Making sandwiches for dinner sounds inherently modest, if not a little lazy. What, you didn’t want to cook? the family might ask.
Well, yeah, not really. Not in the heat of summer.
Compound this dinner/sandwich situation by completely eschewing all forms of cooking — not even deigning to toast a slice of bread — and the meal would only further appear to wave a flag of culinary surrender.
Is it giving in, though?
Sure, there are all sorts of boring sandwiches that can truly bum out a dinner table. But, like many other simple food preparations, sandwiches can be so much more: jazzy, worldly, fresh, inspired.
The trick to elevating traditional stacks to special status, especially without the aid of cooking, is to think beyond turkey on whole wheat. Call on unexpected, worldly pairings, make the sandwiches seasonal and vegetable-heavy, and be generous with acidic ingredients (such as citrus or vinegar) to give them tang and vibrancy.
You can start by reworking what’s sandwiched, which often is some sort of meat. Go vegetarian with chickpeas (themselves a rather meaty legume). Mash them with jarred piquillo peppers, lemon juice and olive oil, and stuff this Iberian mixture into pitas with dressed arugula and feta. Or give the Vietnamese staple banh mi a twist by calling on roast beef and a spicy Sriracha aioli. Tuck the meat into a section of baguette and top with a tangle of daikon and carrot ribbons.
Even plain old roasted turkey breast has a place in this fresh formula. Give it a boost with the distinctive combination of pickled red onions, smoked gouda and fresh cherries.
Tote these sandwiches to the dinner table with the assurance of a thoughtful cook. They did not command hours of prep time, but they are filled with summer’s best and inspiration from around the globe, making them just the thing for the warm nights to come.
Stuffed Pitas With Smashed Lemony Chickpeas, Arugula, Piquillo Pepper and Feta
Here, the chickpeas are mashed to retain a little of their meatiness. From food writer Tony Rosenfeld.
3 ounces baby arugula (about 3 cups)
5 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons olive oil
Finely grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of ½ lemon (1 or 2 teaspoons zest, 1 or 2 tablespoons juice)
Freshly ground black pepper
15½ ounces (about 2 cups) canned no-salt-added chickpeas, rinsed and drained well
3 jarred piquillo peppers, drained, then cut into ½-inch dice (may substitute 1 jarred roasted red pepper, drained, then cut into ½-inch dice; ¾ cup)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (sweet or hot pimenton de la Vera; optional)
2 teaspoons chopped thyme (from about 6 sprigs)
4 pita breads
Toss the arugula with the feta, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the lemon juice (to taste) and salt and pepper to taste (about ½ teaspoon each) in a large bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine the chickpeas and diced pepper in a medium bowl. Use the back of a large metal spoon to mash the chickpeas against the sides of the bowl, taking care not to totally pulverize or puree them. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, the lemon zest, cumin and the smoked Spanish paprika, if using. Taste, and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste (about ¼ teaspoon each). Mash the chickpeas a bit more, then sprinkle the thyme over the mixture.
To assemble the sandwiches, cut off the top inch or so of each pita bread to create a pocket. (Eat those pieces if you’re hungry, or save for croutons.) Spoon equal amounts of the chickpea mixture into each pita, then stuff with the arugula-feta mixture.
Per serving: 410 calories, 16 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 19 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 710 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar.
Roast Beef Banh Mi with Carrot, Daikon and Sriracha Aioli
Roast beef, plain and staid, takes nicely to the intense, pickled flavors in this Vietnamese sandwich. Though it’s traditional to use a soft baguette, bread that’s a little crustier seems to work here. From food writer Tony Rosenfeld.
For the sandwiches
One 6-ounce piece peeled daikon radish
2 medium (6 ounces total) carrots
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
Generous ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ bunch (about 1¾ ounces) cilantro, washed and torn into small sprigs (discarding larger stems)
1 large whole-wheat baguette, cut into 4 equal sections, each section then cut in half horizontally
¾ pound thinly sliced roast beef, preferably medium-rare
For the aioli
⅓ cup regular or low-fat mayonnaise, or more to taste
1 tablespoon Thai chili paste, such as Sriracha, or more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or more to taste
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or more to taste
1 clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
For the sandwich: Use a vegetable peeler (preferably Y-shaped) to shave the daikon and carrot into strips; try to use a little pressure to create slightly thicker shavings. Place the strips in a large bowl; toss with the rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Let sit for 15 minutes, tossing occasionally. Drain off most of the vinegar mixture, then add the cilantro and toss to incorporate.
For the aioli: Whisk together the mayonnaise, Thai chili paste, lime juice, fish sauce and garlic in a small bowl. Taste, and adjust by adding one or more of those ingredients as needed.
To assemble, spread the aioli on the cut sides of the bread. Layer the roast beef on 4 of the baguette sections, then top the meat with equal amounts of the pickled vegetable mixture. Use the 4 baguette sections to complete each sandwich, placing them cut side down and pressing slightly.
Per serving (using low-fat mayonnaise): 480 calories, 26 g protein, 69 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 1620 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 13 g sugar.
Turkey Sandwiches with Smoked Gouda, Pickled Red Onion and Cherries
Fresh cherries might not be an option for topping turkey sandwiches at the local deli, but they’re the perfect sweet counterpoint to the sharp pickled onions and smoky cheese used here. From food writer Tony Rosenfeld.
1 small red onion, cut into very thin slices
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
8 thick slices crusty sourdough bread
¼ cup whole-grain mustard
¾ pound thinly sliced roasted turkey breast
4 ounces smoked Gouda, cut into very thin slices
3 cups (about 2 ounces) baby spinach leaves, stemmed
1 cup (12 to 16) pitted dark-red cherries, mashed or coarsely chopped
Toss together the onion, sugar and a generous sprinkling of salt (about 1 teaspoon) in a medium bowl; let sit for 5 minutes so the onion wilts a bit. Stir in the vinegar; let sit for 10 minutes so the vinegar infuses the onions, and the sugar and salt have dissolved.
To assemble the sandwiches, top 4 slices of the bread with a thin coating of mustard. In the following order, layer the turkey, smoked Gouda, some spinach leaves and the cherries, then top each portion with one of the remaining slices of bread.
Serve immediately, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for no more than 2 hours before serving.
Per serving: 560 calories, 32 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 14 g fat, 8 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 1730 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar.