The bahn mi sandwich is one of the world’s most genius culinary masterpieces – it’s right up there with pizza, burritos, mac-and-cheese and ramen. The bahn mi contains all the flavors and textures you could possibly want in handheld compact format: slow-roasted juicy pork stuffed into a mayo-slathered crusty baguette with crunchy pickled vegetables and grassy cilantro.
It is truly a force.
I first fell in love with this indulgent creation when the trendy Num Pang popularized it in NYC. Now that I’m on the mission to health-ify all my favorite foods and make them accessible to home cooks, I figured tempeh would be the perfect substitute for the aforementioned pork. Not sure what the heck this ‘tempeh’ is? Allow me to make the introduction: tempeh is a fermented soybean product. Whereas tofu is made by blending and curdling soybeans into a smooth, spongy block, tempeh is made by fermenting whole soybeans that naturally bind together into a cake-like form. As a result, tempeh is firmer and earthier-tasting than tofu, which – in my opinion – makes it a better substitute for meat. In flavor, it is comparable to chickpeas or cashews.
Tempeh can be an acquired taste, but all the omnivore friends I’ve fed it to so far had no problem with it. The important thing to keep in mind when cooking tempeh is that it has to be thoroughly caramelized for the best flavor. After searing the tempeh in a skillet, I tossed it with a simple hoisin sauce (Chinese-style barbecue sauce) glaze with garlic and ginger. Paired with quick-pickled vegetables, this bahn mi is perfect for weeknight cooking.
Seared tempeh in a sweet-and-salty hoisin sauce glaze makes this vegetarian bahn mi sandwich perfect for weeknight cooking.
For the pickled vegetables:
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 cups filtered water
- 1 tablespoon turbinado/raw sugar
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
For the tempeh and assembly:
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 medium garlic clove, grated
- 1″ knob of ginger, grated
- Organic cold-pressed canola oil OR other neutral-tasting oil
- One 8-ounce package of tempeh, cut into 1/3″-thick strips
- 1 baguette, cut into 4 pieces, halved lengthwise and lightly toasted
- 4 tablespoons mayonnaise (I recommend Sir Kensington’s brand)
- 2 Persian cucumbers, shaved into ribbons or thinly sliced
- 2 generous handfuls of cilantro
To make pickled vegetables:
- In a medium shallow dish, combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt; whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Toss in carrots and onion, making sure vegetable are fully submerged. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Pickled onions will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
To make tempeh and assemble:
- In a small bowl, stir together hoisin sauce, water, garlic and ginger; set aside.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add enough cooking oil to cover the bottom. Add tempeh strips and cook until browned, 2-3 minutes, then flip to brown the other side for about another 2 minutes. Pour in hoisin mixture and shake the pan to make sure all tempeh is evenly coated, turning over the tempeh strips if needed.
- To serve the sandwiches, spread 1 tablespoon of mayo on each quarter of the baguette. Top with 4-5 strips of tempeh, pickled vegetables, cucumber and cilantro.