When I've been looking for inspiration for vegan food, most have come from Asian recipes. Maybe not surprising as there is an extensive tradition of vegetarian meals in many of the Asian countries. One of my favourite Vietnamese dishes is bahn mi, a baguette often filled with spicy pork pate, pickled carrots, salad, chili mayonnaise and fresh herbs. Banh mi is a perfect example of successful fusion of food traditions, french baguettes with a Vietnamese filling. Vietnam is the only country I visited in southeast Asia where you can find quite nice bread and croissants, a result from its time as a French colony. You can also find amazing ice cream bars, serving not only standard flavours like chocolate or mango, but also sweetcorn and rice (and durian, bleurgh!). Vietnam also has some of the best coffee I ever tasted, marginally beaten by Portugal and Brazil.
Got to stop thinking of Vietnam now, got such itchy feet, want to go travel now now now! Below are two images from when I went to Vietnam in 2009. It's such a beautiful country.
Floating food market on the Mekong river in south Vietnam
Beautiful lanterns in Hoi An
Anyhow, back to banh mi! You can use for example fried tofu instead of meat pate for a vegetarian or vegan take on banh mi, and I found quite a few recipes online using tofu. However, as I've just made the excellent black pepper tofu, and even though that recipe did change my mind about tofu, I didn't feel ready for another dish where the tofu would be in focus. Still, I wanted a filling with a lot of protein, and decided to instead make a filling with red lentils and Vietnamese flavours. To really up the protein, I decided to include tofu anyway, by using soft tofu instead of mayonnaise in the chili dressing.
The pickled vegetables are an essential part of a banh mi, I slightly modified a recipe I found on Post punk kitchen, an excellent vegan blog. The vegetables last for up to one week in an airtight container in the fridge. Beware, the smell when you open up the container is quite awful, but the vegetables are delicious and crunchy.
Although banh mi is traditionally served in a baguette, I decided to continue the food fusion by going Mexican and making a wrap instead. I find it easier to eat this way, and is a more low-carb alternative to baguettes.
The final result is full of Vietnamese flavours, fresh herbs, crunchy vegetables and hot chili. Perfect food to make you forget that its dark, winter and snow :)
Red lentil banh mi wraps (serves 4)
Crunchy salad leaves, like sweet gem, iceberg or romaine
1 small bunch mint
1 small bunch coriander
1 bunch spring onions, finely chopped
2 large carrot, cut to matchsticks
12-15 cm daikon, cut to matchsticks (can be substituted with radishes)
2 dl rice or white wine vinegar
1 dl light brown sugar
0.5 dl sea salt
1 red chili, finely sliced
1 tsp whole peppercorns, any colour
2 star anise
2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
Banh mi filling
250 g red lentils
5 dl vegetable stock
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 red chili, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 lemongrass stalks, bruised and divided in halves
2 tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 tsp chinese five spice
0.5 tsp cinnamon
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn in halves (I used fresh, but dry or frozen will also work. If you can't find any, add zest and juice of one lime)
1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsp tomato paste
3-4 tbsp light soy sauce
200 g soft tofu
2-4 tbsp sriracha (Asian chili sauce, can be substituted with other chili sauce like sambal oelek)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 lime, juice
Start with pickling the carrots and daikon by adding the vegetables, chili, star anise and kaffir lime leaves to a clean airtight glass or plastic container.
Add the sugar, salt and vinegar to a pot and heat up until it starts simmering and the sugar and salt has dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the vegetables.
Close the container and store in the fridge for at least 30 min before serving. The pickled vegetables will keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container in the fridge
Cook the lentils in vegetable stock for 20-25 min until soft
While the lentils are cooking, saute onions, carrots, ginger, garlic, chili, lemongrass, coriander seeds, chinese five spice, and cinnamon in a large frying pan for 10-15 min on medium heat
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, lentils, kaffir lime leaves, and lentils to the frying pan. If it's dry, add 1-2 dl of hot water. Simmer for 10-15 min until most of the liquid has reduced. Stir occasionally and use a fork to lightly crush the lentils
For the sriracha dressing, mix all ingredients together to a smooth sauce. Don't add all the sriracha at once, it can be very hot!
Add salad leaves to a tortilla wrap. Then add the lentil banh mi filling, pickled vegetables, and sriracha dressing. Finally top with fresh mint and coriander leaves, and sprinkle on spring onions
Roll together to a wrap