Sandwiches make for the simplest summer meal, so be sure to spice up your summer with these tasty recipes and great sandwich ideas.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines a sandwich as “food consisting of a filling placed upon one slice or between two or more slices of a variety of bread or something that takes the place of bread.” Most of us would define it as “the thing you put in a child’s lunch box every day.” Both of which make the sandwich sound pretty uninspiring. And much of the time, it is.
The sandwich is the American standby lunch, the peanut butter and jelly we can slap together with our eyes closed, the tuna on rye we order every weekday at the local coffee shop. It attracts the word “just” for a modifier, as in, “What did you have for lunch today?” “Just a sandwich.” (Nobody would ever say, “Just a fondue” or “Just crab cakes.”)
When it comes right down to it, we have a faint contempt for sandwiches. They sustain us, and bore us. We tried, half-heartedly, to jazz them up in the ’80s by putting things in croissants, a travesty that only succeeded in adding fat to our sandwiches and making everything soggy. In the ’90s, the trend was to put sandwich fillings between sliced bagels, generating a product too big and unwieldy to get our mouths comfortably (or politely) around.
But a sandwich doesn’t have to be boring. Or, for that matter, trendy. A really good fresh tomato with a sprinkling of garden basil between two slices of homemade bread can be utterly sublime. The trick is to stop demanding that sandwiches dazzle or surprise us, and just let them be what they are: simple, casual, delicious.
The difference between a mouth-watering sandwich and one that’s merely convenient lies largely in the ingredients. Use the best bread you can find (or bake), fine meats and cheeses, and fresh, crisp vegetables. Pay attention to the relationship between bread and filling: stuffing a sandwich too full, or using too flimsy a bread, will result in a soggy, leaky mess; whereas stuffing a hearty, dense bread too sparsely will cause the flavor of the filling to get lost.
But although you need to take a little care in preparing them, sandwiches are essentially undemanding and forgiving—in short, the perfect summer meal. When you’re feeling warm and lazy, they’re easy to prepare. Easy even to think of preparing, because you don’t need to remember a recipe, just a combination of ingredients. The effort required isn’t cooking so much as assembling, although some of the all-time best summer sandwiches are hot: Witness the grilled hamburger, or the North Carolina pulled-pork barbecue sandwich.
You can build a delicious sandwich supper around the leftovers from last night’s cookout. Take some cold grilled chicken, cut it up in small chunks, mix with chopped fresh tomatoes, toss with a light vinaigrette, and serve on a split loaf of French bread. Or try cold grilled flank steak, thinly sliced, on toast spread with sweet butter and ketchup (a few slices of onion wouldn’t hurt, either).
If you absolutely insist on recipes, here are a few nice ones, created by people who have clearly thought long and hard on the subject of sandwiches. But if you happen to lose this guide, don’t panic. You’ll probably remember enough of the ingredients to get you started, and the rest you can improvise. And that’s the real beauty of homemade sandwiches: They’re always evolving, and no two are ever quite the same.
Chinese Chicken Salad Sandwich
Norman Kolpas presents this tempting mixture in Gourmet Sandwiches, HP Books, Los Angeles, 1993.
- 2 cups thinly sliced cooked chicken breast
- ¾ cup well-drained Mandarin orange segments
- ¾ cup roasted small cashews
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 scallions, finely chopped
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 8 slices raisin pumpernickel, whole-wheat, or multigrain bread
- 1 cup alfalfa sprouts
In a medium-sized bowl, toss together the chicken, oranges, cashews, cilantro, scallions, and pepper. Add mayonnaise, lemon juice, and sesame oil. Stir until well combined. Spread salad mixture on half the bread slices and top with sprouts and remaining bread. Cut into halves. Makes 4 sandwiches.
Are you a big chicken salad fan? Try out the recipe for Thai-spiced peanut chicken salad tea sandwiches!
Roasted Vegetable Sandwiches
Prepare the vegetables and make these sandwiches right away, or chill the cooked ingredients and carry them along separately for a picnic lunch.
- 3 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped, or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1 small eggplant, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1 yellow summer squash, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 small red onion, sliced and separated
- ¼ cup nonfat yogurt
- 2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
Preheat oven to 450°F. Blend the vinegar, oil, and basil. Add the vegetables, tossing to coat (add more oil, if necessary); place in a roasting pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned—about 30 minutes. Cool vegetables and whisk together ingredients for Basil-Yogurt Spread. (The recipe can be prepared ahead and refrigerated at this point.) To assemble the sandwiches, slather the Basil-Yogurt Spread on your favorite bread—pita halves, sliced French baguettes, or crusty rolls work well. Top with the vegetable mixture and serve. Makes 4 sandwiches.
–courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research
Perhaps the best way to dress the sandwich up for a party is to undress it a little. Take the top slice off and you have what the Danes call smørrebrød—which translates as “buttered bread” but which, like its Swedish cousin the smorgasbord, is actually an inviting and elegant feast. Set out on platters in tempting variety, an array of these crisp, open-faced sandwiches accompanied by some white wine or aquavit will be all you need for a memorable summer buffet.
Traditional toppings, to lay on buttered thin slices of sour rye or pumpernickel, include:
- Pickled herring with thin-sliced onion
- Roast beef, gherkins, and mustard pickles
- Sliced hard-boiled egg with lettuce, tomato, and chives
- Boiled new potatoes, cooled and thinly sliced, with bacon, tomato slivers, and chopped parsley
- Smoked salmon with scrambled egg, sprinkled with chives
- Sliced roast pork, prunes, and an orange slice (peel removed)
Nearly all of us, when asked, can come up with a secret sandwich: some bizarre combination we’ve invented, and which we eat in private so we don’t have to listen to other people say, “Yuck!”
Here are some suggestions (or rather, confessions) garnered in an informal poll:
- Peanut butter, thinly sliced onions, and golden raisins on a toasted English muffin
- Fried egg, refried beans, and salsa on toast
- Almond butter and honey on millet bread
- Cheddar cheese on gingersnaps
- Sliced bananas on Ritz crackers
- Peanut butter with dill pickles on Wonder Bread
- Nutella combined with anything else that happens to be in the refrigerator
- Leftover spaghetti (ideally with a few meatballs) and mustard on light rye
If you’d like some more detailed instructions on how to make a great sandwich, try out our list of ten delicious sandwich recipes.