Inspired by my recent trip to Vietnam, this Tofu Banh Mi Bowl is packed with Vietnamese flavor and nutrition!Banh mi and pho were the only two Vietnamese foods I’d ever tried here at home before I went to Vietnam. But I knew that the authentic versions I’d sink my teeth into across the globe would be 10x better. I was wrong. They were 100x better!
Traditional banh mi is piled high with pork and pate so I did a little research before going to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to see if there were any vegetarian banh mi sandwiches that I could try. Trip Advisor travelers recommended one spot and surprise, surprise, we found ourselves hunkering down there for lunch on our first day. Their vegetarian banh mi was incredible. Crispy, fried tofu with a mushroom pate, pickled vegetables, lots of cilantro and a variety of sauces to choose from (I went with the spicy mayo made with fish sauce since I eat seafood). We ended up going back there on our last night in Saigon. Actually running there. Literally. To make it before it closed. We got there like three minutes to close and they said sorry, but we’re closed. And the look of utter dispair on my face must have persuaded her because she went back to talk to the kitchen and we were able to get banh mi to go!We also found a banh mi joint in Hoi An that Anthony Bourdain visited on No Reservations. This one didn’t offer tofu so I got egg instead. This one packed a little more heat and more fresh flavor but it was really hard to compare the two. I loved both! Steve said he liked the sandwich he had in HCMC better.
Despite eating three weeks of nothing but rice, rice noodles, seafood, tofu and fresh herbs, I wasn’t sick of the cuisine when I returned home. Sure, I desperately craved a bagel (and had one immediately at the airport during our layover back home in the U.S.). but I also didn’t feel burnt out on the clean, refreshing flavors of Vietnam. So, obviously, I set out to recreate some of my favorite dishes over there at home. The first one being this spin on a banh mi sandwich. Not that there’s anything wrong with throwing all of these ingredients on a delicious baguette but I just enjoy changing traditional dishes up a bit and putting my own spin on them. Plus, bowls are soooooooo hot right now (said in my most annoying voice).
This banh mi bowl has protein-packed quinoa as the base and is piled high with crispy tofu, spicy and sour pickled vegetables, cool cilantro, crunchy cucumber and peanuts and a creamy, umami-boasting spicy mayo sauce to boot. Basically all the flavors and all the textures for a totally satisfying meal. SO satisfying that after I made it the first time I was so hungry and it looked so delicious that I said screw the photo shoot and just enjoyed each and every bite.It’s totally customizable too – if you’re a vegetarian and don’t do fish sauce, use soy sauce instead. If you don’t like spicy, skip the jalapeños. If you are like me and have a weird aversion to cucumber, use crunchy radishes instead. No quinoa? Use brown rice, white rice or even rice noodles. Or, skip the bowl all together and use a baguette! Make it your own. Throw some avo on there for good measure. It never hurts :).
This is one of those meals you’ll want to plan for in advance though because you’ll want to make the pickles ahead of time and let them sit for a least a couple days before using. However, it’s the meal that keeps on giving. I’ve been enjoying leftovers for lunch all week.Ps. If you’re interested in learning more about Vietnamese food culture or want to read more about some of their staple dishes, check out my latest article for FoodNetwork.com on Four Delicious Ways to Start Eating More Vietnamese Food.
- 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 daikon radish, peeled and julienned
- 1 jalapeno pepper, sliced
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon lime juice
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon sriracha
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- 1/8 teaspoon fish sauce
- 14-ounce package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 1 cup quinoa
- 1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
- Soy sauce and extra lime juice for serving
- Pack vegetables into a pint-sized jar. In a small saucepan, bring water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil, stirring until dissolved.
- Pour liquid over vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch space at the top. Gently tap the jar to remove any air bubbles. Securely screw lid onto jar.
- Let jar cool to room temperature and then store in refrigerator, letting them pickle for at least 48 hours before using.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, sugar and garlic until combined.
- In a small bowl, whisk mayonnaise, sriracha, lime juice and fish sauce until smooth and creamy.
- Cut tofu into eight even rectangle slices. Add to marinade and let sit in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place marinaded tofu onto baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, flipping over halfway through.
- Meanwhile, cook quinoa according to package directions.
- In a non-stick pan add 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Add baked tofu slices in two batches (to avoid crowding the pan) and let cook for 3-5 minutes on each side, or until golden-brown.
- Divide quinoa evenly between bowls. Top with tofu, pickled vegetables, cilantro, peanuts and cucumber. Finish off with a squeeze of lime juice, a splash of soy sauce and drizzle spicy mayo over top.
Tell me, have you ever tried Vietnamese food? What did you think?
For more travel-inspired eats, check out my recipes below: