Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Crave Wednesday: Lemongrass Tofu Banh Mi

As you may or may not have heard, Southern California was hit with a record amount of rain this year.

There's a saying that "April showers bring May flowers" but when you live in a desert, that timeline changes a little.  In our case, March brought with it a "super bloom,"  an explosion of wildflowers that has blanketed the once barren desert.

Thatboy and I haven't ventured to Anza Borrego since before the boys were born, but we didn't want to miss out on the blooms, so we decided there was no time like the present for a return visit.

Upon our arrival, Thatkid grabbed the wildflower guide and made himself the unofficial guide, leading us around and pointing out the different varieties.

Our guide wasn't just interested in the flowers though, he was also interested in hiking up to various boulders and climbing them.

Thatdog and I, who had no interest in climbing big rocks, waited for them in the shade at the bottom.

The flowers themselves were everything I had hoped for.   I had set up Thatkid before we went, remembering that I was disappointed on my first trip out, after hearing about the amazing wildflowers growing in the desert. 

We spoke about how there is very little water in the desert, so things that grow there are small, conserving whatever nutrients they can and not wasting it on giant blooms or leaves.  And I reminded him that typically the desert is just brown brush and sand.  He took our discussion to heart and was appropriately wowed by the flora.

Some areas were a pastel wonderland.  A carpet of small purple and white buds.

Just a few feet away were fields of yellow.

One thing that is fairly well known about the desert is the heat - even in March.  And although that's fairly well known, I still had romantic visions of sitting on a blanket in the middle of the flowers, and having a picnic lunch.  The reality of the situation had us sitting in the back of our air-conditioned car.  Still picnicking, and still viewing the flowers, but not surrounded by them. 

I packed us desert appropriate sandwiches - cool as a cucumber, or a radish, or a carrot.  Or all three!  Banh Mi are Vietnamese sandwiches, usually served on a french baguette.  When I was in high school, we were close enough to a Vietnamese sandwich shop to have them on a regular basis.  And although they are certainly not seasonal, there is something about them that just seems like a summer picnic food.  I think it might be the pickled vegetables, the crisp cucumber, and the freshness of the bread.  This one especially plays on bright summery flavors with the addition of lemongrass.   And while most banh mi are not vegetarian, this one uses tofu, marinated in that lemongrass, which also makes it feel like a light lunch.

Lemongrass Tofu Bahn Mi (From Cooking Light)
1 package extra firm tofu
2 Tbsp finely chopped, peeled, fresh lemongrass
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp lower-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil, divided
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp matchstick cut carrots
1 1/4 cup matchstick cut peeled daikon radish
1 1/2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbsp canola mayonnaise
1 1/2 tsp Sriracha
1 French bread baguette, halved lengthwise and toasted.
1 cup thinly sliced English cucumber

  1. Cut tofu crosswise into 6 slices.  Wrap in paper towels and top with cast iron skillet or heavy pan.  Let stand 15 minutes.  Remove  tofu from paper towels.
  2.  Combine lemongrass, 2 Tbsp water, soy sauce, and 1 tsp sesame oil in 13 x 9 inch baking dish.  
  3. Arrange tofu slices in a single layer in soy mixture, turning to coat.  Let stand 15 minutes.
  4. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve.  
  5. Add carrots and radish, toss well.  Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Drain.
  6. Stir in cilantro. 
  7. Whisk 1 tsp sesame oil, mayonnaise, and Sriracha in a small bowl.  Spread evenly over cut sides of bread.
  8. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Coat pan with cooking spray.  Remove tofu from marinade, discard marinade.   Pat tofu slices dry with paper towels.  Add tofu slices to pan.  Cook 4 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.  
  9. Arrange tofu slices on bottom half of bread.  
  10. Top tofu slices with carrot mixture and cucumber slices.  Cut baguette crosswise into 6 equal pieces.


  1. The flora is so pretty! Southern California did get a lot of much needed rain. This was a fun family adventure with cool sandwiches to enjoy.


  2. I bet you guys were so happy to see all that green! It's just gorgeous.