Today’s vegan tofu banh mi sandwich recipe is brought to you courtesy of my passion to simplify things every chance I get 🙂 Because of that, I’ll admit that this is not THE MOST authentic banh mi you’ll ever try, but it’s definitely one of the most delicious and easy vegan banh mi-style sandwiches you’ll ever make at home!
I’ve made this vegan tofu banh mi recipe more times than I can count in the past year or so. 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.
To be honest, I’ve never tried the traditional meat-heavy Vietnamese banh mi sandwich before I went vegan. Actually, I never even heard about it back then – talk about veganism expanding my culinary horizons 🙂
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!
So eventually I decided to cut a few corners and simplify the process. I don’t always have baguette on hand, and most of the time I don’t feel like driving to the grocery store while dragging my 11 month-old daughter with me just to buy one thing. So most of the time, I just use a regular sandwich roll, like the ciabatta roll in the pictures that we buy a few at a time and freeze until we need them.
Another modification: I use the more readily available – and cheaper – red radishes instead of daikon (hats off to the great Isa Chandra for this idea). I marinate them in a mixture of maple/agave syrup, lime juice, and rice vinegar. In case you don’t have rice vinegar when a banh mi craving hits, just use more lime juice instead.
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.
More flavor: I make a simple but flavor-packed Spicy Spread with sambal oelek 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.
Also, 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 these, and the sandwich will still be delicious. Most of the time, I just put some cilantro on my tofu banh mi sandwiches.
Bonus: I’ve included three ways to cook the tofu in this vegan banh mi recipe – on the 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, and use an oil-free mayo for the Spicy Spread.
This easy vegan banh mi sandwich recipe uses a few shortcuts to the traditional banh mi, making it the quickest way to get delicious results. Quick-marinated radishes pack a nice flavor punch, and the sambal oelek mayo spread adds a spicy kick. Three options for cooking tofu are described: on the stovetop, in an air fryer or in the oven.
- 1 block* extra firm tofu (14-16 oz), drained and pressed
- 4-5 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 sandwich rolls/6-inch baguette pieces
- Oil, for frying tofu (optional)
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (or sub more lime juice)
- 2 Tbsp maple or agave syrup
- 2 Tbsp vegan mayo, homemade or store-bought
- 1-2 Tbsp sambal oelek
- Combine all ingredients of the Radish Marinade. Slice radishes very thinly (mandoline 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 mandoline if available).
- Drain and press tofu. Slice 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 Spicy Spread by combining the mayo with sambal oelek.
- For each sandwich, spread each half of the sandwich roll/baguette (toasted first if desired) with the Spicy Spread. Arrange 4-6 tofu slices on the bottom half. Put cilantro, basil and mint leaves (if using) over the Spicy Spread 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!
*A 14-16 oz block of tofu will yield more tofu slices than you'll need for two sandwiches. Use the rest of the tofu to make another sandwich, or just snack on it like I often do 🙂
Question for you: What’s your favorite vegan sandwich?
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