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For my money, the bánh mi is the best sandwich in the world. It’s spicy, sweet, sour, crunchy, hot, cold, and mostly it’s just delicious, a mix of Vietnamese and French ingredients and cuisines, and maybe the silver lining to the French colonization of Vietnam. (Though that’s easy for me to say. This is an excellent piece about the history of the sandwich, and also a master recipe for a non-plant-based version.)
At any rate, a lot of planning went into creating a vegan version of the classic bánh mi sandwich, and that started with figuring out what makes a bánh mi a bánh mi (you can find a neat graphic here), and how those components could be made plant-based. So here goes:
1. The bread has to be a baguette. It’s part of the whole French legacy, and you need that crispy outside and soft interior that you get from a toasted baguette. Don’t get anything too “artisanal” – it shouldn’t be too chewy or thick-crusted. If there’s an Vietnamese bakery nearby, that’s ideal (as are bolillo rolls from a Mexican bakery), but even the Safeway baguette used here did the trick. (If you’re so inclined, here’s a recipe for making your own Vietnamese baguette.)
2. There’s typically one or two kinds of meat in there – cha lua, a steamed pork roll, and ham or barbecued pork of some kind. (Or grilled chicken, or beef, or pretty much anything.) I went with a basic Japanese-style broiled eggplant, and lightly fried tofu slices coated in the same sesame-oil-and-soy-sauce mixture as the eggplant. Both have some bite, and contrasting textures.
3. Pâté is essential – usually it’s made with pork or chicken liver (or both), so this uses a simple mushroom and walnut pâté.
4. As far as garnishes, you need pickled daikon and carrots and cilantro; sliced jalapeños (or Thai bird chiles) and cucumber aren’t as necessary, but it’s not like they’re bad things in there.
5. Again with the French influence, a bánh mi needs mayonnaise, or some kind of creamy spread. And while you can use Vegenaise here, mashed-up avocado gives the same fatty contrast to the pickled vegetables and savory fillings. A squirt of sriracha’s nice, too.
So anyway, that’s where this all came from. But in the end, there are more things you can put in a bánh mi than things you can’t. As long as you keep with the basic formula of bánh mi = baguette, savory filling, pâté, fat-based spread (mayo/avocado), pickled vegetables, and cilantro, you can customize to your heart’s content. Whether you use these fillings or something entirely different, let us know how you make yours!
'Vegánh Mi' (Vegan Vietnamese Bánh Mi Sandwich)
- 2 6-inch baguette sections
- 2 1/4-inch slices from a block of firm tofu put the block down flat and run the knife through parallel to the cutting board)
- 2 1/4-inch rounds eggplant
- 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon of soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon of neutral (vegetable, canola, grapeseed) oil
- Mushroom Pâté
- 1/2 of an avocado, mashed to a paste with a little salt
- Pickled Carrots & Daikon Radish
- a few slices of jalapeño
- 2 1/8-inch wide, 6-inch long slice of cucumber
- a few sprigs of cilantro
- sriracha (or other chili sauce), to taste
- Preheat the broiler. Put two sheets of paper towel on a plate, put the tofu on top of the towels, top with another two sheets of paper towel, and top with another plate. Set aside for around 10 minutes while the broiler heats up.
- In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the sesame oil and soy sauce. Turn the eggplant slices in the mixture to coat, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with a rack. Broil for around 4 minutes a side, or until tender and golden on each side. Set aside and let cool.
- Meanwhile, blot the tofu slices dry with paper towels, then pour the remaining sesame oil and soy sauce over them, and turn to coat. Heat the neutral oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, and, when the oil's hot, add the tofu to the pan. Fry for a few minutes per side, or until golden brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.
- Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the baguette sections open like a book, so that one edge is still attached, and put on a baking sheet. Cut the eggplant slices in half, and cut the tofu slices in half lengthwise. For each sandwich, spread some of the avocado on one half of the bread, and some mushroom pâté on the other half. Top one half with the tofu slices and the other half with the eggplant slices. Put in the oven and toast for around 5 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and top each sandwich with some of the pickled carrots and daikon, jalapeño slices, one slice of cucumber, cilantro sprigs, and Sriracha to taste. Serve immediately.
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