Most of the time when you ask someone what their first job was, the answer is something like cashier or waitress. Maybe lifeguard. Mine was bike valet.
Yes, you read that right. It was right before college, for a company in New York City that advocated for methods of transportation other than driving cars. One of their projects was setting up valets at different events around the city to encourage people to bike more. I got the job because my older sister worked for the company, and my duties included taking people’s bikes, tagging them, watching them so they didn’t get stolen, and then returning them. That’s it. As you can imagine it was mostly a bunch of standing around and reminding myself I needed the petty cash. I did get some valuable experiences from it, though. For one, I got to hang out with my sister a lot that summer. I also got to hear a lot of free music around the city. Most importantly, I experienced my first ever tofu banh mi.
We were often provided dinner during events, and all the hippy vegetarians I was working with always chose to order these vegetarian banh mi’s from a nearby spot called Hanco’s. It was love at first bite. Even though I’m as carnivorous as it gets, I still prefer tofu in my banh mi over any other protein. Probably because it brings back the memories of summer nights spent listening to music in the park and my big sister walking me to the subway after my shift was over.
The awesome news is it’s insanely easy to make this recipe at home. Simple and really quick. You pickle some vegetables, make the dressing, and fry the tofu. And don’t forget to pick up a french baguette from the local bakery (the freshest possible!) The whole process takes like 20 minutes.
Vietnamese Tofu Bahn Mi
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh lemongrass (white bulb part only)
1 Tbs finely chopped garlic
2 tsp sriracha
2 tsp fresh lime juice
2 tsp sugar
pinch of salt and pepper
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs canola oil
1 lb extra-firm tofu, patted dry and cut into 1/4 inch thick pieces
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup grated daikon radish
3/4 cup shredded carrot
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1 french baguette
cilantro leaves for garnish
1 large jalapeño chile, thinly sliced, for garnish
1. In a food processor, pulse the lemongrass, garlic, sriracha, lime juice, s&p, and 1 tsp of sugar until a paste forms. Add 2 tbsp of canola oil and blend well. Using 3 tbsp of this paste, brush onto the tofu slices until they’re completely coated.
2. In a large nonstick skillet, warm the rest of the canola oil. Fry the tofu until firm and golden on each side. Remove from heat and place on a plate lined with a paper towel, to soak up excess oil.
3. Mix remaining lemongrass paste with mayonnaise.
4. In a small bowl, combine daikon radish, carrot, rice vinegar, and 1 tsp of sugar. Toss to coat.
5. Portion out the baguette and then slice in half length-wise, leaving one side partially connected. Slather some sauce onto both sides of bread, add the veggies, and then pile on the tofu. Top with cilantro and jalapeno. Yum!