Sex up your sandwiches
Ways to jazz up a boring meal if you're brown-bagging your lunch.
Brown-bag boredom got you down? Work-at-home lunch breaks bringing you the blues? If you need sandwich ideas to bust out of the boring box and keep you on track for healthy affordable eating this year, read on.
I’ve chosen to list my favorites here and place them into simple categories. Feel free to add your suggestions below.
Spreads. These can include condiments for cold sandwiches such as homemade horseradish sauce for a sexier BLT, spicy squeezable mayo to take those leftover holiday turkey sandwiches to the next level, plus mashed avocado, guacamole, Dijon mustard, or hummus.
Spreads, for the purposes of this article, also include items you might use on a hot sandwich. Some of my favorites are buffalo sauce, marinara, pesto, pizza sauce, and brushed-on olive oil mixed with zaatar.
Add-ons. These are the little nuggets of yum that help take your sandwich from humdrum to hubba hubba. One of my favorite items is the bulk jar of banana pepper rings you can purchase in the bulk aisle at Wal-Mart. For under $5 you’ve got a bulk supply of a zippy little sandwich add-on that won’t spoil quickly like certain produce items (cough -- tomatoes). Other ideas include basil leaves, sliced bulk pickles, mixed organic spring greens, sprouts, and french-fried onions.
Precooked bacon (a main ingredient in BLT sandwiches) is a flavorful accent in other sandwiches and upgrades them affordably to the status of “club.” For about $8 at my local warehouse store, I can purchase a bulk bag of precooked bacon that equates to 4 pounds of the raw equivalent. Since I can’t buy uncooked bacon for two bucks a pound unless it’s on a major sale, and would have to deal with the stress of cooking it as well, I consider this a major bargain.
Main events. This category basically includes any feature ingredient of your sandwich such as grilled vegetables, turkey breast, leftover ham, meatballs, Swiss cheese or chicken patties. Leftover roast chicken is also a common sandwich ingredient at our house.
I also include bread choices in this category, of which there are several. Yes, your basic sandwich loaf is convenient and fits handily into various airtight containers. And I routinely find that when they're toasted, several whole grain varieties are suitably sexy. That being said, it’s difficult to handle a meatball sub between those types of slices, and people getting bored with traditional sandwiches might be better served with bulky rolls, ciabatta, whole grain tortillas, or a nice baguette. Heftier breads also stand up better to sauces and thicker fillings.
Sides. Need a little something else to round out the menu? Consider a mug of homemade soup or some sort of crunchy side. Cream of tomato is hard to beat for versatility and affordability, as is cream of broccoli with cheese. Both are affordable and fall firmly into the realm of comfort food.
In warmer weather, we like to toss in a crunchy side dish or two when we are doing sandwiches for lunch. Potato chips, homemade crackers, veggie sticks and apple wedges are all affordable and tasty ways to go, with or without an accompanying dipping sauce.
Preparation. How you prepare the actual sandwich contributes greatly to its overall sexiness. Even peanut butter and jelly gets groovy when you grill it in the frying pan. Feel like taking your basic ham and cheese to the next level? Try this version of a Monte Cristo, which provides a savory twist on the traditional French toast, or this Monte Carlo sandwich, a batter-fried version of turkey and Swiss suitable for the work-at-home crowd.
Larger submarine sandwiches toast nicely in the oven on a foil-lined cookie sheet, eliminating cleanup. A toaster oven is helpful for heating up other sandwiches when you don’t want to fire up the entire stove. Think English muffin pizzas and open-faced tuna melts.
Combinations. It would be too tedious to list them all, and I doubt any of you busy folks would have time to read the list anyway. I’ll just list a few of my favorites below.
- A toasted hot wing sandwich. Two-packs of the large jars of hot wing sauce are dirt cheap at the warehouse store. I use that as my condiment, leftover chopped chicken and crumbled blue cheese with a nice hearty bread (inspired by this hot wing-flavored recipes post from Linsey). Tip: I go slightly heavy but not too over- the-top with the hot wing sauce. You want it to be a bit saucy and not all absorbed into the bread, but not drippy. You could also pull this off with a panini press.
- Middle East style mini clubs. I have a hard time finding haloumi here, so I use thick slices of mozzarella paired with a slice of Roma tomato and use party-sized club rolls, spreading each slice with a mixture of olive oil and zaatar. They are great little lunch items and, with cocktail toothpicks on hand, can look fancy and feed a crowd affordably at the same time.
- Toasted turkey and pesto with cheese. Actually, you can pull this one off with basic whole grain sandwich loaf bread. Use the pesto as your spread and toss in the other two ingredients. I like to either grill them or toss them in the toaster oven for a bit.
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