A vegetarian-twist on traditional banh mi, these grilled tempeh sandwiches make for a refreshing flavor change with a kick of spice.
If your city hasn’t gotten a good banh mi food truck or two yet, you may be asking what “banh mi” is. Banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich that literally means “bread made from wheat” and refers to a popular street food traditionally consisting of a baguette filled with meat, pickled vegetables, cucumber, red chilies, cilantro, and mayonnaise. While I haven’t seen it in Boston yet, apparently the traditional banh mi also contains pork liver pate to provide a richness to the sandwich.
Bored with our traditional flavor combinations for dinner, I took on the goal of creating a healthier, vegetarian-friendly version of the banh mi. And I started where most meals do: the protein. While I feel tofu is becoming more common on restaurant menus, tempeh is a vegetarian protein-powerhouse that I find few omnivores are aware of.
So what is it? Tempeh is a protein made from fermented soy beans and sometimes also contains barley, flax, brown rice, or even oats. Fermented foods are starting to become trendy as more and more studies are showing the benefits of eating fermented foods on our gut microbiome (another topic I could talk on and on about). Quickly, nearly 75% of our immune system is in our gut, meaning it’s VERY important we keep it healthy, and the best way to do this is by eating and cultivating healthy bacteria (I know it sounds weird but it is really so, so cool!). Fermented foods are one of the many ways to promote healthy gut bacteria plus fermentation makes it easier for our bodies to absorb nutrients from our food. On a less sciencey-note, a 3-oz serving of tempeh contains around 16 grams of protein and 8% of your daily need for calcium and iron.
What does it taste like? Unlike tofu, tempeh has a lot of texture going on and it provides a nutty flavor. I dare you to get out of your comfort zone and give it a try 😉
Okay, so back to these sandwiches. I knew I wanted to incorporate a hint of lime, so I tossed the tempeh in lime-infused olive oil. If you can’t find lime olive oil you can simply combine juice from ½ a lime with your 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Easy.
Now that we have the protein piece of the sandwich figured out, on to the fillings. Shredded carrots and sliced cucumber are tossed in a mixture of rice vinegar, garlic, and salt. If you have more time you could prepare these veggies a couple days ahead of time so they get more pickled. I’m not a fan of cilantro so that went out the window, but the spicy mayo dressing was so up my alley. Olive oil mayonnaise + spicy sriracha = addicting, finger-licking good sauce. If you want to be traditional, grab yourself some baguettes; however, I wanted to reverse the bread to fillings ratio so I used Panini Thins that I found at Trader Joe’s instead. Such a good decision as the fillings really stood out with just a slight bite of bread providing structural support. Up to you! Finally, if you want these even spicier, go ahead and give an extra drizzle of sriracha over the whole thing.
So here’s a toast to breaking out of your protein comfort zone!
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Yum! I recently had a tofu banh mi sandwich and have been wanting to recreate it at home. Maybe I will do it with tempeh instead 🙂
Definitely give it a shot! It’s a great way to change up the texture 🙂