Riffs on Vegetarian Sandwiches

Making meat-filled sandwiches with leftovers is easy – a Cuban with cooked pork, an Italian sub with meatballs, a croque-monsieur with grilled ham, a Churrasco with cooked veal, a Banh mi with barbecued meat or roast beef sandwich. However, if you are a vegetarian, your choices are a little limited; the filler ingredients, such as grilled vegetables for a sandwich, do not stay fresh as long.

N., who visited last week, is trying to incorporate more vegetables into her diet. To avoid the “what’s for lunch?” dilemma, I looked at two vegetarian street foods for inspiration – pau bhaji, a mixed vegetable sandwich from India, and falafel, the fava bean and chickpea snack from Mediterranean and Middle East cuisines. Both options could be cooked ahead, and more importantly, would stay fresh as a sandwich filling for later.

Pau bhaji

Pau bhaji, loosely translated as “bread and vegetables,” is a mainstay of Mumbai street food. The bread, similar to a brioche, is smeared with butter and grilled over hot coal, and the traditional mix of vegetables for the bhaji is cauliflower, carrots, potatoes and peas. The key element is the pau bhaji spice mix, a blend of tangy flavors of mango and acrid taste of asafetida, which gives the dish its unique flavor. The cooked vegetables are sautéed in spices and mashed in the process, so any combination of vegetables works in this dish. The spice mix is readily available in Indian stores or online. The ready-made spice mix is an easy way to try it out instead of buying the 12-15 different spices that make up the pau bhaji spice blend.

Potato –1 cooked, diced into small cubes

Cauliflower – ½ of a cauliflower, cooked and diced

Peas – ½ cup

Carrots – 3 cooked and diced

Onion –1 chopped finely

Garlic and ginger – ½ tsp. minced

Pau bhaji mix – 1 ½ tsp

Chili powder – 1 tsp.

Tomatoes – 3 diced or ½ cup of diluted tomato paste

Salt – 1 tsp.

Vegetable oil – 1tbsp.

  • Heat the oil in a wok.
  • Add the onions and cook until soft.
  • Add ginger and garlic and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the pau bhaji mix and chili powder. Sauté until well incorporated with the mixture of onion, garlic, and ginger.
  • Add the cooked vegetables and tomatoes. Stir well until the vegetables are mushy.
  • Serve on pan-fried/grilled bread.
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