Getting on the Banh-wagon

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As summer draws to a close and bids us goodbye with a last fiery embrace, we turn to the kitchen with a muted enthusiasm. Our last chance for grilling is passing us by! Did we take advantage of this summer? we ask ourselves with a bittersweet regret. Did we spend enough time relishing the warmth of sunshine, enjoying the childlike sense of freedom which has not quite faded? Now, in the final flare of warm weather after so many months of fog and fitful sun, we try to capture the summery spirit before fall wraps her chilly arms around us. This recipe, shared with us by a friend, is a wonderful way to take advantage of the Indian summer. Grilling tofu and fresh, plump zucchini in the backyard while a breeze rustles the leaves of the magnolia tree is the very essence of the season. The result, a fusion of flavors and cuisines, fits our palate perfectly and does justice to the variety of options available to us in this wonderful place we call home. Whatever can be said about its weather, the Bay Area provides a wealth of culinary options that dazzle and delight, no matter what the season. We took advantage of the fresh produce and local products to construct this mouth-watering sandwich, which embodies the soul of a California summer and celebrates its final encore.

This particular banh mi is a strange and delicious hybrid. You take what, on its face, looks like a vegetarian- (and kosher-) friendly sandwich and claim it for omnivores with a big, bacon-y flag. Once you taste the tofu-bacon-avocado trifecta, you won’t be able to look your vegetarian friends in the eye when you serve them the other version, so integral is the bacon to this combination. However, this peculiar blend suits the spirit of the banh mi well. The product of French colonialism in Vietnam, the traditional banh mi features Vietnamese flavors and meats layered between French bread, pâté, and a very European slathering of mayo. Vegetarian versions are usually reserved for Buddhist temples, while street vendors primarily sell their sandwiches stuffed with pork belly, meatballs, or sausage. Featuring a serious cultural patchwork of ingredients, the recipe below pays homage to the origins of the sandwich. We chose bolillos from Mi Tierra instead of a true baguette, and we would suggest going with Hodo Soy’s firm tofu for our version.

The simple process of building the sandwich is a delight, but the real pleasure is in that first bite. The indulgent, savory bacon marries well with the buttery avocado (of course) and the crisp bite of jalapeno and cilantro, while the marinated firm tofu and grill-charred zucchini add a sweet smokiness to the flavor, amplified by a generous helping of Sriracha mayo. The combination is too good: filling but fresh, a delicate balance between fatty bacon, tender greens, and fluffy bread. So as the mercury peaks late this year, you’ll find us in the backyard putting off the Halloween decorating, instead spending our evenings achieving the perfect grill marks and watching the sun set over a few bottles of beer.

Tofu Bacon Bahn Mi (adapted from Sunset Magazine)
Makes 4-5 Sandwiches

  • 14-16ounces Firm Tofu
  • 2tablespoons Fresh Ginger
  • 2teaspoons Sugar
  • 1teaspoon Fresh Ground Pepper
  • 1/4cup Soy Sauce
  • 3tablespoons Sesame Oil
  • 1tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 4Bread Rolls, we used Bolillo from our local Mexican grocery
  • 2Zuchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4″ slices
  • 3tablespoons Mayonnaise
  • 4teaspoons Srisacha (or more if you like spicey!)
  • 1bunch Cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4Head of Red Cabbage, finely shopped
  • 1Lime, squeezed
  • 4pieces Bacon, cooked until crispy
  • 1Avocado, sliced
  • 1Jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  1. Cut tofu into pieces about 1/2 inch thick and put into gallon Ziploc to marinade. Microplane the ginger and whisk together with the soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, sugar, and pepper. Pour into the Ziploc bag and make sure it’s covering all tofu. Marinade overnight.
  2. Heat your grill or cast iron pan on high and seat tofu until grill marks appear and the tofu is heated through, turn once. Reserve the marinade and put your slices of zucchini into the bag that held the tofu and let it sit in the marinade for a few minutes before grilling the zucchini until tender and browned.
  3. Prep your remaining sandwich ingredients. Slice the avocado into thin slices and cook the bacon until crispy. Combine the mayonnaise and sriracha in a small bowl until blended well for spreading on your sandwich. In another bowl, combine your cilantro, cabbage, and jalapeno with the lime juice.
  4. Cut the sides of your bread toast to your liking, you could do this in the oven or on the grill, just until it’s crisp. Now you’re ready to assemble your sandwich! Spread the Sriracha mayo on both sides of the bread and layer your tofu, zucchini, bacon, avocado, and cilantro cabbage slaw. This sandwich is quite the mouthful, so we recommend cutting it in half first!
  5. Enjoy!

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