In pursuit of the perfect sandwich

When I reminisce about my previous life as a pescatarian backpacker, the humble, hearty sandwiches of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia remain vivid on my taste buds — an iconic remnant of their French colonial past.

Every morning I scoured the town for the little street carts that would fuel me for the day ahead. The vendors would assemble pickled carrots, radish and cucumber, fried egg or tofu smeared with mayo or chili sauce, under a canopy of green onion and cilantro.

The contents of my sandwich were nestled in a fresh baguette: warm and doughy on the inside, its toasted exterior more crusty than my old neighbour Dominic. A sudden waft of fish sauce would balance the textures with a hit of umami

Below is my veganized version of the best sandwich ever invented. For a non-fishy source of umami, tempeh and soy sauce will do the trick. 

tempeh, carrots, beets and cabbage sandwich with condiments

Life is complete with carbs, veggies, protein and spicy mayo

tempeh, carrots, beets and cabbage in a baguette

Inspired by the Vietnamese banh mi, the Laotian khao jee and the Cambodian num pang

The pickled vegetables

Prep time: 12 hours

  • 1/2 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup of shredded beets
  • 1 cup of shredded cabbage
  • 1 cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 cup of warm water
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (optional)
  • 1 tsp sugar (optional)
  1. In a jar, mix the rice vinegar, warm water, sea salt and sugar.
  2. Add carrots, beets and cabbage. Make sure the liquid covers the vegetables.
  3. Soak in the fridge overnight.

Notes: Crunchy veggies like cucumber and zucchini would also work. When pickling, I skip the sugar because the rice vinegar is already sweetened. 

pickled carrots, beets and cabbage

The toppings

Prep time: 10 minutes

Wash and prep the toppings so that the sandwich filling is ready to assemble when the baguette is toasted.

cilantro, lemongrass and green onion

The tempeh

Prep time: 15 minutes

  • 1 block of tempeh, cut into strips
  • organic soy sauce or tamari or ponzu sauce
  • cooking oil
  • red chili flakes
sautéed tempeh strips

The baguette

Prep time: 10 minutes

  1. Slice each baguette through the middle. Tip: if you have lots of filling, slice the baguette on one side only to prevent the filling from falling out.
  2. Toast in the oven or in the same pan until they are lightly browned.
  3. Spread the mayo or chili sauce on both sides.
  4. Add the tempeh to one side. Add the vegetables to the other side.
  5. Garnish with lemongrass, green onion and cilantro.
tempeh, carrots, beets, cabbage in an open baguette

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