I was at a Vietnamese market today and overheard a conversation between two Vietnamese people lamenting having to diet. “It’s so boring and difficult to eat lean vegetables all the time,” the woman said. “I’m tired of it.”
The man responded, “Dieting isn’t about giving up everything. Just a little here and there.”
I’m in the same camp as the man. All things in moderation, which is why I made banh mi tacos the other day. Cutting back on white bread is good thing in general but it’s hard for banh mi sandwiches, which is defined by its carby encasement. What if you used a corn tortilla? What do you have to watch for? Does it taste good?
And since many of us are also going meatless now and then, I decided to make vegetarian banh mi tacos. Banh mi tacos are not something I thought of. There’s a Denver restaurant that makes them and their filling ingredients reminded me of recipes from The Banh Mi Handbook.
Anyway, banh mi tacos work beautifully but you be mindful of a few things because you’re dealing with a tortilla and not bread. Most importantly, the tortilla needs to be soft and ideally at room temperature. It’s okay of the tortilla is slightly warm but it should not be hot. Otherwise, the mayonnaise will turn oily. No bueno.
To refresh tortillas, I lightly wet them under running water, shake off the excess and then slap each onto a hot skillet or griddle surface. The heat is usually medium-high. I flip the tortilla 2 or 3 times, and as soon as it’s soft like a table napkin, I remove it and place it on a plate to cool. This is done till all the tortillas are refreshed. If I were to do lots of them, I’d use a large griddle instead of a skillet.
As usual, the filling ingredients are all prepped and at room temperature. Instead of chile slices, I opted for the sriracha aioli (page 26 of TBMH) and a drizzle of sriracha. If you're vegan, see the "eggless mayonnaise" recipe in the book on page 28. Those condiments seemed to work better with the tortilla. You could use pickled jalapenos, if you like.
Since pate is in many banh mi and sometimes beans are put into tacos, I opted for a smearing of edamame pate (page 48 of TBMH). Instead of regular Maggi Seasoning sauce, I sprinkled on Jugo de Maggi, the Mexican version which is thicker and clings well to the ingredients. (Use Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for a gluten-free option.)
Pickle-wise, the daikon and carrot worked beautifully but the citrusy cabbage was awesome in tang and color; the recipes are on pages 33 and 34 of TBMH, respectively. What of the meatless main features?
For the first one, I fried an omelet Thai style. There’s a recipe in TBMH on page 111 but in a nutshell, you hand beat or whisk 2 large eggs with a touch of soy sauce plus a slurry of 1 teaspoon each of cornstarch and water. Then put lots of oil in a skillet or wok, heat it up nice and hot, then pour in the eggs. I added 2 tablespoons of oil instead of the usual amount because I was using a low-walled 8-inch skillet and not a wok. Cooked on both sides, the eggs puff and sizzle to a splendid finish. I let the omelet cool then cut it up into wide strips for the taco.
Along with the fried egg omelet banh mi taco, I made some with sliced seared tofu found in the fridge. For the third banh mi taco, I also reached for leftovers — spicy yuba ribbons, a recipe on page 139 of Asian Tofu. The yuba got warmed up in the skillet before the skillet was used for refreshing tortillas (minimize your cleanup). There’s chile oil in the yuba so I refrained from the sriracha drizzle. The Jugo de Maggi overwhelmed the yuba's delicateness so I'd leave it out of the taco.
The fried eggplant banh mi filling would be terrific as a taco filling. When the weather warms up, you could put grilled vegetables into these tacos and if the pate was included, it would be smashing. Of course, you can feature a meaty banh mi filling in these tacos but that seems obviously delicious.
Tortillas keep well in the fridge and you can slap them on a skillet to refresh and create banh mi tacos at your liking.
If you’re cutting back on bread it doesn’t mean forgoing banh mi! You just have to think beyond the bread. Happier New Year.