by Caroline

Within two blocks of my family’s San Francisco home, we have two taquerias plus a Mexican restaurant, one burger place, one salad and sandwich place, one seafood restaurant, three sushi restaurants, two Thai restaurants, two Indian restaurants, one Peruvian restaurant, one Ethiopian restaurant, one place for gyros, three pubs, three pizza places, three Asian-vegetarian restaurants, a Vietnamese restaurant, a couple greasy spoon diners, a donut shop, two ice cream parlors, and several bars and cafes.

It’s a wonder we cook at all, really.

But we do, and Tony often takes inspiration from the local restaurants to make something new at home. He’s made the shiitake mushroom dumplings from the now-sadly-closed Eos, a roasted tomato and pumpkin seed salsa from a nearby taqueria, and a lemon and chard pasta dish from the Italian place near the boys’ school. His latest homemade version of a local dish is vegetarian banh mi, from the Vietnamese place I didn’t even know we had (maybe because there’s nothing in the name to indicate it’s Vietnamese food?) Their version has some glass noodles and shiitake mushrooms and I have to say, I prefer Tony’s, which we’ve all been eating a lot this summer. It takes a few make-ahead steps, but once you’ve done them, you can be eating banh mi quickly. Here’s how he does it.

First, make a batch of roasted chili paste.

Next, shred a few carrots into matchsticks and toss them into a bowl. Cover with a simple pickling liquid of equal parts rice wine vinegar and sugar. Add a sprinkle of salt, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes. If you like cucumber or radish, go ahead and add them in matchsticks, too, and just increase the amount of pickling liquid to cover.

Then, make a batch of caramelized golden tofu, cutting the tofu into long fingers. If you like, cook some sliced shallots with the tofu.

The pickled vegetables and chili paste will keep indefinitely in the fridge; a batch of tofu will keep a couple days.

Once you have those three basic elements in place, all you need is a soft roll and some cilantro. You might also want some fresh mint, jalapenos, and a squeeze of lime juice. Spread some chili paste on the roll, stack the tofu, vegetables and cilantro on your roll in proportions to taste, and eat.