The power of cookbook suggestion has been doing quite a number on me. Cathy Erway noted that Taiwanese pork sauce over rice was the equivalent of Italian Sunday sauce so I made her lu rou fan recipe on a Sunday. Recently, Ivy Manning’s new cookbook got me making tofu on Monday. It wasn’t just because it was meatless Monday. Ivy is a friend and solid recipe and cookbook writer. We’ve hung out together in Portland, Oregon, where she lives. She’s driven me around town to seek out Portland’s best artisanal tofu and banh mi.
So when Ivy’s publisher sent her latest book, Weeknight Vegetarian, I began thumbing through it. I’m not kidding as I type this but the first recipe I opened up to was this one, which I instagrammed:
Was my banh mi and tofu radar up or what? I had to try it out and it was a matter of finding the time. Given the title of the book, I picked a weeknight to make the lemongrass tofu. The idea behind Weeknight Vegetarian is this: the meatless recipes are easy going, suitable for everyday eating. The book is organized according to seasons. The lemongrass tofu banh mi was in the spring section. I took it for a spin on Monday, just a few days after spring sprung.
Ivy has you make a quick and zippy marinade with dual purposes: to season the tofu and the mayonnaise. Brilliant. I added the marinade to both homemade mayonnaise and sriracha aioli and enjoyed both. There was a lingering bottle of homemade sriracha in my fridge that I used for the marinade and flavor was very nice, though the color was not as deep as the Huy Fong brand. Make that note if you’re using stuff you made yourself. The flavor will be dynamite but the color may be a tad pale.
Extra-firm tofu from Whole Foods is what got marinated. Please refrain from ultra dense, super-firm tofu or you’ll get cardboard. Buy the more tender tofu sold as blocks in moat of water. Firm tofu would work too, in a pinch.
Then it was a matter of panfrying the tofu, which was fast. I let the tofu get a little crusty and dark to crisp up because I like it that way. Up to you. Then I sliced it on a diagonal before making banh mi to create a more varied texture and better distribution of tofu in the sandwich.
To make the banh mi, I added the usual suspects – mayo, Maggi, daikon and carrot pickle, chile, jalapeno and cilantro. Yes, that’s a homemade roll that I thawed. Ivy’s lemongrass tofu banh mi made for a terrific lunch.
Along with this recipe from Ivy, try the tofu variation of the lemongrass sriracha tempeh recipe on page 112 of The Banh Mi Handbook. If you have Asian Tofu, check out the spicy lemongrass pressed tofu (page 39) and the Vietnamese lemongrass tofu with chiles (dau phu xao xa ot, page 108). All three of those are terrific to eat on their own or in banh mi.
P.S. For a vegan rendition, use eggless mayonnaise; buy it or make it from the "Eggless Mayonnaise" recipe in the banh mi book.
Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi
Yield: enough for 4 sandwiches
- 1 pound (450 g) extra-firm tofu
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped lemongrass (white bulb part only)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
- 2 to 3 teaspoons sriracha chile sauce, homemade or storebought
- 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- About 1/4 cup (60 ml) canola or other neutral oil, divided
- 1/2 cup (125 ml) mayonnaise
- Cut the tofu crosswise into slabs about 1/4 to 1/3 inch (6 to 8 mm) thick. You should have about 8 pieces. Put on a dry dishtowel or several layers of paper towel (set in a tray or on a plate) to drain while you make the marinade.
- In a mini food processor, combine the lemongrass, garlic, sriracha sauce, lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper. Whirl, pausing to scrape as needed, to form a coarse paste. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Run the machine again to blend well. Taste and tweak as needed to get a salty, spicy, creamy finish.
- Pat the tofu dry then transfer to a plate. Coat with 3 tablespoons of marinade. Set aside. Stir the remaining 1 tablespoon of the marinade into the mayonnaise and set aside.
- Add enough oil (about 2 tablespoons) to coat the bottom of a large nonstick skillet. Heat over medium-high heat. Gently lay down the tofu slabs – they should fit in one layer. Panfry until golden brown and crisp at the edges, about 2 minutes per side. (I went a good 3 minutes for mine.) Cool on a rack before making banh mi. Make sure to spread the seasoned mayonnaise on the bread to echo the flavors of the tofu.
Adapted from: Ivy Manning's Weeknight Vegetarian (Weldon Owen, 2015)