I’ve been thinking about a vegetarian pate and fried egg banh mi since I had a liver pate and fried egg banh mi in Saigon back in 2014. It was my second breakfast that day. The banh mi vendor, Mai Thi Hoang, situated herself outside the gate where my apartment hotel was located. As it turned out, she lived nearby and operated her banh mi stall for extra pocket money, she told me. Her husband had an office job and her son was in college. I liked her spirit. We were both born in 1969. Hers was one of the best banh mi sandwiches I had in Saigon on that trip.
So I’ve been mentally chewing on her sandwich for a couple of years now and as fate would have it, I had a mess of mushrooms in the fridge this week from client project. Plus, there was a block of super-firm tofu. Those were the feature ingredients in this recipe, which I’d drafted long ago but since I wasn’t fully satisfied with it and we didn’t have space to fit it in The Banh Mi Handbook, the recipe got filed. But it was not forgotten.
Revisiting a draft recipe is an opportunity for me to question and validate my instructions. I am often my worse critic, but such self-inflicted skepticism can lead to discoveries!
Why make a mushroom pate for banh mi? If touching or eating liver isn’t your thing, a mushroom pâté may your thing. Or, if you enjoy meatless foods, the pate is great to have around. I developed the vegetarian spread to be rich, earthy, and taupe colored – just like its animal counterpart. To make a vegan mushroom pate, I used super-firm tofu and imbued it with fresh mushroom flavor. You could add some rehydrated dried porcini but I didn’t find it necessary.
The tofu lends body and protein while soaking up the mushroomy goodness. In a pinch, substitute 6 ounces of extra-firm tofu for the super-firm but expect the result to be softer in texture and less intense in flavor. (See Randy's question in comments got me thinking about a possible extra-firm tofu workaround: cut it into the small cubes then let them drain and firm up on paper towel or a dishtowel for 30 to 45 minutes. That will impact the texture some.)
For Viet banh mi character, I flavored the pate with fresh cilantro, Chinese five-spice (Spicely makes a good blend), and Maggi Seasoning sauce. I let the pate sit overnight and the flavor seemed to fade a little. I wanted a little umami goodness so I added salt and as experiment, some green olive brine from a jar of Trader Joe’s Greek olives. The brine is savory and a touch tangy and helped to create a more robust flavor. (Pam asked a great question about the brine so check out my answer in the Comments section.)
Then what I'd been working up toward -- I made my fried egg sandwich for lunch.
It was great sandwich, lighter than a regular liver pate and fried banh mi. You can just have the mushroom as a spread on a cracker or cucumber slice! Banh appetit.
Pa-te Nam Chay
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
- 8 ounces cremini mushroom
- 4 ounces super-firm tofu (sold in vacuum-sealed packages, sometimes labeled “high protein”)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or neutral oil such as canola
- 1 shallot, chopped (1/4 cup)
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro sprigs (a small handful)
- Generous 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, such as Spicely brand
- About 1 1/2 teaspoons Maggi Seasoning liquid, or 2 teaspoons Braggs Liquid Aminos
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
- Green olive brining liquid (optional)
- Trim the darkened ends from the mushroom stems. Cut the caps and stems into pieces about the size of your thumbnail. Put into a bowl. Cut the tofu into pieces the size of your pinkie nail. Add to the mushroom.
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter or pour in the oil. Add the shallot and cook, stirring for 4 to 5 minutes, until mostly golden.
- Add the garlic and cilantro, then stir to aromatize. Add the mushroom, tofu, Maggi (or Braggs), salt, and pepper. Cover and lower the heat to medium-low to low in order for the mixture to gently hiss and bubble. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring midway, until the mushroom pieces are half their original size.
- Uncover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring often, to concentrate the flavor. When no liquid is visible, remove from the heat and cool for 5 minutes. Use a food processor to turn the mixture into a smooth, taupe-colored spread.
- Taste and season with extra Maggi, salt, and pepper for robust savory, spicy finish. Stir in green olive brine by the teaspoon for extra savory oomph, if you like. Let the flavors develop for about 15 minutes before using. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Serve at room temperature.
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- Fried eggplant banh mi recipe
- Banh mi bread buying tips (I made my own here but don't always use homemade!)