Tofu Bahn Mi: Plant Strong Vietnamese

When our twins were 6 months old we moved from our inner ring suburb to what is geographically known to those in our former metro area as the “exurbs.” We are fully ex-ed from the “urb.” The Our exurb, ironically, is just outside of a lovely town. There are restaurants here, and thankfully an increasing number of options for ethnic food; however, lately I find that I simply feel better when I cook at home, even if I am sacrificing a real chef’s authentic dish in favor of my approximation that serves to satisfy a craving.  I often “make do.” This time, I wasn’t “making do.” This dish was fabulous.

While we don’t eat a tremendous amount of tofu, because as a rule we avoid processed foods, I do find that when the itch for Asian food arises, tofu is a relatively quick and affordable protein boost. I ran across the inspiration for this recipe whilst trolling the Meatless Monday site, looking for a quick Asian dish to save me during a week of poorly planned work/homelife avalanches. Bahn Mi sounded just about right for such an avalanche.

IMG_0074Bahn Mi is the perfect combination of Asian and French influence – honestly I can’t think of a better pedigree.  Some sort of protein that has been marinated with lemon grass, pickles, mayo based sauce, and French bread are featured in the traditional version of this dish.  I had to work with what I had on hand, which meant no French bread, and no long pickling time. Our dish featured marinated tofu, quick pickled carrots (oh yes), fresh veggies, a squeeze of lemon and rice.  Fantastic.  Let’s get right down to business, shall we? I’ll ask your forgiveness in advance as I was having a great deal of fun with the macro setting on the camera…

Quick Pickled Asian Carrots

  • 2 c carrots julienned (or just sliced thin and pretty)
  • 1 c rice wine vinegar
  • 3 T coconut sugar (or your sweetener of choice)
  • 1 t salt

The original recipe suggests starting this pickling process 3 days ahead of time.  To be honest, mine were delicious with only 1.5 hours in the brine, and they still had plenty of crunch.  The only thing I’ll do different next time is to make MANY more.  The young man of our crew couldn’t get enough of them.

To prepare the carrots, simply mix the pickling brine in a 2 c measuring cup (or wherever you want). Arrange the carrots in a non-reactive dish that is small enough to force the brine to cover the carrots. Pour brine over. Done.

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Marinated TofuIMG_0068

  • 1 block firm or extra firm tofu, pressed for at least 30 minutes*
  • 3 T soy sauce or Bragg’s
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 1/2 t lemongrass (to taste and if you can get fresh, rock it out)
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • 2 t coconut sugar or sweetener of choice

Let me be real clear about one thing – tofu does NOT need a lot of time to marinate. You don’t need to do it 8 hours ahead, not 24 hours, not 2 hours.  Tofu will suck up whatever it’s in WAY faster than most things that get marinated. I would suggest 15 minutes to half and hour TOPS.  Alrighty then, moving on. Slice your tofu into 8 rectangles – I went the short way – if you go long your cooking time may be shorter as the slices will be thinner. Place rectangles in non-reactive dish. Mix marinade ingredients in a small bowl, or container with a spout if you’re like me and tend toward messes in the kitchen. Pour over tofu. Done.

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Heat your preferred high heat oil in a pan over med-high heat. Do more than grease the pan – be more generous with the oil than you might otherwise be inclined to do, but do NOT pour a deep fry amount.  Check my picture for the amount I used and had great success with. When the oil is warm, add tofu. Now for the hard part of cooking tofu, let it be.  If you try to check on it or flip it too soon, you will have a disintegrating stuck on mess.  Let it be, let it brown a bit – then flip it.  You’ll be amazed at how easy this is if tofu has not been your friend in the past. You’ll have to time this according to the thickness of your cuts, but I would count on at least 5 minutes per side.  I let mine go longer and I really liked the results.

While the tofu was cooking I chopped up some cucumbers (MPP will eat cucumbers all day and night), some green peppers, avocado. Pulled out some sesame seeds and chopped some cilantro. We had plenty of leftover rice that night, so I warmed that up, added the tofu, veggies, and pickled carrots, cilantro, and gave a wedge of lemon a squeeze on the finished plate.  Delish, and just as yummy the next day as an open faced sandwich. Three cheers for homemade!

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* For the uninitiated, pressed tofu simply means taking your block of tofu, wrapping it in a cloth or paper towel, placing it between two plates and putting something heavy on top for at least 30 minutes.  Tofu releases liquid, becomes more firm, and more resilient for cooking.  Super easy, super great.

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8 responses

  1. This sounds really good – and I love that you can marinate the carrots that quickly! Mine will eat cucumber marinated like that – would probably improve most vegetables in his mind! Looking forward to trying it. You must come from a very brilliant family ;-)

  2. I just tried the carrot part of this recipe, and they came out awful! They taste like raw carrots made wet with some ingredients and left in the fridge for a couple days until kind of stale. Where did I go wrong?? Was I supposed to cook the brine first to better blend the ingredients?

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