A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

 

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No substitutions are allowed for this sandwich. Switch out the Colby Jack for cheddar? You wouldn’t dare. Use a pita instead of pumpernickel bread so the filling stays intact? Blasphemy. Leave out the sprouts? We can’t be friends anymore.

Seriously, I’ve tried doing all of those swaps and it’s just not the same. The worst experiment was making over-stuffed closed-faced sandwiches instead of smaller open-faced ones. Going Dagwood-style is a guarantee that you will end up with a large glob of avocado/veggie goo plopping onto your lap. Even with the open-face, no matter how you stack the veggies or even layer in some extra sprouts for grip between the tomatoes and cucumbers, eating this sandwich is kind of like playing Jenga with your food. You’re never quite sure if the next bite is going to make it fall apart or not. I need J. Kenji López-Alt to fix my veggie melt problems.

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I dunno, maybe I just have some serious cognitive dissonance going on here and I’m only convincing myself that this sandwich is top-notch because, well, I wouldn’t keep making it and going through the hassle of tucking runaway mushroom slices and pepper strips back under the cheese if it weren’t exceptionally good, right?

But really, when you have tangy, toasty pumpernickel bread… Some tomato-on-mayo action… Summer-ripe peppers and cucumbers… Sautéed mushrooms for extra umami… Let’s not forget the avocado…. A healthy handful of sprouts for crunch… And a delicious cap of melty cheese to top it all off… How could it not be worth the messiness? The only way you could go wrong would be by wearing white while you eat it.

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Note: If you’re only planning on making 1 or 2 sandwiches at a time, still cook all of the mushrooms and peppers in advance. Everything else can be freshly prepped as needed.


A Veggie Melt That’s So Tasty You Won’t Even Care That It Kind Of Falls Apart When You Eat It

makes 8 open-faced sandwiches, serving 4

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil (maybe more)
  • 1 container (8-10 oz.) cremini mushrooms, stems removed, caps sliced
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into thin strips
  • 8 slices pumpernickel bread
  • 2 medium to large tomatoes
  • kosher salt
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 avocado, mashed with a generous pinch of salt
  • a couple of thin slices of red onion
  • alfala sprouts
  • 8 slices (about 1 oz. each) Colby Jack Cheese, each cut diagonally in half
  1. In a medium skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they’ve released their juices and the juices have mostly evaporated. Add the garlic and stir until just fragrant, about a minute. Spoon the mushrooms into a bowl and return the skillet to the burner.
  2. If the pan is dry, add a little more oil. Add the red pepper strips and sauté until tender and bendy.
  3. Turn the over to 350º and toast your bread while you prep the other veggies.
  4. Cut the tomatoes so you have 8 slices that are about 1/4″ thick. Cut each slice in half diagonally. Sprinkle with salt and let them hang out on a paper towel while you finish prepping.
  5. Slice the cucumber crosswise into 3″ logs, and then lengthwise into 1/8″ slices. Then, cut the slices in half again lengthwise to make strips. Sprinkle these with a little salt too.
  6. Crank the oven up to broil. Take the toasted bread and spread each slice with a little mayonnaise. Top each with 2 halves of sliced tomato, and then alternate the cucumber and pepper strips on top of the tomato. Carefully spread the mashed avocado on top of the cucumber and pepper, and then layer on the mushrooms, pressing lightly so that they stick to the avocado. Finish each sandwich with a little bit of sliced onion, a generous mound of sprouts, and 2 halves of Colby Jack. Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut each sandwich in half diagonally. This is important. If you leave the cheese slice in 1 piece and try to cut the sandwiches after they are toasted, putting a knife through the melted cheese will take down the sprouts and make a landslide of your carefully layered veggies.
  7. Place the sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.
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What To Do With Your Extra Cabbage From St. Patty’s Day: Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwiches)

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When I discovered that certain grocery stores sell celery by the stalk, it was a revelation. No longer would I have to purchase an entire bunch of celery just to make a recipe that called for one measly stalk. Someone was kind enough to apply the same idea to extra-large items like pumpkins and watermelons, which you can often find in plastic-wrapped halves or quarters, just in case, you know, you weren’t planning a blow-out party any time soon and were doubting your abilities to polish off 20 pounds of fruit before it went bad. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen cabbage treated the same way (maybe because it turns brown after you cut it, but still…). The only option is to get a whole head, and you’re left wondering what sort of crazy fertilizer everyone must be using because you swear the smallest head you can find is about the size and weight of a bowling ball.

So, when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, after you’ve enjoyed a dinner of corned beef, cabbage, Guinness, soda bread, and pudding, what do you do with the rest of this forlorn cruciferous that’s taking up space in the produce bin like an unfinished beer left abandoned on the counter? Embrace spring and turn it into an essential part of your baked falafel salad, that’s what!

Whenever I go out to Lebanese or Middle Eastern restaurants, I can’t resist ordering some falafel, but I hardly ever make it at home because deep-frying isn’t something that makes the regular rotation in my house. I have tried some baked falafel recipes in the past, but they just weren’t as savory or crunchy as I wanted.

Chickpea flour and asafoetida.

So, I added a couple of inauthentic ingredients to mine: first, a spoonful of nutritional yeast, or “nooch”—even though it’s often used as a vegan cheese substitute and falafel never calls for cheese, I like the flavor it adds. I got mine from the bulk bins at Whole Foods; you can also find it online. Second: a pinch of asafoetida—also called Devil’s Dung, apparently, for how stinky it is. I had bought some from an Indian grocer a while ago, and it was indeed so smelly that I had to double-wrap the container in sealed bags to keep my husband from complaining about it every time we opened the pantry. It’s one of those odors that is 60% bad and 40% good—I honestly can’t do justice describing it. It’s like the smell of a sweaty workout after a meal that contained large quantities of garlic. I know, I know, that sounds so gross!  who would want to eat that? but just a pinch of it is delicious in falafel. Trust me.

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Mmmm, a big bowl of beaten bean water!

To make the baked falafel nice and crunchy, I generously oiled the pan and pre-heated it in the oven. I also borrowed a technique from the crunchiest crab cakes I’ve ever made and double-coated the falafel with flour (chickpea flour, natch) and then a layer of fine breadcrumbs. Instead of egg whites in between the flour and breadcrumb layers, I used the drained liquid from the can of chickpeas, beaten until it was foamy. Yeah, did you know you can whip chickpea liquid like egg whites?? I recently discovered this, and it’s pretty amazing. Some sources I’ve read call it aquafaba, which is the fanciest name for ‘bean water’ that I’ve ever heard. Anyway, let’s not let nomenclature get in the way—asafoetida or Devil’s Dung, drained chickpea liquid or aquafaba, I’ll take it if it makes my food taste better.

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To serve the baked falafel, I (try to) stuff it into a pita with loads of thinly sliced cabbage, matchsticked radishes, fresh cilantro, and tahini sauce, but I usually I go overboard on the filling and the thing falls apart. However, I recently discovered by a happy accident that it comes together great in salad form—in fact, the salad might even be better than the sandwich because you can mix everything together more evenly. Whatever you choose, don’t skimp on the toppings.



Note(s): Many falafel recipes call for using cilantro, but I prefer putting parsley in the cooked patties and adding a little handful of fresh cilantro to the salad (or sandwich). You can find chickpea flour and asafoetida at Indian grocers or online. The patties can be made ahead of time and they freeze well; they just won’t be as crunchy when you reheat them. The falafel recipe is adapted from Mark Bittman, and the crunchy coating technique was borrowed from a crab cake recipe from Epicurious.


Crunchy Baked Falafel Salad (or Sandwich)

serves 4

For the falafel

  • 1. Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 15.5-oz. can chickpeas, drained, liquid reserved in a medium bowl
  • 1/4 c. chickpea flour, divided
  • 1 Tbsp. nutritional yeast
  • 2 garlic cloves, microplaned or finely minced
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped parsley
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped yellow or white onion
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp. (generous) kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. asafoetida
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 c.plain dry breadcrumbs
  1. Spread the olive oil and vegetable oil evenly into a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375º.
  2. Pulse the drained chickpeas in a food processor until finely ground.
  3. Put the ground chickpeas in a medium bowl. Add 1 tbsp. of the chickpea flour and then all of the other ingredients except the plain dry breadcrumbs (so, nutritional yeast through baking soda). Mix well.
  4. Put your oiled pan in the oven to get nice and hot while you shape the falafel.
  5. Place the remaining 3 Tbsp. chickpea flour on a small plate or shallow dish. Divide the falafel mixture into 16 evenly-sized patties, and coat each patty in the chickpea flour, gently brushing off the excess. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  6. Place the plain dry breadcrumbs on a small plate or shallow dish. Beat the reserved chickpea liquid until thick and foamy, like egg whites. Use a pastry brush to brush each patty all over with a little bit of whipped chickpea liquid, and then coat both sides lightly in the dry breadcrumbs. Set the patties aside on a cutting board as you coat them.
  7. Once all of the patties are coated in flour and crumbs, use a oven mitt! to take your hot pan out of the preheated oven. Place the patties in the pan (the oil will sizzle) and bake for about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once.

Putting it all together—do not skip or skimp on these toppings!!

  • 1/4 c. well-stirred tahini
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 medium garlic clove, microplaned or finely minced
  • 6 c. finely shredded green cabbage (slice it as thinly as you can) (use closer to 4 c. if you’re making a sandwich instead of a salad)
  • 8 or so good-sized radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
  • 1/2 c. coarsely  chopped fresh cilantro
  • 4 pitas
  1. Make the tahini sauce by stirring together the tahini, water, and garlic. Season to taste with salt.
  2. If you’re going the salad route, first toast the pita. Then toss the fresh veggies together, place the warm falafel on top, drizzle with the dressing, and finish with pieces of your toasted pita. Make sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite.
  3. If you’re going to make sandwiches, I like to layer them: two falafels-veggies-sauce-two falafels-veggies-sauce. That way, you’re not stuck with all the cabbage at the top and all the falafel at the bottom.

 

 

Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Cream Cheese Sandwich

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Just remind yourself that salmon and avocado have healthy fats, and enjoy it. Balance it out with some sliced veggies and a piece of fresh fruit.

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I usually avoid taking sandwiches for lunch because of the morning prep that they require. You can’t make them the night before unless you’re okay with damp bread and limp lettuce. The time it takes to cut the tomato and onion and cucumbers, layer everything correctly in order to minimize the chance of anything getting soggy before lunch, carefully peel off one piece of cheese without little corners of it sticking to any of the others in the package and breaking… Those could be the precious 10 minutes between waking up at 5:50 versus waking up at 6:00. Huge psychological difference and totally not worth it. (Granted, this is coming from someone who is so categorically not a morning person that she packs her bag, sets up the coffee pot, makes her breakfast, and picks out her clothes the night before for the sole reason of being able to sleep as late as possible.)

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This sandwich makes the cut because it hardly takes any time to throw together, and, surprisingly, it holds up well. The avocado will stay green for a few hours because it’s cozied up in between the cream cheese and salmon, which act like little bodyguards that protect it from getting exposed to air and turning brown.

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I usually keep a loaf of bread in the freezer and occasionally pick up a package of smoked salmon when it goes on sale, so when I don’t feel much like cooking, I buy an avocado and some cream cheese and then make this sandwich for lunch. Here is how it’s done: You take your bread out of the freezer and pry two frozen slices off of the loaf. You build your sandwich and then take a sharp knife and cut the whole thing in half (yup, straight through the frozen bread), tuck it away in a tupperware, and let it hang out at room temperature until lunch time. If you are squeamish about it being unrefrigerated for a while, just remind yourself that every day in high school you snarfed down a turkey and cheese sandwich that had been sitting in your backpack for three hours, and you never thought twice about it. Or tell yourself that the frozen bread slices are performing the same function that a couple of ice packs would.

There are no huge quantities of anything here. You know when you start to chow down on your Chipotle but the first few bites are nothing but rice because the burrito is overstuffed and the filling hasn’t been distributed evenly? Yeah, as delicious as salmon is, you don’t want to get a mouthful of nothing but smoked fish. You want to be able to taste all of the ingredients since there are only three of them, right?! Four if you count the bread. Five if you count the sprinkle of salt. I’ve tried adding tomato, onion, or other extras, but it’s just not as good. I really believe that, for this sandwich, less is more. Choose some sides that will explore other parts of the food pyramid.

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Note: Don’t go for a chewy artisanal bread here. Everything holds together better with a soft sliced loaf.


Smoked Salmon, Avocado, and Cream Cheese Sandwich

per serving:

  • 2 slices soft whole-wheat or multi-grain sandwich bread
  • 2 Tbsp. (or so) whipped cream cheese (this is important—the “whipped” kind is soft enough to spread without ripping the bread)
  • 1/4 of an avocado
  • pinch of table salt
  • 1 oz. smoked salmon
  1. Spread one slice of bread with the cream cheese. Go all the way to the edges, just like you would if you were making a peanut butter sandwich the right way.
  2. Cut the avocado into 5 or 6 even slices. Place them in one layer on top of the cream cheese. I like to cut them into the appropriate shapes to get full coverage. (See photo above.) Sprinkle with table salt.
  3. Arrange the salmon evenly on top—it’s going to be a sparse layer.
  4. Top with the other bread slice and cut in half.
  5. Tastes best at room temperature.