When you think of Israeli picnic food, you probably think of pita bread and cucumber salad, but Israel is its own melting pot of cultures and cuisines. Tel Aviv sports several Vietnamese restaurants; for two years between 1977 and 1979, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin authorized citizenship for more than 350 Vietnamese boat people seeking refuge, likening their situation to the Jews seeking a safe place during the Holocaust.
In testament to that welcome, and just in time for Memorial Day, here’s some outdoor-friendly Vietnamese food — and it’s kosher, too. The vermicelli salad is excellent at room temperature and a fun choice to bring if you are venturing far from your kitchen. If you prefer to picnic in a backyard or on a balcony, then the Tofu Bahn Mi is for you.
Tofu Bahn Mi
1 lb. firm tofu, cut in ½-inch slabs along the short side of the block
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
4 Tbs. peanut oil (or other neutral oil), divided
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs. soy sauce
½ tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 carrots, peeled, cut in matchsticks
1 small daikon, peeled, cut in matchsticks
½ cup sugar
2½ tsp. salt, divided
¾ cup boiling water
1 cup rice vinegar
4 soft bread rolls, split
4 Tbs. mayonnaise
3 Persian cucumbers, sliced lengthwise to make long julienne strips
8-12 cilantro sprigs (leaves and top tender greens only)
8-12 mint leaves
1 jalapeño, sliced thin
At least 24 hours and up to 3 days in advance, marinate tofu in a mixture of lime juice, 3 Tbs. of the peanut oil, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, coriander and white pepper. At least 1 hour and up to 3 days in advance, prepare the carrots and daikon. Dissolve the sugar and 2 tsp. of the salt in the boiling water. Mix in the rice vinegar and pour the mixture over carrots and daikon. Let marinate.
When ready to eat, heat a frying pan with 1 Tbs. remaining oil. Remove tofu from marinade and blot dry. Fry in batches, about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown. Season with ½ tsp. remaining salt. Lightly toast the bread rolls. Spread both sides of rolls with mayonnaise. Layer the cucumbers, fried tofu, pickled vegetables (drained), cilantro, mint and jalapeno on each roll. Eat!
Vermicelli Herb Salad
Serves 4 as a side
8 oz. vermicelli noodles
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
2 Tbs. fish sauce
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbs. peanut oil
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¼ cup basil, cut in chiffonade
¼ cup mint leaves, cut in chiffonade
1 bunch green onions, whites and some of green chopped
2 Tbs. chopped peanuts
Cook vermicelli noodles according to package directions. Drain and cool. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, fish sauce and brown sugar. When sugar is dissolved, mix in oil. Pour dressing over vermicelli noodles. Stir in herbs and green onions. Garnish with chopped peanuts.
Raspberry Cardamom Sauce
Makes 2 cups
1 cup frozen raspberries
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 cup water
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 Tbs. Cointreau
Combine raspberries, sugar, cardamom and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, and simmer for 5 minutes. Transfer cooked raspberries, jam and Cointreau to food processor and blend until smooth. Serve on mango sorbet or vanilla ice cream.
Josie A.G. Shapiro, who won the 2013 Man-O-Manischewitz Cookoff, is the co-author of “The Lazy Gourmet.” Her columns alternate with those of Faith Kramer. Her website is www.thechickencontests.com.