Have you ever visited a country and instantly fell in love? Yeah, that didn’t happen for me in Vietnam. We were scammed out of nearly our entire trip budget on a scooter tour of Ho Chi Minh City. Our “beach bungalow” was so gross we immediately checked out and paid triple for nicer accommodations. The vegan food was mediocre at best. But, amidst the chaos of navigating a foreign country, I had some incredible experiences and can now say Vietnam is one of my favorite places. I’ve been there twice!
While the vegan food in Vietnam was pretty subpar in my opinion, I’ve had some excellent Vietnamese food here in Los Angeles. This Banh Mi Bowl with Lemongrass Tofu smashes two of my favorite Vietnamese dishes into one and I could eat it every day. First, you’ve got your banh mi. It’s a sandwich served on a chewy, flaky baguette that’s split lengthwise, spread with pâté and mayonnaise, and stuffed with meat, pickled vegetables, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeño. I used to live next to a Vietnamese bakery in Echo Park that makes a vegan banh mi with seitan and it’s fabulous. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
A vermicelli dish at another one of my favorite Vietnamese restaurants inspired the “bowl” part of this recipe. Vermicelli noodles are super thin rice noodles commonly used in Asian cooking. They’re light and not too filling and stand in for the bread in this Banh Mi Bowl with Lemongrass Tofu. Lemongrass is a plant in the grass family that is native to the tropical and sub-tropical climates of Asia. Only the bottom few inches of a lemongrass stalk are edible. The woody tops are discarded during the prep process. Just keep peeling away the outer layers until you reach the soft inner bulb – you should be able to pierce it with your thumbnail.
This Banh Mi Bowl with Lemongrass Tofu is light and refreshing, yet holds its own as a meal. I like the idea of creating a Banh Mi Bowl “bar” and allowing your dinner guests to add their own toppings and sauces.Print
This Banh Mi Bowl with Lemongrass Tofu is light and refreshing, yet holds its own as a meal. We love serving the toppings in little bowls to allow our dinner guests to create their own adventure.
For the lemongrass tofu
- 1 14-oz. package firm tofu
- 3 lemongrass stalks
- 2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tsp. agave
- 1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- 1 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
For the pickled veggies
- 1 medium carrot, peeled
- 1 medium daikon radish, peeled
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 Tbsp. agave
- ½ tsp. salt
For the bahn mi bowl
- 1 8-oz. package rice noodles (look for vermicelli // if not, any rice noodles will do)
- 4 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
- ½ cucumber, cut into matchsticks
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- Green onion, chopped
- Cilantro, chopped
- Cashews, chopped
- 1 lime, quartered
- Drain the tofu and wrap it in a few layers of paper towel. Place something slightly heavy on top to press out the moisture.
- Meanwhile, make the marinade. Cut the tough bottoms off the lemongrass as well as the stalks. The edible part is the bulb, a four-inch long section near the bottom. Peel off the woody outer layers until you reach the soft inner flesh; finely chop. Whisk together the soy sauce, agave, rice vinegar, lemongrass, sesame oil, chili garlic sauce, lime juice, and red chili pepper flakes in a small bowl.
- Slice the tofu into ½ inch pieces. Press with a few layers of dry paper towel (again) to remove any lingering moisture. Arrange the tofu in a single layer in a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the tofu, flipping the pieces until all of them are coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, overnight if possible.
- When the tofu is done marinating, preheat your oven to 400F. Uncover the tofu and bake for 20 minutes. Flip the pieces and bake 10 minutes more. Remove the tofu from the oven and set aside.
- While the tofu bakes, pickle the veggies. Use a julienne peeler (or a sharp knife) to thinly slice the carrot and daikon and transfer to a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the agave and salt into the vinegar until dissolved. Pour the pickling liquid over the veggies and toss gently to coat. Let the vegetables sit, stirring occasionally. Taste test the veggies and drain when they’re tangy enough, about 30 minutes.
- Just before serving, cook the rice noodles according to the package directions. If they sit too long they tend to get sticky!
- To serve, divide the romaine lettuce, noodles, tofu, and pickled veggies between four bowls. Top with cucumber, bean sprouts, green onion, cilantro, cashews, and a lime wedge.
Prep time does not include the time it takes to marinate the tofu and pickle the veggies, so please plan accordingly.