Vietnamese and vegan are words I don’t often find together, and that’s truly a shame. If you’ve ever travelled to Vietnam you know that it’s one of the easiest countries in the world to eat vegan, thanks mostly to the large contingent of vegetarian/vegan Buddhists. If you see the word ‘chay’ emblazoned outside of a restaurant, you’ve come to the right place. Pull up a seat and prepare for a delightful vegan meal ranging from fresh summer rolls, banh mis, deeply flavored soups, rice dishes, stir-fries, fragrant salads and of course my favorite: big bowls of noodles.

Unique and particularly fun to eat, banh canh noodles have quickly climbed the ranks as one of my favorites. They’re big, fat noodles reminiscent of udon but made with rice and tapioca, so they have a much slipperier, chewier consistency. I said fun, didn’t I? I first had them at a Vietnamese restaurant in New York served with a deliciously sweet and savory coconut sauce, which is a fairly common preparation in Saigon. This recipe takes a few liberties, but mostly only superficial ones, largely sticking with the classic preparation. My banh canh noodles are paired with a rich, seaweed and lemongrass infused coconut milk sauce, pickled vegetables, fresh herbs and grilled tofu marinated in a sweet and tangy Vietnamese BBQ sauce. 



Serves 4

Pickled Veggies
-1-2 carrots, peeled & thinly sliced
-1 daikon radish, peeled & thinly sliced
-½ cup rice vinegar
-1 cup filtered water
-1 tbsp cane sugar
-1 tsp salt

BBQ Tofu
-1 8 oz. package baked tofu or homemade from 14 oz. extra firm tofu
-1 shallot, diced
-1 clove garlic, minced
-½ stalk lemongrass, minced
-¼ cup soy sauce
-2 tbsp tamarind paste
-1 tsp sriracha or other chili sauce
-1 tsp cane sugar
-1 tsp dulce flakes
-black pepper to taste

Coconut Sauce
-1 14 oz. can coconut milk
-2 tbsp rice vinegar
-1 piece kombu
-1 clove garlic, whole
-½ stalk lemongrass, rough chop
-1 chili pepper, cut in half
-1 tsp coriander seeds
-1 tsp cane sugar
-¼ tsp salt or to taste

-2 15 oz. packages banh canh noodles* or 1 ½ lb. dry udon noodles
-boiling water
-1 cucumber, sliced thin
-1 bunch cilantro
-1 bunch Thai basil
-1 chili pepper, sliced into rounds
-1 lime, cut into wedges

1.    Begin with the pickles. Put rice vinegar, water, sugar and salt in a pot and bring to a boil. When sugar and salt have dissolved, remove from heat and pour over the sliced carrot and daikon in a non-reactive container. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before placing in the refrigerator. Let them pickle overnight or for at least a couple hours. These can be made ahead of time and will keep for a couple weeks.

2.    Prepare the tofu marinade. Cut the tofu into ¼-inch slices and set aside. In a shallow bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the tofu slices, doing your best to submerge and evenly coat the tofu. Cover and place the bowl in the refrigerator. Allow to marinate for at least an hour or as long as overnight. These can also be prepared ahead of time.

3.    When your pickles and marinade are ready, prepare the coconut sauce. Add all ingredients to a small pot and bring to a boil. Cover and remove from the heat. Allow everything to infuse the coconut milk for 30 minutes. Strain and return infused coconut milk to a low heat. Let it gently simmer for about 10 minutes or until you’re ready to serve.

4.    As the coconut sauce simmers, cook the marinated tofu. Get your grill good and hot. Grill tofu slices for about 2 minutes on each side, looking for crusty, burnt char marks. Spoon or brush on as much or as little additional BBQ marinade as you like while grilling. Remove to a cutting board and slice into strips.

5.    In a large bowl, add the banh canh noodles and cover with boiling water. Allow noodles to be revived for a minute or 2 before straining and dividing into 4 serving bowls. Ladle about a ½ cup of coconut sauce over each bowl. Top each bowl with a ¼ of the sliced BBQ tofu, a handful of pickled carrot and daikon, a handful of cucumber slices, cilantro, Thai basil, chili pepper slices and a wedge of lime. Serve immediately with instructions to mix everything together.

*Banh canh noodles can be found at Asian groceries. They're usually found in the refrigerated section and are generally precooked, requiring just a quick soak in hot water to revive them.