Sundays With Sparky: Lemongrass Tofu Bánh Mi (Caramelized Tofu Hoagies)

Sundays With Sparky: Lemongrass Tofu Bánh Mi (Caramelized Tofu Hoagies)

Yes, yes, I know. Tofu is for other people: people who grew up with it, or people who put health before flavor, right? WRONG! I have to admit, I never liked tofu, even was a bit afraid of it… until Sparky ordered it at a local restaurant. I learned a lot from that dish, mainly that the trick is to let tofu be itself, and not pretend it’s eggs or cream or meat.

These sandwiches are one of our favorite ways to eat tofu, and a great way to get started if you’ve never tried it before. We’re lucky to live not too far from an excellent Bánh Mi shop that sells all manner of Vietnamese “sub” sandwiches in all kinds of combinations: ham, paté, cold cuts, grilled pork, eggs veggies…and one made with lemongrass tofu. I’m not sure how the flavor profile works, but somehow the marinade imbues the tofu with a very meaty, umami-rich flavor that makes it perfect on a sandwich but somehow doesn’t deny its tofu-ness.

IMG_2376I had no idea these were so simple to make, you just need to make sure you have firm, water-packed tofu, the kind with a slightly spongy texture (not “silken” tofu.) You also need lemongrass, which you can get in a grocery store, but which wasn’t quite mature in our garden yet. We substituted lime basil which works just fine. Lemon basil or lemon balm will work, too, but they are stronger in flavor.


Firm (or Chinese-style) tofu
About 1/2 cup lime basil sprigs
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp salt (don’t skip this, tofu has almost no salt and will be bland without it)
ground black pepper to taste
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp vegetable oil
5 tsp soy sauce
Turnip pickles
Carrots (or carrots and daikon radish if you don’t have turnip pickles in your fridge like you should.) 😉
Vinegar bath for carrots:  1 tbsp sugar and 3/4 tsp salt dissolved in 1 cup water and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Basil or cilantro leaves
Crusty french rolls
Sriracha or chili garlic paste

IMG_2364First, Sparky opened the tofu boxes, drained the liquid and set them in a loaf pan lined with paper towels (I like these because they come in half-bricks, which makes it easier to adjust a recipe.)




Then we balanced a second loaf pan on top of the tofu bricks and piled heavy cans on top of that to press out as much of the liquid as possible.  After the first pressing, we removed the paper towels and did it again, leaving it while we prepped the marinade.



Sparky went out into the garden and clipped lime basil until he had loosely filled our small mortar.




He then topped it with two garlic cloves and the salt, and mashed it up until it was a homogeneous glop. He then measured in the oils and soy sauce and gave it a thorough stir.



After pouring off any remaining water from the tofu, Sparky cut it into planks about 1/2 an inch thick.  He layered these back into the loaf pan, drizzling each layer with the marinade and finally pouring the remainder over the top. Once again, we set the second loaf pan and the cans on top and set the whole thing in the refrigerator for an hour.

IMG_2417Sparky then used a vegetable peeler to cut these supermodel-gorgeous carrots into long “carrot noodles.”





We poured the marinade over the top and set those in the refrigerator with the tofu.


IMG_2432Once the tofu had soaked up all the delicious marinade, Sparky heated up a cast iron skillet and poured in a light slick of oil.  The tofu was seared until crispy and brown on both sides, and then everybody used the various pickles, vegetables, condiments and tofu to build themselves a delicious sandwich, perfect for a hot summer evening.


I tell you, these sandwiches are a gateway drug: once you try them you will crave tofu instead of looking at it askance!  Enjoy!


Filed under: Cooking with Kids, Recipe

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