From Chef Priyanka’s The Modern Tiffin:
Please tell me you’ve eaten a bánh mì before. If you have not, then you’re missing out on one of the greatest sandwiches born from not-so-great colonization. Yes, that’s right. Have you ever noticed that bánh mì is made with a loaf of French bread? And have you ever wondered, why is a Vietnamese sandwich made with French bread? Well, I did, which led me to doing my research. Bánh mì is from the French colonization era of Vietnam, when the French introduced baguettes, and the rest is history. Traditionally, bánh mì is made with marinated pork or chicken and topped with a tangy slaw, spicy jalapeños, red chili spread, and tons of fresh cilantro. My Tofu Bánh Mì is made with a tamarind-marinated tofu, spicy and tangy slaw, and tons of jalapeños and fresh cilantro. Your next question might be, “Priyanka, why are you obsessed with bánh mì if you haven’t even been to Vietnam?” Thanks to a little restaurant in the West Village of Manhattan called Saigon Shack, I’ve been eating these delicious sandwiches for years. Every component of the sandwich is important and cannot go overlooked. So, my advice here is: don’t skimp on the bread. If you can find a good and fresh French baguette, grab it!
Press and Cut the Tofu
In order to achieve a flavorful and impactful tofu “steak” for our bánh mì, we need to press out all the moisture. Wrap the tofu block in a thick kitchen towel and place it onto a plate. Place a heavy mortar and pestle or heavy pan on top of it. Place the whole contraption in the sink so any excess moisture can drain out directly into the sink. Let the tofu drain for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully remove the pan/mortar and pestle and uncover the tofu from the towel. It should look a bit drier and still be intact. Place onto a cutting board. Slice the tofu into four even slices lengthwise. Set aside.
Make the Marinade
In a large shallow bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the marinade except for the tofu. Give it a taste—it should be spicy, tangy, slightly salty, and fairly thin in consistency. Place the pressed tofu slabs into the marinade and gently turn so they are covered on all sides. Marinate for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile Make the Slaw
In a large bowl, toss together the reserved tofu marinade with all the ingredients—using only half of the cilantro, reserving the remainder for garnish. Toss until well coated.
Make the Spicy Spread
In a small bowl. Mix together the vegan mayonnaise and sriracha. The color should be light red and it should taste spicy!
Sear the Tofu
Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add the neutral oil once it’s hot. Using the tongues, lift up each piece of tofu and place it into the skillet. It should sizzle. Sear on each side for 4 to 5 minutes, until charred on the edges and medium brown in the center. Repeat until all tofu “steaks” are cooked. Set aside. Slice each loaf of bread in half lengthwise and place inside down onto the same skillet to toast for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and slightly crisp. Remove and place onto a cutting board.
Spread a heaping tablespoon of spicy spread onto each bottom half of the loaf. Top with two tofu steaks. Pile on the slaw and garnish with the remaining cilantro. Close and eat immediately or pack in your Tiffin. If doing so, the spread will slightly soften the bread but won’t make it soggy since we used a crusty French loaf!