Homemade Vegan Banh Mi

Ever since Hanco’s opened their 7th Avenue branch, I’ve been eating their tofu banh mi at least once a week. Then a few weeks ago I was at the Farmer’s Market and spotted a beautiful daikon radish and an idea began to form in my head. Why not make my own banh mi? I grabbed a daikon, some carrots, a few demi-baguettes, a sprig of cilantro, and some eggplants (among other things) and began to plan.

This may sound a bit strange, but I already had some homemade pickles in the fridge (I’d been inspired a week earlier by an episode of “Good Eats”) so I knew I could use them in the sandwich. The only thing I was missing was the mayo, so I went and picked up some Vegenaise (which I am not ashamed to say that I love).

The hardest part was making the pickled daikon and carrot; it wasn’t so much hard as it required planning ahead. As soon as I got home from the Greenmarket I began on this. I used my spiral slicer to make thin “noodles” of the daikon, but the carrots were too small to fit on it, so I used a vegetable peeler to make thin ribbons of them. In a small pot I quickly boiled some rice vinegar with some salt, pepper, and sugar. I should point out that this caused a ghastly smell in the kitchen that stuck around for a few hours. I poured this hot mix over the carrot and daikon in an airtight plastic container and left it in the fridge to chill until lunch time.

When lunch rolled around I got back to work. First I mixed some sriracha in with the Vegenaise and set it aside. I peeled the eggplant and sliced it into long chunks, then shallow-fried it with salt and pepper, then I glazed it with a sweet chili sauce. Once it was cooked through I set it aside as well.

I toasted a demi-baguette for a few seconds, and then began assembly. I spread the spicy “mayo” onto both sides of the bread, and then laid some eggplant onto one side. Then I added a pickle spear, the pickled daikon and cucumber, and a handful of cilantro. I then cut it in half for ease of eating.

The result was quite good. Not as good as the professionals make it, for sure, but hey, it was my first try. All of the things I love about Vietnamese sandwiches were there: the competing textures, temperatures, and tastes. Perhaps some people will see the title of this post and think that the words “vegan” and “banh mi” shouldn’t go together, but there was no lack of flavor in this thing. I’ll keep eating at Hanco’s but I wouldn’t mind making a few more of these myself. I’m already thinking of other fillings. I’m thinking shitakes next time?

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