Bánh mì by Me!

I recently have become obsessed with what is basically a Vietnamese hoagie, or what many may know officially as a bánh mì.

I first discovered the sandwich while watching Food Network's "The Great Food Truck Race," and then finally tasted the sandwich first hand while at the LA Food and Wine Festival. I waited in line for what seemed like hours at the now-famous Nom Nom truck, but in reality was more like 20 minutes. I ordered the grilled pork bánh mì and it was the most simple, yet tasty sandwich I ever had. I could taste every ingredient from the pickled carrots and daikon to the marinated pork, spicy mayo, cilantro, cucumber, jalapeño peppers and crispy baguette. It was so good that I decided to literally challenge myself with recreating it for the Project Food Blog second challenge.

Luckily living in the Los Angeles area, I was able to find all the ingredients I needed for the bánh mì recipe in my local grocery store. However, if you can't find daikon or lemongrass, you could probably go to Whole Foods or an Asian market even. The recipe is pretty simple, but be prepared to give yourself around 15-20 minutes prep time and at least an hour to let your ingredients marinate.

I chose to go the vegetarian route, and after looking online through a few recipes, I decided to make a lemongrass marinated tofu bánh mì. Yes, the grilled pork would have been good, but since my husband is a vegetarian, I decided to go with tofu instead as the main ingredient. It's a win-win. He gets to be my official taste tester, but only if he helps with the prep work - done deal

I'll be honest, I'm not a huge tofu lover, but since I was going to be marinating the tofu in some soy sauce and lemongrass and then making sure it was crisp enough, I thought it would be okay. And since my favorite food truck, Nom Nom, has a similar sandwich on their menu, I thought I couldn't go wrong.

Here are the ingredients you will need:

  • Baguettes (one per person, around 8-inches in length)
  • 1 daikon – julienned; around a cup of thinly sliced daikon
  • 1-2 large carrots – julienned; around a cup of thinly sliced carrots
  • 1/4 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 package of extra firm tofu (you’ll use around half the package)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 2 bulbs of lemongrass – minced
  • 1 clove of garlic – minced
  • 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
  • 1 medium English cucumber – thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 or 2 jalapeño peppers – sliced
  • Cilantro

1. With the help of my husband, we tackled the prep work – cutting the carrots and daikon into thin strips. If you are like me, and not very good at your knife work, you can use a peeler instead. You can get great thin slices, without the potential of cutting your finger off - like my husband almost did before we decided to switch to the peeler.

2. Once you are done, in a large bowl, combine the carrots and daikon slices with the sugar, salt, white vinegar and water. Coat the veggies well, and then place the bowl in the fridge for at least one hour.

3. Next, take your block of tofu and pat it dry with some paper towels to get the excess water off of it. Then, cut around 8-10, 1/4 inch thick slices. This will be around half the package of tofu.

4. Lay the tofu in large shallow pan. In a separate small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, lemongrass and garlic. A good tip for the lemomngrass, is to peel the outside layers off - around 2-3, then thinly slice the heart of the bulb. This is what you are going to be using in your tofu marinade. Pour your marinade over your tofu, cover and also place in the fridge for at least an hour.

5. In the meantime, you can prep your other ingredients. You can thinly slice the cucumber (you can also use the peeler on the cucumber) and jalapeño peppers. Place in the fridge.

6. You can also mix your mayo spread up. I like to just add a ½ tablespoon of soy sauce and a few sprinkles of chili powder if you like some extra heat.  Also, place this in the fridge.

7. Once, you have cleaned the house, watched an episode of "The Great Food Truck Race," and went outside to smell the roses - it's time to take your marinade out. You can do all that in an hour or so, right? Take your tofu out first. Lightly oil a large frying pan and turn up to around medium-high heat. Let the pan get warm first - you'll hear the oil start to bubble. Place your tofu in the pan and cook till tofu is brown and crisp on both sides - around 10 minutes. I like mine well-done, so I let it go for around 15 minutes. Put aside.

8. Now, it's time to assemble your masterpiece, I mean sandwich. Cut the baguette in half, but not all the way. Spread the mayo mixture on both sides. Next, add your pickled carrots and daikon, tofu, cucumber and jalapeño peppers. You can garnish with cilantro on top (but, I left that off since my husband doesn't care for it.) Lastly, enjoy!

When I bite into it, I can honestly say it didn't taste quite as good as the Nom Nom version, but it also wasn’t bad. It was actually pretty good. I think the key is the pickled carrots and daikon. Having those on the sandwich really made it have a similar flavor to what I had before. My husband also loved the sandwich. As my officially taste tester he said, “This is so good, you have to make this again!”

I’m glad I tried to make this sandwich. It’s always fun to try to recreate a dish you had at a restaurant or in my case food truck. I mean, it’s never going to be quite the same, but it’s nice to know if I’m in a dire need for a bánh mì, I can just walk to my local grocery store and spend around $15 on ingredients – and that’ll make me around 5 or so sandwiches.

But, it’s also good to know that I can walk down to Main Street or Abbot Kinney and get myself an authentic bánh mì pretty easily as well – ah, love living in LA. Thanks Nom Nom!

Now, stop reading, and start cooking!