When people first started asking me where I got my recipe ideas from, I didn’t know how to respond. I realized that it’s because each idea comes from a different source, and it’s often as I’m going about my daily life. For instance, I recently walked past a colleague’s desk when the most delicious barbecue smell hit me; it made me think of how I used to love barbecue in my pre-vegetarian days, and how I should try to create a vegetarian meal that involves all of those barbecue flavors that I love. I’ve now got that idea saved in my little recipe experiment list on my phone. Other times I eat something in a restaurant that inspires me to give it a try at home – and not necessarily because it was particularly good, but perhaps because I saw its potential.
This happened to me a few weeks ago when I tried a banh mi bowl at a trendy place near my office. The line was almost out the door and was moving at a glacial pace, but I decided to wait it out to see what all the fuss was about. It turned out that the idea was great, but the execution was off: the rice:veggie:sauce ratio was all off, with way too much rice that resulted in a pretty bland (and expensive) meal. So I set out to make my own, and I’m so happy I did. It’s quickly become one of my new favorite meals.
The makings of a banh mi sandwich are simple yet brilliant. You’ve got crunchy elements like carrots and cucumber, a bit of kick from fresh sliced jalapeno, a creamy sauce (I use a peanut sauce instead of mayo – major trade up), and of course, the all-important fragrant cilantro, which is so essential to the whole thing. Sub the bread for a grain of your choice and you’ve got a perfect little bowl meal on your hands.
I love adding baked tofu to my bowl and then topping it off with some purple cabbage and chopped peanuts. All of those crunchy, spicy, creamy elements combine to make a fresh, flavorful, healthy meal. It’s a great way to cram some more veggies into your day, plus it’s got loads of protein from the tofu, peanut sauce, and quinoa. I encourage you to give it a go!
- For the tofu:
- 1 package extra-firm tofu (preferably vacuum-packed if you can find it)
- 1 teaspoon peanut oil or vegetable oil
- Pinch of cornstarch
- Pinch of salt
- For the bowl:
- 1 cup uncooked grain of choice (I use quinoa)
- Pinch of salt
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- ¼ cucumber, thinly sliced
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
- 1 small jalapeno, thinly sliced and seeds removed
- Small bunch of cilantro, chopped
- About ¼ cup chopped peanuts
- For the peanut sauce:
- ¼ cup smooth natural peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey or agave nectar
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons water
- Start by preparing the tofu. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Thinly cut the tofu into about ½ an inch slices. Add to a bowl and drizzle with the oil; use your hands to coat the tofu evenly. Lay out the tofu slices on a baking sheet, adding a small pinch of corn starch to each slice. Lightly sprinkle with salt and bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through. The pieces should be golden and crisp on the outside.
- Cook the quinoa (or other grain of your choice) according to package directions and add the salt and lime juice. Set aside when done.
- While the tofu and quinoa are cooking, prepare the peanut sauce. Whisk together all of the ingredients until smooth. Start with one tablespoon of water; if you would prefer a thinner sauce, add another tablespoon.
- Once the quinoa and tofu are done, assemble the bowls. Start with the quinoa and tofu, and then add in the cucumber, carrots, cabbage, sliced jalapeno, chopped cilantro and peanuts - distributing evenly across each bowl. Drizzle generously with the peanut sauce.