I found myself back in Austin a few weekends ago for a quick 24 hour visit, and as always, my must-have meal was an Elizabeth Street Cafe Lemongrass Tofu and Mushroom Banh Mí. Y’all, I could wax poetic about this sandwich. With it’s crusty-on-the-outside but pillowy-inside baguette, pickled veggies, and perfectly spicy tofu, their Banh Mí is one of my all time favorites.
The onset of summer inspires me to escape the routine by trying out new dishes inspired by exotic destinations.
And while I don’t have any epic plans to travel around Vietnam (yet!), this bowl is my current go-to in recreating my favorite sandwich for a quick weeknight dinner that takes me across the world, flavor-wise.
So let’s talk about the components of this bowl. First, the tofu, which IMHO gets a bad rap. Sure we’ve all had our fair share of flavorless and spongy tofu, but when prepared correctly, it’s an incredible blank canvas for carrying flavor and texture. I took a nod from Elizabeth Street Café and sautéed my tofu cubes with lemongrass, giving a subtle floral and ginger flavor.
Letting your tofu get a little golden color while sautéing is key to building the perfect texture!
My favorite ingredient in this Banh Mí bowl is the mushroom. Like tofu, I’ve had a long complicated relationship with mushrooms. As the token vegetarian at a lot of events and gatherings growing up, one of the dinner alternatives I was routinely served was a plate of grilled veggies and a giant portobello mushroom that was nothing short of lackluster. In recent years though, I’ve discovered how amazing mushrooms can be in adding an amazing umami flavor to dishes, and sautéing them with a little soy sauce is all I need to do when preparing them for bowls like this one or for recipes like a spring roll or a breakfast scramble. Plus, I’m sure we’ve all heard of the health benefits of adding mushrooms to our diets.
Next the pickled veggies. I’m not a pickling pro, though have learned a bit more about the process after reading Joshua McFadden’s cookbook. These veggies are so simple to make with a little quick-pickle – the process involves making a quick brine, pouring it over your veggies of choice (I used carrots and daikon), and then letting it brine. I let mine pickle overnight and it really is the perfect tangy bite to add to this bowl.
The rest is really up to you! I always have rice on hand, so I used that as the base for these bowls, but could also serve everything up over some greens, quinoa, or even just toss everything in a bowl with some broth for a warm soup. Top with some jalapeños for some spice, chop up some cilantro, squeeze over some fresh lime, dollop on some sriracha mayo, the options are all calling your name!
And while nothing will ever replace my ESC Banh Mí, this bowl definitely makes for a great second place.