I’ve been having this love affair with Banh Mi for a while. From my house, I only have to drive about 15 minutes to South Philadelphia where I can find Italian, Mexican, Cambodian, and Vietnamese delicacies. Since I go to South Philadelphia often, my routine has been set. Before or after my shopping, before noon, I have to stop by my favorite Banh Mi place (“Ba-Le” at 6th & Washington Avenue) and get my favorite Kabob Banh Mi. Kabob is not your typical kabob, it’s seasoned with Vietnamese spices and grilled like kabobs. Or, I would get another one of my favorite, Charbroiled Pork Banh Mi… Mmmmmm….. However, since we became vegetarians I struggled within myself what to do with this huge dilemma, my love for Banh Mi… In the past I tried vegetarian Banh Mi at a different place and I wasn’t too thrilled. Steve, my husband, decided to get a vegetarian Banh Mi at Ba-Le, and it was pretty darn good!! Instantly I felt like my dilemma was solved! Yeah, I know, I’m pretty simple minded aren’t I??? Then I found a vegetarian Banh Mi recipe on the web and decided to try it out, I changed a bit to adjust to my taste but it was pretty good! My love affair will continue!
1 package of firm tofu
1/2 cup peanut or vegetable oil
3 clove garlic
5 Tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 stalks of fresh lemongrass ( when chopped it should measure about 1/4 cup)
Drain tofu and blot dry with paper towels to remove moisture. Slice into 1/4 inch pieces.
Wash lemongrass and chop bulbs and remaining stalk that is tender. Place chopped lemongrass in mortar & pestle and crush until they are pulverized. Add the garlic cloves and crush with the lemongrass.
In a large plastic freezer bag (preferably with zipper ), combine crushed lemongrass, garlic, vegetable oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Mix the marinade well, then add sliced tofu in a bag. Lay tofu slices gently. Make sure all marinate coats the tofu.
Let it marinade overnight; preferably turning the bag every few hours or so.
Heat the frying pan and start frying tofu so that both sides are browned (you don’t have to add oil in the frying pan because the tofu is already oiled).
Let the tofu cool and assemble Banh Mi.
My opinion: You can have endless condiment options with Banh Mi. For mine, I put pickled daikon and carrots, deep fried scallions, sliced jalapeno peppers, cucumber, and cilantro. The French baguette used by the Vietnamese for Banh Mi are soooo good. I think they add rice flour when they make their baguettes which adds special consistency to this yummy bread. We get our baguettes at Ba-Le or any Vietnamese markets, but you can use regular baguettes too.
Slit the side of the baguette, spread thin layer of mayonnaise, spread with deep fried scallions (making sure to add some oil from the scallion too), lay the cooked tofu in one layer, add the cucumber, daikon/carrot pickles, jalapeno and cilantro.
I put the recipes for daikon/carrot pickles and deep fried scallions below
Anyhow, this is a bit of work, but it was very very tasty. Tofu doesn’t taste like tofu. It retained such wonderful flavours of lemongrass and other seasonings, along with the condiments you put into, this is a meal that will surely make you feel satisfied!
Cut the carrots and daikons slightly wider than matchstick sizes and put them in a container where you’ll be pickling. Heat the 1 cup water and add the sugar and salt. Make sure the sugar and salt dissolve, and let it cool down a bit. Add the vinegar to the water mixture and pour it into the vegetables. Stir it around and let it pickle in the fridge at least overnight. I usually pickle mine for few days.
Deep Fried Scallions:
4-5 scallions (if they are thin and small, you’ll probably have to use 6-7)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
Chop the scallions in about 1/4 inch thickness. Heat the oil in a saucepan big enough to fit the chopped scallions. Once the oil is hot add the scallions and stir. Add the salt and stir again, letting the scallions cook for 1-2 minutes. Immediately transfer to a bowl and put it in a fridge. By putting this hot scallion in the fridge it’ll maintain the greenness (rather than going dull in colour if you were to let the scallions cook in it’s oil in the bowl).