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Vegetarian Bahn Mi Sandwiches

It seems like only a few weeks ago that we finally finished our new kitchen. It’s actually been a couple months, but time flies when you’re parenting a six-month-old (!).

Back to the kitchen: it has a butcher block, which we “reclaimed” (can you do that if it was yours to start with?) from an old shelf and installed atop a long row of gleaming white cabinets; in the small finishes department, we put up a new knife strip, which holds my sharpies in a neat row, flush against the wall. It’s sort of perfect, and it made us both excited to cook and eat in it for months and years to come.

kitchen 2

We unpacked all of our stuff into our new space, set everything up, and figured we were done with the packing and moving for a while. Silly us. What actually happened – with shocking speed – was that we bought a house.

This isn’t the move of five years ago, when we picked up all our belongings and walked four doors down the street. This is a different street in a different neighborhood. It shifts our center of gravity.

We’re not moving until the end of the summer moving in two weeks! Does anything happen gradually anymore? I love our new house, but I really, really love our current home. Between us, I’m not quite ready to leave it.

Finalizing plans to sell a condo, buy a house, pack, move, and unpack all over again — it’s keeping us rather busy. This on top of my busiest season at work means the cooking is sort of on hold. But lurking amid the chaos of our packed calendars and many to-do lists was a day worth setting everything else aside an celebrating: our first Mothers’ Day.

So we did. We shut down Redfin and went to the park to play, with Adi in the swing, my dad doing the pushing, and my mom chatting with other parents in the park like the pro that she is. Then we walked the half-block back to our place, and I whipped up some bahn mi sandwiches for dinner.

The sandwiches are suprisingly simple to make: you marinate and roast tofu (or, in a pinch, buy the pre-marinated stuff at the grocery store), and layer it onto a baguette slathered with spread and piled with crispy mushrooms and pickled vegetables.

As for the spread: Mayonnaise is traditional here, but as has been documented over and over again, I just don’t enjoy the stuff. Taking my cue from the New England lobster roll, I ditched the mayo in favor of butter, and mixed in a bit of sriracha. I’m sure sriracha would taste great mixed with mayo, if you like that sort of thing.

Because it was Mothers’ Day, I even made my own baguette — from this extremely low-maintenance, relatively foolproof recipe. Since then, I’ve piled these same ingredients on a store-bought loaf, cut it in half, wrapped it in parchment paper, and taken it to the office for lunch.

Adi has just started to eat solids, which is a topic for another day. But I’m reasonably sure by the time she tries her first bite of bahn mi, our beloved condo will be quite far in the rear view mirror, and we’ll be settled into our new home. Sigh, time.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi Sandwiches
Serves 4

For the tofu:
1 pound extra-firm tofu, sliced into half-inch slabs
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons warm water
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil

For the pickles:
2 carrots, julienned
1 thick stump of daikon, julienned
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

For the mushrooms
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
salt and pepper
Juice of one lime

For the sriracha butter:
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons sriracha

For assembling the sandwiches:
2 long baguettes, ends trimmed, halved
Pickled carrots and daikon
Marinated baked tofu
Sauteed mushrooms
1 avocado, halved and sliced
Sriracha butter

Make the tofu: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Press a towel (or paper towel) firmly against each slab of tofu to remove some of the residual liquid, wringing the towel as you go. Combine all the ingredients for the tofu marinade, whisk until smooth, and brush on tofu slabs. Lay coated slabs on a rimmed baking sheet, leaving at least 1 inch of space between pieces. Bake for 15 minutes until tofu is firm and mostly dry. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, make the pickles: Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan. Pile julienned vegetables into a heat-safe jar. Heat pickling liquid until it just comes to a boil, then remove from heat, let cool about 15 seconds, and pour into heat-safe jar, over vegetables. Set aside.

Make mushrooms: Heat oil in a small stainless steel or cast iron pan over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add mushroom slices; they should sizzle. Cook for a total of 6-8 minutes, flipping mushrooms as they start to brown, until all mushrooms are golden and crispy. Sprinkle with salt, transfer to a small bowl, and squeeze lime juice over top.

Make sriracha butter: Stir together butter with half the sriracha. Taste, and add more sriracha as desired.

Assemble sandwiches: Slice baguette into sandwich-sized pieces. Slice into each length of baguette lengthwise, leaving one end connected. Splay baguettes open on a work space.

Spread a layer of sriracha butter on the insides of each baguette length. Layer two slabs of tofu, a handful of the pickled vegetables, several mushrooms, slices of avocado, and a pinch of cilantro into each baguette. Serve.

Sandwiches will also keep relatively fresh for about 2 hours after assembly.

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  • Luisa June 5, 2015,

    Oh, sigh, I hear you on the heartache of leaving a beloved home even if it is to move to something special. We have been in our new apartment for over two months now and I still wish we could just go home already. I miss our old place so much! I keep telling myself one day it will feel like home again. One day, one day – you too. Congratulations on buying your house!