Tofu ginger banh mi

Of Cambridge’s many and interesting food vans, perhaps my favourite is Jalan Jalan. They do a few bits of Vietnamese street food, but for my money the star is the tofu and ginger banh mi.

It is just the best sandwich, and I had to make it at home.

Tofu banh mi

Banh mi – the gentrified current evolution of colonial food mingling – probably began life as light baguettes filled with fresh vegetables, over pâté and cold cuts. Being just super street food friendly, it’s got a bit more elaborate by now. There’s even a cookbook.

This means I don’t feel too bad about mine likely not being very authentic. It’s crunchy/sweet/fresh with crispy fried tofu and some zingy ginger. What more could you want in a sandwich.

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Smoked tofu corn chowder

As a thickened fish stew, chowder is old as the hills. Practically every coastal community has at some point in its history thrown starch and vegetables at the simmering liquor of their fish of choice, adding a splash of dairy if there was a cow on hand. The word itself may track back to 16th century Cornwall, via much older French terms for stewpot. But it’s hard to be sure – chowder is one of those things that has just popped up all over the world, getting codified when we started writing recipes down more stringently.

Smoked Tofu Corn ChowderCullen Skink is a particular favourite, and you can see something like waterzooi in the history of what’s now pretty much the reference implementation: the New England clam chowder.

Personally, I like to make it with crab meat and sweetcorn, but I do love the smokiness you get in Cullen Skink. So for Veguary, I wondered if you could work up a milder but still silky-satisfying version using smoked tofu.

You basically can.

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Not particularly authentic mapo tofu: meat edition

Mapo tofu is awesome. It’s spicy and numbing in that sichuan pepper way, with just a little richness, ginger for a fresh note, and bags of umami. It tastes of black beans, sichuan pepper, and win.

On a hot evening like tonight, it was amazing with a cold beer.

Mapo tofu

This version is cribbed from the Appetite for China blog, via a little extra reading, and what I had in the fridge. I make no claims for authenticity – I haven’t done that much homework. In fact, I usually make it vegetarian, swapping out the minced pork for aubergine, courgette, or even a little broccoli plus a handful of fine chopped mushrooms for extra depth. Given I’ve an enormous block of tofu still in the fridge, and plenty of veg knocking around, I may well post a veggie version tomorrow.

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Broccoli and tofu with cashew nuts and sichuan pepper

This is substantially cribbed from a James martin recipe I found on BBC Good Food, so I won’t dwell on a full write up. It basically works, is all.

You fry tofu with broccoli and spring onions, some generic sauce ingredients (soy, vinegar, honey, rice wine) plenty of garlic, pak choi, and oodles of sichuan pepper:

Broccoli and tofu with sichuan pepper

What I will dwell on is how awesome sichuan pepper is. Fuchsia Dunlop raves about it in her food memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, which is where I came across it first. It has a little heat, sure, but it’s not like western black pepper at all.

It’s peculiar. There’s a tingly, almost numbing feel to it, and a gorgeous spicyness. There’s something citric/metallic in the mix too, and it generally has much more flavour than it feels like a single spice has any right to. In short it’s fucking spiffing, and I’ll be using a lot.

I do think it needs a bit of chilli in support, though, and the sweetness of the honey in the sauce (the recipe says caster sugar, but balls to that) sets it off rather.