold you back.

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16.  Heat up oil on a frying pan with on low-medium heat. When the oil is nice and hot, simply scoop the tofu onto the pan, laying it out in a single layer. Cook until it's cripsy and brown on the underside - time varies depending on your tofu, mine is usually 5-9 minutes. Then flip the pieces, cooking the other side until crispy (usually takes a little less time than the first side).

This process is a bit fiddly so just use your feeling to just make sure the tofu is cooked, that's all. :)

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Whilst I'm letting the tofu sit and cook, I usually leave it there and prepare the other ingredients. But if you'd rather keep an eye, you can do the tofu first and then the below.

17.  Take out how much carrot you need and drain it so there's no liquid (e.g. on a paper towel), otherwise the liquid will make your banh mi soggy.

18.  Slice the cucumber into thin sticks, length is up to you.

19.  Slice the onion into thin rings.

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20. Pinch the coriander leaves from the stalks. Chop up all the stalk pieces into bite-sized pieces. This is a personal step I've done different to shops because I always get bothered when I've bought a banh mi and I take a bite and pull out the ENTIRE coriander stalk in one go. I won't let this happen to you, dear reader.

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21.  Then it's simply assembling everything into the baguette. :) I like to be pretty generous with mine, no single piece of coriander for me and shaking off the rest, no sir. I cram all that goodness in.

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22.  Salt and pepper on top, drizzle a little soy sauce along the entire length to finish off.

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And done!! :) :)

They're a particularly perfect picnic food and I've also made mini versions as a Vietnamese entree or just to bring to a party to share with others.

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TIP: I know making banh mi might seem long and complicated. But the way I make it easier and accessible (aka so I can eat it as often as I can), is to

1) Have a big batch of the pickled carrot prepped in the fridge

2) I cook a lot of tofu in one go and can just reheat in the microwave over the next few days if I want to eat (not as good as fresh but doesn't matter cause all the flavours/textures blend together in the banh mi anyways)

3) I just cut enough of the vegetables to last for multiple banh mi's (e.g. the sliced red onion will last at least a week in the fridge, coriander lasts at least a week, etc.) Makes it so that assembling is just throwing these in from boxes.

Hope that helps, happy eating!! :)