In my latest (mis)adventure, I took on this big beautiful root.
From the Japanese words for “big” (dai) and “root” (kon), daikon radish is an interesting ingredient. I had not used it before but I had eaten it in restaurants and seen it in the grocery store, so I decided to give it a try. I love carrots and parsnips, and daikon looks like a giant white one of those, so I thought it would be a big win.
Spoiler alert: It’s not really like a big white carrot. If you’re looking for a big white carrot, stick to the parsnip. Daikon is really more like a big stinky radish.
I decided to make some quick pickled carrot and daikon for banh mi sandwiches. I have wanted to do a veggie redux on these for awhile, so I figured I would kill two birds with one stone, er, root.
I used a few different recipes to develop my own twist on the vegetarian banh mi sandwich. In case you aren’t familiar with it, banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich consisting of grilled, fried or roasted meat and a variety of vegetables or condiments, on a thick crispy baguette. While the sandwich is available in many varieties in several different countries, most of the banh mi I have had have been very spicy. I set out to do a vegetarian version that would give the original a run for its money.
So, let’s get back to my not-so-secret ingredient: diakon. I washed and cut the daikon, in thick matchsticks for this recipe, and then had a taste. I always try to taste a new ingredient raw so that I can understand it better. The daikon was wet and crunchy like a crisp apple, and it had a bitter mustardy taste with a hint of bright spicy pepper. It reminded me of a very mild watered down horseradish. I did a little research, as I always do, and found that daikon is very low in calories and moderately high in vitamin C. From a nutrition standpoint, this vegetable is not at all bad for you, but isn’t incredibly good for you either. I consider it to be almost nutritionally neutral. So I pickled it, of course.
I also marinated and pan fried some tofu, and while the tofu cooked and the carrots and daikon chilled, I prepared the rest of my sandwich ingredients.
Cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeño.
All that was left to do was toast some bread and assemble the sandwiches. They turned out to be spicy, crunchy, and absolutely delicious. These have a great balance of texture and flavor, and I would love to serve them to guests sometime soon. My only word of warning is to watch the amount of pickled daikon you make. After a day or two in the refrigerator, that stuff gets pungent and it won’t be bad but you won’t want to go near it. I suppose that’s due to its cruciferous nature. Whatever it is, take note. You have been warned.
Vegetarian Banh Mi Sandwiches
- 1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup matchstick-cut carrot
- 1 cup matchstick-cut daikon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup sliced white onion
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 4 French bread sub rolls, or one large baguette, cut into four smaller loaves
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs, chopped
- 2 jalapeño peppers, thinly sliced
- 1 large cucumber, matchstick-cut
- 6 Tablespoons mayonnaise or vegannaise
- 1 Tablespoon sriracha chili sauce
- Cut tofu crosswise into 8 (1/2-inch-thick) slices. Press tofu if you have not already done so, to squeeze out all of the water.
- Combine soy sauce and ginger in a square baking dish. Arrange tofu slices in a single layer in soy mixture. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight, turning once.
- Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve. Add carrot, daikon, black pepper, and white onion; toss to combine. Let stand 30 minutes in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally. Drain daikon mixture in a colander and pat dry.
- Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Remove tofu from marinade; discard marinade. Pat tofu slices dry with paper towels. Add tofu slices to pan; sauté 4 minutes on each side or until crisp and golden.
- Preheat broiler. Cut bread in half lengthwise. Open halves, laying bread cut side up on a baking sheet. Broil 2 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Combine mayo and sriracha in a small bowl. Spread mayo on one side of each loaf of bread.
- Place tofu slices on bottom half of bread; top with daikon mixture, cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeño slices. Top with other half of bread. Add more sriracha as needed.