There are some dishes in which meat seems superfluous at best. Like nachos. I mean with all that cheese, the sour cream, the salsa, the guac, the beans—is meat piled on top really necessary? Same goes for the McDonald’s cheeseburger—get it without the meat and I swear you’ll be thanking me. Bahn mi falls into this category too. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I love pâté. Like with toast points and cornichon and seedy mustard. But with the sweet-tang of the marinated carrots and daikon, the heat of the jalapeño, the citrus-herb kapow of cilantro, and the hot hit of Sriracha, porky pâté just kind of gets in the way, you know?
Which is why I started ordering it without. Oh, I got a few hairy raised brows—no meat? Did I want sautéed mushrooms instead (no.)? Tofu (no.)? Chicken (no.)? I got tired of justifying my no-meat bahn mi, so I decided to make it mi self (sorry, couldn’t resist).
For satiety’s sake, I make a killer spread-y sauce out of silken tofu, cilantro, jalapeños, and a spoonful of mayo (vegans can use vegan mayo, of course). This spread is so good you’ll be making it for tailgating and baby showers instead of onion dip, I swear (it’s also great made into bite-sized bahn-mi bruschetta). Next, I quickly dunk ribbons of carrots and daikon in a fish sauce-rice vinegar marinade (again, vegans can do a lime juice-sugar-tomato paste combo as a decent stand-in). I pile it all on a warm, crisp baguette (preferably a pillowy supermarket-style baguette and not a super crusty artisanal one—more times than not they’re just too tough) with a smear of sriracha, fresh cilantro, and chopped jalapeños. It’s a sandwich that’s all about getting it right, not trying to make do without.
Veggie Bahn Mi
Makes 4 sandwiches
1 12-ounce brick silken tofu
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 jalapeños, 1 finely chopped, 1 roughly chopped (seeded for less heat)
4 6-inch long Italian rolls or 2 small baguettes, ends trimmed, each loaf divided into two pieces
8 ounces daikon, peeled into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or shaved on a mandolin
3 carrots, peeled into ribbons using a vegetable peeler or shaved on a mandolin
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced crosswise into 1/8-inch thick rounds
1 cup fresh whole cilantro leaves
Sriracha chili sauce
Place the tofu, mayonnaise, ginger, the roughly chopped jalapeño, and the salt in a small food processor and purée. Transfer the sauce into a small bowl and refrigerate until you’re ready to make the sandwiches (it will thicken a little as it chills).
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Set the rolls on a rimmed baking sheet and place them in the oven until warm and the crust crackles when squeezed, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place the rolls on a cutting board. Slice the rolls open leaving them connected at one side and set aside.
Place the daikon, carrots, fish sauce, and rice vinegar in a medium bowl and toss to combine.
Smear some of the tofu spread on the top half of each warm roll. Sprinkle the finely chopped jalapeños (if using) over the spread. Divide the carrot and daikon mixture between the rolls and top with a layer of cucumbers. Place some cilantro on top and then squeeze a few dots of Sriracha over the cilantro. Use the back of a spoon to push all of the ingredients toward the center of the roll. Press the roll closed and eat!
For Vegans: Use tofu-based mayonnaise in place of regular mayonnaise and substitute 3 tablespoons of lime juice whisked with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of tomato paste for the fish sauce. Check the label of the hot sauce to make sure there isn’t fish sauce in it.
Make Ahead: The tofu sauce can be made up to three days in advance. It makes a great dipping sauce for raw veggies, too.
Bahn Mi Bruschetta: Slice a baguette crosswise into 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick slices. Toast the slices in a 350°F oven just until dry and no longer spongy, but not truly toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then spread each slice with some tofu spread and then a few dots of Sriracha. Top with some diced jalapeños, a cucumber slice, some dressed carrots and daikon, and cilantro leaves. Serve.