Banh Mi, Banh You

Back when Mr. Lunch and I were little wee sprouts living in the big city of Toronto as students in the early 2000s, we discovered the joys of Banh Mi subs.  Toronto’s primary Chinatown district has its share of hole-in-the-wall, non-descript-from-the-outside little sandwich shops slingin’ these Vietnamese bad boys for, at the time, about $1.50 a pop.  For a couple of dreadfully poor kids on a very, very tight budget, getting a big French loaf stuffed with tofu, cilantro, chilis, pickled veggies and cucumber was just the ticket.  For the authentic experience, you must rip the bag open the moment you leave the shop and eat it while sauntering down a smelly Chinatown alleyway.  But I digress.

Our love of Banh Mi has followed us throughout the years, and dare I say, we’ve gotten pretty good at making them at home.

Vegan Banh Mi

The one thing missing from the at-home experience is being shouted at by a small, sweet Vietnamese lady from across the counter, “little spicy?” to which you say “yes!”…only to discover what she really meant is she is going to hide a large, fully intact Thai bird’s eye chili somewhere inside your sandwich for you to find later.  At which point it will feel like your eyes are going to bleed.

What You’ll Need:

  • a couple good, crusty French sandwich loaves
  • daikon radish and carrot
  • cucumber
  • cilantro
  • vegan mayo
  • fresh chilis or sriracha
  • a block of tofu

Get your tofu going.  Create a quick marinade with chopped lemongrass, chopped fresh garlic, soy sauce, chili flakes, turmeric, a drizzle of oil, and thinned with a bit of vegetable stock.  Cut your tofu into slabs and dredge your pieces in said mixture in a pan and let marinate for as long as you can, or for as little as 10 minutes.  Reserving your marinade, take your tofu and drop it in a hot oiled pan and fry until golden brown.  Throw your reserved marinade on and let bubble away until reduced.  Boom.  Done.

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Make a quick pickle out of julienned daikon and carrot.  I love this recipe from The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook.

Cut your sandwich loaf in half lengthwise, slather with mayo, chuck in your tofu, generously pile on your pickled veggies and cucumber, top with cilantro (and peanuts if you’re feeling fancy), add your chilis or sriracha, and enjoy.

Hot Weather Cookin’

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been unseasonably warm in our part of the world.  Yesterday was a record-breaking 37C (99F) – and that’s not including the humidex.  Our little window air conditioner isn’t really cutting it these days.  Needless to say, the idea of spending as little time as possible in front of a hot stove is pretty appealing.

Mmm, big salads.  This one was on a bed of mesclun mix that I grew on the balcony, with candied walnuts, pumpkin seeds, strawberries, cucumber, dried cranberries and a simple balsamic dressing (probably something along the lines of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, agave syrup for a bit of sweetness, and a touch of dijon mustard).
Tonight’s was a big plate of fresh Vietnamese salad rolls.  Thin rice noodles, fried tofu, mango, mint, lettuce.  With a simple peanut sauce for dipping – I’m sure you can find a million recipes online, my basic non-recipe is natural peanut butter, water, hot sauce, soy sauce, agave, rice vinegar – to taste.  Throw in some crushed peanuts and you’ve got yourself a really good sauce.

Oh, and some miso soup with chives from the balcony, just because.  

Stay hydrated, folks!  Drink lots of water and eat tons of fruit, it’s full of water and vitamins to rehydrate.  Frozen grapes are a godsend.
– Crystal

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu

Have I mentioned how much we are loving Appetite for Reduction by Isa Chandra Moskowitz?  Because we are.  Not only is everything readily available at your “regular” grocery store, but the recipes are quick and come together in a snap.

This recipe is no exception to our enjoyment.  Wow!  It’s so flavourful with so many layers of texture.  I can tell this will be a summertime staple for us, since it doesn’t require standing over a hot oven for very long.

Vietnamese Rice Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu
by Isa Chandra Moskowitz

Serves 6
Active Time: 30 minutes  Total Time:  40 minutes
(Can be made gluten-free if using GF tamari in place of soy sauce)
Dressing:
1/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons agave nectar (or maple syrup)
3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 2 limes, depending how juicy your limes are)
1/4 tsp. salt, optional
Salad:
12 ounces extra-firm tofu
2 teaspoons soy sauce 
1 (8-ounce) package of thin rice noodles (vermicelli)
1 medium-size cucumber thinly-sliced half-moons (1 heaping cup or 6 ounces)
4 ounces string beans, sliced into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup) (We sautéed them for a bit until bright green)
1 small red onion, sliced thinly (We didn’t add this as I’m not a fan of raw onion!)
1 medium carrot, julienned (This is our addition)
2 cups mixed greens
1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
Peanut-Mint Gremolata:
1/4 cup peanuts
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Zest of 1/2 lime
Instructions:

1.  To make the dressing, mix all its ingredients together and stir vigorously.  Set aside.
2.  Slice the tofu into eight equal pieces widthwise, then slice those rectangles corner to corner to form long triangles.
3.  Place in a single layer on a large plate and pour 6 tablespoons of the dressing over the slices.  Also drizzle 2 teaspoons of soy sauce.  Let marinate, flipping occasionally, while you prepare everything else.
4.  Cook the rice noodles according to the package directions.  Usually they say to boil water, turn off the heat, and soak the noodles for about 8 minutes.  Once cooked, drain in a colander and run the noodles under cold water for about a minute until they are fully cooled.  Set aside to drain while you finish prepping everything.
5.  Mix all of the vegetables and the mint leaves into the noodles. Just use your hands–it’s messy, but the best way I found to incorporate everything.  Mix the dressing into the noodles and toss to coat.  Refrigerate while you prepare everything else.
6.  Combine the gremolata indredients in a small bowl.
7.  Now grill the tofu.  Preheat a non-stick grill pan or a cast-iron grill pan or a non-stick skillet over medium high heat.   Do not spray a non-stick pan with oil–it will ruin it!  The tofu will not stick! If you only have a cast-iron pan you will have to spray it or the tofu might stick.  Grill the tofu on each side for 4 minutes, or until grill marks appear.  If using just a regular pan, cook it for 3 minutes on each side.   Add the excess marinade to the noodles.
To serve: Put the greens down first.  Scoop the noodles on top.  Wedge two or three tofu pieces on the side of each bowl.  Sprinkle with the gremolata and serve with lime wedges and extra chili garlic sauce.

– Crystal