This tempeh banh mi features quick-pickled vegetables, paper-thin cucumbers, and cilantro. It’s the perfect vegan sandwich!
A satisfying all-in-one mix of meaty, crunchy, tangy, creamy, and fresh, this sandwich is the handheld meal of my (and maybe your?) dreams. Much like a burrito, a banh mi has all the flavors and textures you could want in a complete meal – without the need for utensils. Or even a plate, if we’re being totally honest here.
Since I originally posted it in 2017, this tempeh banh mi has become one of the most popular recipes on this site. So, I figured it was due for a makeover (i.e. new photos and a slightly updated technique). Let’s dive in!
What is Banh Mi?
Technically, bánh mì is the Vietnamese word for bread. But sometime in the 1900’s, the term evolved to refer to a popular street food consisting of barbecued meat, pâté, herbs, and pickled vegetables, all encased in a crusty baguette.
The banh mi sandwich is a cross-cultural lovechild, born thanks to colonization and migration. The baguette made its way to Vietnam via French colonists in the 1800’s. While char siu – the style of barbecued pork commonly found in the sandwich – migrated over from China.
The Anatomy of This Sandwich
The star of this vegan banh mi is the BBQ-ish glazed tempeh, which makes the perfect substitute for the pork or chicken typically found in this Vietnamese sandwich.
The hearty, sweet-savory tempeh is complemented by crunchy quick-pickled carrots and onions, cucumbers, refreshing cilantro, and a swipe of creamy mayo. A warm, toasted baguette holds it all together, creating the perfect handheld meal.
How to Make This Glazed Tempeh
In the original version of this vegan banh mi (from 2017!), I simply fried the tempeh slices until golden brown and glazed them with hoisin sauce – a sweet-sour BBQ sauce-like condiment used in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. However, in the past four years, my cooking expertise and ingredient standards have evolved, hence why I’ve made some changes!
Although hoisin is incredibly delicious, store-bought versions do contain a ton of sugar, artificial food coloring, preservatives, and other chemicals = all no-no’s in my book.
The great news is, this tempeh is just as delicious when made with a simple homemade glaze of soy sauce, maple syrup, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and garlic powder – a mixture that mimics hoisin quite well!
This tempeh is made in 2 steps. First, you slice it up and marinate it for 15 minutes in the soy-maple mixture. Then, you sear the tempeh til it’s golden brown. At the very end, you add the reserved marinade to the skillet to coat the tempeh in a thick sticky glaze.
I like to add a tiny bit of arrowroot (a thickening starch similar to cornstarch) to the reserved marinade to make it thick and shiny, and help it stick to the tempeh. If you don’t have arrowroot, substitute with cornstarch or use double the amount of all-purpose flour. (You can also skip it entirely.)
How to Make These Quick-Pickled Vegetables
Traditionally, banh mi sandwiches contain pickled carrots and daikon (a type of sweet white radish). Daikon can be challenging to find so I use carrots and red onions instead. You can also use typical red radishes here if you’d like.
Making quick-pickled vegetables is a lot easier than it sounds. You simply stir up a brine (vinegar + water), add your veg, and let them hang out for a bit. In the end, you get crunchy, tangy, slightly sweet vegetables perfect for adding brightness to sandwiches, bowls, tacos, and more. (Quick-pickled vegetables keep well in the fridge for about 10 days.)
I like to use seasoned rice vinegar here. Rice vinegar is mild and slightly nutty, as opposed to white vinegar, which can be overpowering. Seasoned rice vinegar already contains sugar and salt, so it is the perfect, pre-mixed pickling liquid.
If you don’t have seasoned rice vinegar, substitute with apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar and be sure to stir about 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup into the brine to make up the difference.
The glazed tempeh and pickled vegetables will both keep well in the fridge for a while, which means this vegan banh mi is perfect for meal prep and work-from-home lunches. Just make these two elements in advance and assemble them into sandwiches throughout the week.
Check out these other vegan sandwich recipes…
- My Ultimate Veggie Burger
- Tempeh ‘Bacon’ BLT’s with Spicy Mayo
- Creamy Mushroom Tartine
- Balsamic Portobello Sandwich with Artichoke Mayo
This tempeh banh mi features quick-pickled carrots and onions, paper-thin cucumbers, and cilantro. It’s the perfect vegan sandwich! (Updated from its original 2017 version).
For the Quick-Pickled Vegetables
- 3/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (apple cider or red wine vinegar also work, see Note below)
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 small red onion, peeled and cut into thin rings
For the Tempeh and Assembly
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- One 8-ounce package of tempeh, cut into 1/3-inch-thick strips
- About 2 tablespoons avocado, organic canola, or refined coconut oil, for frying
- 1/2 teaspoon arrowroot starch or cornstarch (optional, see Note)
- 1 baguette, cut into 4 pieces, halved lengthwise, and lightly toasted
- 4 tablespoons conventional or vegan mayonnaise
- 2 Persian cucumbers, shaved into ribbons or thinly sliced
- 2 generous handfuls of cilantro
- Start by pickling the vegetables. In a medium shallow dish, combine 3/4 cup rice vinegar with 1/2 cup water. Toss in the carrots and onions, making sure the vegetables are fully submerged. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, marinade the tempeh. In a medium shallow dish, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder with 2 tablespoons water. Stir to combine. Add the tempeh and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, tossing again halfway through to make sure it’s marinating evenly.
- Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat and add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom. Add the tempeh in a single layer (reserving the marinade!) and cook until browned, about 3 minutes per side.
- While the tempeh cooks, whisk 1/2 teaspoon arrowroot into the reserved marinade (optional, see Note). When all the tempeh is golden brown, add the reserved marinade and cook just until it thickens a bit, about 30 seconds. Turn the heat off.
- To assemble the sandwiches, spread 1 tablespoon of mayo on each quarter of the baguette. Top with 4-5 tempeh strips, pickled vegetables, cucumbers, and cilantro.
- If you don’t have seasoned rice vinegar, substitute with apple cider vinegar or wine vinegar and be sure to stir about 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup into the brine to make up the difference.
- I like to add a tiny bit of arrowroot (a thickening starch similar to cornstarch) to the reserved marinade to make it thick and shiny, and help it stick to the tempeh. If you don’t have arrowroot, substitute with cornstarch or use double the amount of all-purpose flour. (You can also skip it entirely.)
- Quick-pickled veg will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to about 10 days.
- Serving Size: 1 sandwich
- Calories: 440
- Carbohydrates: 52.9 g
- Fiber: 1.6 g
- Protein: 16.8 g
Keywords: tempeh, banh mi, vietnamese, sandwich, quick pickled vegetables