Today’s easy vegan tofu banh mi sandwich has become one of our family’s favorite vegan tofu sandwich recipes for nights when we want a flavorful dinner but don’t feel like putting in a lot of effort. I make this vegan banh mi with tofu, quick-marinated radishes and carrots, and finish with spicy chili-garlic aioli. I’ve included directions for cooking tofu on stovetop, in an air fryer, or in the oven.
What is Banh Mi Sandwich?
Traditionally, banh mi is a Vietnamese-French hybrid that consists of a piece of baguette split lengthwise and filled with pickled daikon radishes, carrots, sliced cucumber, cilantro, chili peppers, and sliced or shredded pork.
The name “banh mi” literally means “bread” in Vietnamese. Baguette was introduced in Vietnam in 19th century when Vietnam was a part of French Indochina (source). The sandwich became widely popular in Saigon in the 1950s. Its popularity was spread into the Western world after the Vietnam war.
The vegetarian or vegan version of banh mi is known as banh mi chay. Tofu is one of the most popular meat substitutes used in banh mi chay, although there are variations made with mushrooms, jackfruit, vegan meat substitutes, etc.
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What goes into tofu banh mi?
i can’t speak for every tofu banh mi sandwich recipe on the internet, but my tofu banh mi includes quick-pickled radishes and carrots, cilantro, spicy chili-garlic aioli, and tofu slices that can be cooked on stovetop with a bit of oil (the most delicious IMO), in an air fryer with or without oil, and in the oven completely oil-free.
If you follow a mostly oil-free diet, bake your tofu in the oven (see my tips for baking tofu without oil), and use an oil-free mayo for the Spicy Spread.
My tofu banh mi recipe cuts a few corners to make things go quicker and easier. I’m using red radishes instead of daikon (which may not always be available in regular grocery stores), and marinating them quickly in a mixture of rice vinegar, lime juice and maple syrup.
I’m also using a regular ciabatta bun instead of a baguette because we have it at home more often than baguette. We usually buy a large pack of fresh baked ciabatta rolls at Costco (you can find them in their bakery), and freeze them to make them last for weeks.
Is cutting the corners for this banh mi worth it, you may ask? Let me tell you – I’ve made this vegan tofu banh mi more times than I can count in the past year or so, and each time my family raved about it.
Every time I made it, I thought that I should have written down the ingredients, proportions, etc. and taken the pictures of the sandwich to share on the blog, but alas – it’s usually gone way before I locate my camera.
It took me a while to develop a banh mi recipe that was easy, tasty, and called for everyday ingredients I usually have at home anyway.
Since Rob and I made a switch to a vegan diet 5 years ago, I’ve ordered banh mi a few times at restaurants and even made it a couple times at home using recipes off the internet.
There were some hits and misses – more misses, to be exact, like an odd contraption I’d call a peanut butter and mushroom sandwich 🙂 I know, WTF?
But even when a vegan bahn mi recipe was a hit, the amount of work, ingredients and cooking steps was often a turn off.
I mean, who wants to slave all night in the kitchen (or even start the daikon radish-marinating process the night before) just for a couple sandwiches? Not me!
That;s why I find that using radishes and quickly marinating them is a great time and effort saver. The radishes are thinly sliced and quickly marinated for just as long as it takes me to go through the rest of the steps to make these sandwiches.
To add extra flavor, I move the radish slices to the side of the plate (pic below) and toss cut-up carrots in some of the marinade too. Or you can leave the carrots alone if you don’t feel like marinating them.
You can also marinate thinly sliced zucchini in this marinade to add even more veggies to your vegan banh mi sandwich.
More flavor: I make a simple but flavor-packed garlic-chili aioli made with chili garlic sauce and vegan mayo. Actually, that spread can be used on just about any sandwich to infuse it with flavor in a pinch!
The traditional banh mi also uses cucumber slices, but I’ve skipped the cucumbers many times if I didn’t have cucumbers at home, and I didn’t miss them. Sometimes, if I have zucchini in my fridge, I use it in place of cucumber.
This sandwich gets even more delicious when you load it up with herbs like cilantro, basil and mint. But if you don’t have all of them, no problem – just use one or two of those, and the sandwich will still be delicious. Most of the time, I just put some cilantro on our sandwiches.
My favorite side dish to serve along this tofu banh mi sandwich is my Asian slaw salad with homemade peanut dressing. Try them side by side, and you’ll see what I’m talking about!
In case you love your sandwiches with a spicy kick, check out my easy Buffalo tofu sandwich that’s even easier to make than this banh mi!
Another creative way to use tofu – in my vegan tofu tacos with fajita vegetables. Tofu is quickly marinated in a light chipotle-infused sauce, then cooked to perfection with fajita peppers and onions.
If you’ve tried this recipe, I’d love to hear how it turned out! Give it a star rating below, pin it to Pinterest, tag @vegan_runner_eats on Instagram, or leave a comment.
For the Sandwiches:
- 2/3 standard block of extra firm tofu, pressed, sliced into 1/4" thick slices (see note*)
- 5 medium red radishes
- 1 medium carrot
- 1 small cucumber (optional)
- Cilantro leaves, to taste
- Basil leaves (optional), to taste
- Mint leaves (optional), to taste
- 2 6-inch baguette pieces, cut lengthwise (see note**)
- Oil, for frying tofu (optional)
For the Radish Marinade:
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or sub more lime juice)
- 2 Tbsp maple syrup(see note***)
For the Chili Garlic Aioli:
- 2 Tbsp vegan mayo, homemade or store-bought
- 1 Tbsp chili garlic sauce
- Combine all ingredients of the Radish Marinade. Slice radishes very thinly (mandolin works best, but slicing by hand is ok). Arrange radishes in a shallow bowl or on a plate, pour the marinade over them and set aside while going through the rest of the steps - 15-20 min total or up to an hour.
- Cut the carrot into thin matchsticks about the length of your sandwich rolls or baguette pieces (ok if shorter). Leave them as is, or toss with some radish marinade for extra flavor (see picture in the post above).
- Slice the cucumber very thinly lengthwise (use mandolin if available).
- Drain and press a standard 14 or 16 oz block of tofu. Slice about two thirds of it into 1/4-inch thick rectangles.
- Cook the tofu*. Stovetop: fry tofu slices in batches in an oiled heavy-bottomed pan, 3-4 minutes per side, sprinkling a bit of salt and pepper on each side after flipping. Air fryer: brush each tofu slice with a bit of oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper - or omit for oil-free. Cook in batches at 370 F for 8 minutes. Oven (oil-free): bake tofu on parchment paper-lined sheet at 400 F for 20 min, flipping halfway.
- Make the Chili-Garlic Aioli by combining the mayo with chili garlic sauce.
- For each sandwich, spread each half of the sandwich roll/baguette (toasted first if desired) with the Chili Garlic Aioli. Arrange 4-6 tofu slices on the bottom half. Put cilantro, basil and mint leaves (if using) over the aioli on the top half. Arrange half of the radishes and carrots over the tofu. Put 3-4 cucumber slices on top, if using. Close the sandwich and enjoy!
*Press a whole 14 or 16 oz block of tofu, then slice two thirds of it into 1/4 inch thick rectangles and fry them following the recipe instructions. One sandwich will take 5-6 slices of fried tofu.
**Alternatively, use two sandwich rolls or ciabatta buns as I did in the pictures.
***Agave syrup can be used instead of maple syrup.
Serving Size:1 sandwich
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 856Total Fat: 29gSaturated Fat: 4.1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 0mgCarbohydrates: 110gFiber: 6gSugar: 20gProtein: 31g
Please note that the provided nutritional information data is approximate.
Question for you: What’s your favorite vegan sandwich?
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