The long weekend is coming up here in Canada and I couldn’t be more excited! Back in the day, this holiday was always an important one. It marked the last hurrah before school - a final reminder that my carefree days would soon begin with a 7:30 am wake-up. Summer camp, beach days, and daily ice creams would soon be replaced by mandatory homework and paper bag lunches (the horror).
Although my school days are far behind me, I’ll always remember how real the school lunch struggle was. For both me and my parents. The only type of sandwich I would eat was a peanut butter – hold the jelly. I wanted the bread folded in half (not cut), because that’s how my grandma does it. Total diva, I know. And by the way, it’s totally cool if you’re judging 10 year old me right now. I sure am.
My taste buds have evolved a lot since then. Thank goodness. Sandwiches are now one of my favorite comfort foods - and you can bet I’m putting a lot more in them than straight up peanut butter. When it comes to vegetarian sandwiches, while I love a good portobello one, this time around I wanted to challenge myself and come up with something different. Something our meat-eating friends would appreciate. Basically, I was going for a BIG indulgent sandwich that you could really sink your teeth into. And this time, it didn’t need to travel well in backpack.
For my epic sandwich experiment, I landed on this delicious pulled jackfruit banh mi. The sandwich is reminiscent of a traditional banh mi, thanks to the baguette, pickled carrots and cilantro. The toppings are fresh and crisp, which is perfect for this time of year. Although when it comes to the filling, this one is anything but traditional. Instead of meat, this sandwich is stuffed with lemongrass infused pulled jackfruit. Yup, you read that right. Jackfruit!
I’ve been testing recipes with jackfruit “meat” for a while now. And to be honest, it took quite a few more tries than normal, because Anguel kept eating all the pulled jackfruit before I could do a proper taste test. I guess that’s a good sign, right?! If you haven’t cooked with jackfruit before, you should definitely give it a try. Jackfruit is sold in cans and can be found at your Asian grocer (look for the stuff packed in brine or water, not syrup). With a bit of help, jackfruit comes apart into small stringy bits that look just like pulled pork. It’s actually borderline scary. And while jackfruit doesn’t have a strong taste on its own, it’s the perfect vehicle for absorbing awesome flavors. Like mouthwatering lemongrass, ginger, and a bit of kick from sriracha.
There are a few different components to this recipe, but nothing is particularly difficult. To be completely honest, this isn’t one of those “snap-your-fingers-and-dinner’s-ready” recipes. But it can keep in the fridge for a second dinner the next day. And it’s a fun dish to serve to meat-eating friends. They’ll gobble it up really fast. Besides, if you’ve ever cooked actual pulled pork...well, I’m pretty sure that stuff takes hours.
Personally, I like to make the quick pickled carrots first, and let them chill out in the fridge while the filling cooks. For the filling, you start with quickly boiling a flavorful stock, infused with lemongrass and Vietnamese-inspired herbs. The stock becomes the main flavor vehicle in this dish. While it boils, use your hands to break apart the jackfruit. Almost instantly, it’ll look like pulled pork. The final step is cooking the jackfruit in the stock, before adding the final flavorings to the sauce. We typically eat these sandwiches for dinner. If you have any extras, I suggest storing the filling in a separate container in the fridge. The jackfruit can be heated up on the stove the next day, prior to being tucked it away into soft baguettes and sprinkled with all the toppings.
Pulled Jackfruit Banh Mi Sandwiches
Quick Pickled Carrots
- 3 tablespoons hot water
- 1 teaspoon coconut sugar (or cane sugar)
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
Banh Mi Sandwiches
- 2 (20 oz/565 g) cans young green jackfruit (packed in water or brine, see note 1)
- 4 stalks lemongrass
- 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 2 pods star anise
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 to 2 tablespoons Sriracha (more for serving, optional)
- 1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon honey (or agave or maple syrup)
- Juice from ½ to 1 lime
- 2 scallions/green onions, minced
- 4 small baguettes (gluten free if needed, see note 2)
- Mayonnaise (vegan if needed, for serving)
- Cucumbers, cut into matchstacks (for garnish)
- Cilantro (for garnish)
- Quick Pickled Carrots: In a medium bowl or jar, stir together water, sugar, and salt until dissolved. Add rice vinegar and carrots. Stir to mix. Let sit for at least 15 minutes to marinate (see note 3).
- Drain jackfruit: Add jackfruit to a colander set over the sink. Rinse thoroughly and let sit to drain.
- Prep lemongrass: Trim 1-inch (2.5 cm) off each end of lemongrass. Use the back of your knife to pound each stalk (this helps release the oils).
- Cook aromatics: Heat grapeseed oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add lemongrass and sauté for 5 minutes, or until fragrant. Add onion, sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and ginger, sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add vegetable broth, star anise, and cloves. Reduce heat to medium, cover with a lid, and boil for 20 minutes.
- "Pull" jackfruit: Meanwhile, use your fingers to break the jackfruit into small flakes/pieces (it should look kind of like pulled pork). Discard the tough centers.
- Strain stock: Pour the broth through a fine mesh sieve or colander (see note 4). Return the strained liquid to the pot, over medium heat. Add jackfruit, cover with a lid, and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 to 4 minutes.
- Season jackfruit: Reduce heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon of the Sriracha, tamari, honey, lime juice, and scallions. Stir to mix. Taste and add more Sriracha if needed.
- Serve: Slice small baguettes in half. Spread mayonnaise inside, then add jackfruit. Top with quick pickled carrots, cucumber, cilantro, and more Sriracha (if using).
- Canned jackfruit: Do not use jackfruit packed in syrup. Look for cans labeled “packed in water” or “packed in brine”.
- Baguette: If you can't find small personal sized baguettes, like the ones pictured, you can cut a large baguette into four. Or, use two demi baguettes (demi baguettes are usually half the size of a large baguette).
- Quick pickled carrots: You can make the quick pickled carrots in advance. Refrigerate for up to 4 to 5 days. Quick pickled carrots are also delicious in salads, bowls, and other sandwiches...so feel free to make a double batch for the week!
- Straining broth: If you don't have a fine mesh sieve, a colander works too. Don't worry if some of the garlic and ginger makes it through the colander. This step is primarily to remove the large items, like lemongrass, star anise, and whole cloves.