When you’re living in a big city, you without intention are exposed to new ideas and cultures and references on an almost daily basis (depending on how much you go outside). One of the fantastic things about Chicago is its diversity, and the fact that the variability in culture penetrates even the most “gentrified” neighborhoods. Because even though I live in a high-rise full of more-often-than-not wealthy-ish older white people, I’m also steps from 4 Asian fusion, 1 upscale Mexican, 1 classic American, 1 Swedish brunch, 3 chain, and countless other restaurants. One of these includes a Vietnamese sandwich shop, known most for their banh mi sandwich. I coincidentally lived very near a Vietnamese sandwich place last year as well, so I’ve essentially passed by this delicious delicacy on an almost daily occasion for 2 years now. I don’t know why, but I’ll say it: I’ve never had a classic banh mi sandwich. Cue shame.
Now, in actuality, banh mi refers to a type of bread, not a specific sandwich. But in the westernized United States, it almost always refers to a baguette-type sandwich with roasted pork, pickled vegetables, chili sauce and/or mayonnaise, and cilantro. Variations come off of this base model, usually exchanging the pork for other meats or, in this case, vegetarian soy products (tofu!). Basically, this sandwich is a dream of beautifully combined products that promise to sooth and challenge all parts of your palate. But, probably, you’ve been passing it by, either literally or figuratively, without knowledge of its potential power over your sandwich cravings. I’m here to remedy that problem, by offering up a means to make this sandwich at home. I promise it is worth the (marginal) trouble to prepare each component, as it really takes about 45 minutes of time and is worth every second of the 2 minutes you’ll spend wolfing it down. Again, this is a tofu variety, which is quite easy to prepare, but you could certainly go traditional by preparing some pork or chicken (the same marinade can apply).
Glazed Tofu Banh Mi
Makes 4 sandwiches
2 small baguettes (I used take and bake varieties, which freeze well)
1 cucumber, sliced
4 stalks green onion, sliced
- 1 block extra firm tofu
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flake
- 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
- 5 small carrots, julienned
- 1 bell pepper, sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper
Sriracha cilantro mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
- 1 tsp. sriracha
- 2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
First, press the block of tofu (per this post) for at least 20 minutes. Once the tofu has been pressed, slice the tofu thinly into 16, 1/4 inch slices (or, slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices). Whisk together the tofu marinade, then dip each slice of tofu into the marinade and allow to marinate in a large pan for 15-20 minutes.
While the tofu is pressing, prepare the pickled vegetables. Thinly slice, or julienne, the carrots and bell pepper and place in a dish (ideally that can be covered for later). Bring the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar, and S&P to a boil, until sugar has dissolved in the liquid. Pour the pickling liquid over the vegetables and allow to rest in the liquid for at least 30 minutes. You can store the remaining vegetables in the pickling liquid for several days (if these sandwiches will be prepared as “leftovers” as well later… a good idea).
Next, prepare the sriracha cilantro mayonnaise by combining the ingredients in a small bowl and mixing well. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Next, heat a griddle to 375 degrees Fahrenheit or a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp. oil and the tofu to the pan (if using a sauté pan, this may require two batches). Heat the tofu for 3-5 minutes, until the first side is crisped and brown. Flip, then sauté the second side for an additional 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Now, time to prepare the sandwich! Split the baguette in half and then slice longitudinally to make 2 sandwiches. Spread about 1 tbsp. of sriracha cilantro mayo on one side. Top with 4 slices of glazed tofu. Pile on as much of the pickled veggies as you’d like, then top with fresh cucumber, green onion, and cilantro.
Eat the sandwich! Bits will certainly fall off as you eat, but relish in your unstable sandwich, should-be-take-out glory. I absolutely loved these sandwiches for lunch the next day, prepared the night before then eaten cold. Once all the components are prepared, it’s quite quick to put together. I’d imagine if you used meat you could just hold onto some extras for leftover sandwiches as well. Now I’m off to try the sandwich shop next door, just to compare…