Grilled Lemongrass- and Coriander-Marinated Vegan Tofu Banh Mi Recipe

The trick to crispy, flavorful grilled tofu: low heat and a double-coat of marinade.

Generously topped grilled tofu bahn mi sandwiches shown on a cutting board. A bowl of carrot-daikon pickles is in the background. Cilantro sprigs and cucumber spears are off to the side.
Crispy marinated tofu stuffed into vegan Vietnamese sandwiches.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Why It Works

  • Carefully drying the tofu and cooking it over indirect heat gives superior crisping to its surface.
  • A double coating of marinade—once before and once after cooking—doubles up on flavor.

I have showed you how to grill the best darn tofu you can grill. Now I'm going to show you the technique in action.

I've been on a bit of a Thai and Vietnamese kick recently—two of my favorite cuisines in the world—so for dinner the other night, I put together a sandwich that draws inspiration from both. The base is a classic banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich of grilled, sliced, or stewed meats served inside a mayo-slathered baguette with pickled carrots and daikon, fresh cilantro stems, cucumber, and jalapeño pepper. With my own recipe for pickled carrots and daikon and ridiculously awesome vegan mayo of both the homemade and the store-bought varieties, the sandwich itself is a snap to make.

For the tofu, I used a variation of my basic Thai marinade for gai yang—grilled chicken, combined with lots of garlic, thick cilantro stems, white pepper, coriander seeds, sugar, soy sauce, and some lemongrass, along with a splash of vegetable oil in order to add a bit of lubrication to the surface of the tofu.

Four slabs of grilled tofu shingled on a cutting board next to a bowl of carrot-daikon pickles and cilantro. The tofu has attractive grill marks and is glistening with the final coat of marinade.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

I grilled the tofu low and slow over indirect heat until brown and crisp on both sides, then finished it off by slathering it with a bit more of the marinade for an added boost of flavor.

Close-up of the grilled tofu banh mi sandwiches, packed with carrot-daikon pickles and cucumber spears. Cilantro is close at hand.

Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

Sliced and stuffed into the sandwiches, it offers some pretty fantastic flavors and textures: sweet, salty, and savory with a bit of heat and funkiness from the white pepper, along with crisp, charred edges and a moist, tender interior. Food like this makes it pretty darn easy to go vegan, whether it's for a lifetime, a month, or even just a meal.

February 2015

Recipe Facts

4.3

(6)

Active: 45 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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Ingredients

  • 6 medium cloves garlic

  • 12 sprigs cilantro, including thick stalks

  • 3 tablespoons palm or light brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper

  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander

  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce

  • 2 (3-inch) segments lemongrass

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1 pound extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/3-inch slabs, carefully dried (see notes)

  • 3 to 4 Vietnamese-style baguettes, or 2 standard baguettes

  • 1/4 cup homemade or store-bought vegan mayonnaise

  • 2 teaspoons liquid aminos, such as Maggi or Bragg's

  • 1 recipe Hainanese ginger-scallion oil (optional)

  • 1 recipe Vietnamese pickled carrots and daikon (do chua)

  • 1 cucumber, seeds removed, split lengthwise into 8 spears

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds and stem removed, sliced into thin spears

  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves and fine stems

Directions

  1. Combine garlic, cilantro, sugar, white pepper, coriander, soy sauce, lemongrass, and half of oil in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a paste is formed, about 1 minute, scraping down sides as necessary. Brush or rub half of mixture over tofu slabs, stacking them in a plastic container or on a plate as you go.

  2. To Cook on the Grill: Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, set half the burners on a gas grill to the highest heat setting, cover, and preheat for 10 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place tofu over cooler side of grill at 45-degree angle to the grill grates. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Carefully rotate tofu 90 degrees and continue cooking until bottom side is crisp and has distinct hash marks, about 5 minutes longer. Carefully flip tofu and repeat cooking and rotating steps until crisp on both sides. Continue with step 4 and transfer tofu to a large plate to cool.

    Marinated tofu slabs arranged on the grate of a gas grill.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  3. To Cook Under the Broiler: Oil a wire cooling rack and set it in a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Arrange tofu slices on top in a single layer. Adjust rack to 6 to 8 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to low (if your oven has two broiler settings, otherwise just preheat the broiler). Broil tofu, turning and rotating every few minutes until crisp and browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total. Continue with step 4 and transfer tofu to a large plate to cool.

  4. While tofu cooks, combine remaining marinade with remaining oil in a small bowl. When tofu is cooked, transfer to a large plate or cutting board and, using a brush or the back of a spoon, coat each piece with the remaining marinade. Cut each piece into slices slightly narrower than the baguettes.

    Marinade being spread onto the grilled tofu with a spoon.

    Serious Eats / J. Kenji López-Alt

  5. Place baguettes on the cooler side of the grill (or place in oven and immediately shut off broiler if cooking indoors). Cover and cook until heated through and crisp, about 5 minutes. Split baguettes, leaving them hinged on one side. Spread with mayonnaise. Sprinkle bottoms and tops with liquid aminos, then spoon on a thin layer of the ginger-scallion oil if using. Layer with sliced tofu. Add pickled carrot/daikon mixture, cucumber spears, jalapeño, and cilantro. Season to taste with salt, close sandwiches, split in half crosswise (or if using full-sized standard baguettes, cut each into 3 to 4 serving pieces), and serve immediately.

Special Equipment

Grill, chimney starter, food processor or mortar and pestle

Notes

To dry tofu, line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Place tofu slices on top in a single layer. Cover with another layer of paper towels and press gently to remove excess moisture.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
662 Calories
20g Fat
99g Carbs
27g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4 to 6
Amount per serving
Calories 662
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 20g 25%
Saturated Fat 3g 14%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 1233mg 54%
Total Carbohydrate 99g 36%
Dietary Fiber 6g 23%
Total Sugars 16g
Protein 27g
Vitamin C 18mg 91%
Calcium 342mg 26%
Iron 9mg 50%
Potassium 654mg 14%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)