Salads Want To Be Sandwiches
Just Let Them!
IF I RAN THE WORLD, IT WOULD BE A GIANT MESS, but I would see to it that in all dictionaries an alternative definition of salad would be “uncooked soup.” Onions, garlic, olive oil, some vegetables or beans, maybe other protein, throw it all in a pot with some water and simmer away. You could even serve it topped with croutons.
That’s always been my little joke, but I’m certainly not the first person to spend too much time thinking about something this seemingly inconsequential. For instance, when I mentioned on social media that my dream is to create a salad that you can turn into soup just by adding water, more than a couple of people chimed in with ideas or close examples of how this was already a “thing.”
And just now, I found this rather Einsteinian set-theory treatment of the topic, which takes the question much further than I have the bandwidth for at the moment—but I still found it life-affirming. I’m not the only one for whom such questions are worth pursuing far beyond practical utility!
What we don’t talk about quite as much, however, is how often salad is just a sandwich waiting to happen. And I, of all people, should—especially if I want the world to value salad more than it seems to at this point in time. People suddenly have other plans if you invite them for dinner then tell them you’re serving salad. But sandwiches are like the circus: everyone loves them. So tying the two together would be great PR. Salad: it’s just a sandwich you’re eating too soon.
Obviously, I don’t mean egg salad or other protein salads that are practically meant to be a sandwich filling. I’m talking about the chef salad, which I view as a submarine sandwich without the bread and with too much lettuce. One of my favorite salads, Uncle John’s Salad, is basically the innards of an Italian grinder. A Cobb salad is just an underclothed club sandwich. And, of course, the modern day salad sandwich has always been around in one form or another; when I was in college we called them vegetarian sandwiches, even though we ate them with cheese.
It works in reverse, too. I’ve already offered you my BLT sandwich salad. You may also be aware of this hotdog salad, which, in my opinion, seems more like a prank.
I just love the simple, some may say obvious, idea of food as Transformers (“More than Meets the Eye”), my most recent favorite being from the Louisville chef Edward Lee, who is the author of one of my favorite food books, Buttermilk Graffiti, and creator of the Lee Initiative. He calls it a salad that wants to be a hummus, and I plan to investigate further as soon as I can.
I’m not sure where I’m going with all this. But I do know that I love salad so much I want it to feel free to be what it wants, to manifest all its glories even if it means it might grow too popular and leave me behind. It’s a risk I’m willing to take.
I’d like to follow salad on its journey of self-discovery, so if it starts to feel like the Department of Salad is moving and growing too—toward the occasional soup or sandwich—you may be right. (And maybe other treats, since my cousin Susan’s chocolate peanut butter cake was such a gigantic hit, but we’re not in the baking business.)
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Anyway, I’ve been turning this salad/sandwich thing over in my head since this fall, soon after I moved to Atlanta and came home tired and hungry for something really delicious, with all the things I love about certain kinds of salad (crisp dark greens, tart dressing), really easy to make, and of course, super delicious. But also something that was please not another salad. What popped into my head was a favorite sandwich I’ve been eating for decades, which is nothing more than a salad in pita.
When I went searching through the cookbook where I discovered it, Joyce Goldstein’s Back to Square One (named for her restaurant, which was influential in the 1980s and 90s San Francisco restaurant scene), I realized her sandwich has gone downhill under my care. I just warm up a pita, throw down some watercress and feta, dig in. And you can do that. It’s wonderful. But I’d rather you trust Joyce Goldstein the first time you try it, because her original is practically transplendent.
While I was revisiting this glorious 1992 book, I also noticed that not only does it have an unusually healthy salad section, but that Goldstein also leaps headlong into taming the salad/sandwich chimera. In addition to the two salads I’m giving you today, she also has a Waldorf salad sandwich and a Greek salad sandwich. I’m tripping out!
*RECIPE: Persian Feta Cheese and Herb Sandwich, from Back to Square One
In her intro to this salad, Joyce Goldstein mentions that she first had it at a picnic with some Persian friends. So the name is not necessarily instructing you to use Persian feta. But if you can get it—lucky you—use it. She also mentions that you’ll wonder why you need a recipe at all. I say, you’ll be glad to have it no matter what. Especially if you love fresh herbs and feta as much as I do. I could eat this salady sandwich every single day and never get tired of it
16 1/4-inch-thick slices feta cheese, each about 3 inches long and 2 inches wide (depending on your pita size)
32 to 48 basil leaves (about 2 cups)
32 to 48 mint leaves (about 2 cups)
2 cups watercress leaves, stems trimmed
Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).
Sprinkle the pita with a tiny bit of water, wrap in foil and warm in the oven, or steam over boiling water until soft and warm. Do this any way you see fit. Cut each round into 2 half circles.
Place 2 slices of cheese inside each pita half, along with 4-6 leaves of basil, 4-6 leaves of mint, and some of the watercress. Eat immediately while still warm.
Note: when I was making these all these years, with nothing but feta and watercress, I would often drizzle a little olive oil and lemon over the filling. Do this if you wish, but it’s not necessary at all.
*RECIPE: Chicken Caesar Salad Sandwich, adapted from Back to Square One
My cousin Toni and I wanted something more substantial for supper, so we decided to do this with chicken. I salt-roasted two bone-in, skin-on breasts (see NOTE on how to do this, below), which is my favorite way to always have good, juicy, flavorful chicken around for such purposes without having a giant carcass to dispose of. We only used one of them. Goldstein makes her own mayo, then turns it into the lemon anchovy dressing that you spread thickly on the bread. I instead started with some Duke’s, which I doctored according to her recipe. Regarding bread, Goldstein does not toast, but we liked the idea of toasting it to add crouton quality to the sandwich. We tried it on toasted slices of French bâtard, Tuscan bread, and multigrain artisanal loaf. Toni liked the big, sweet flavors of the multigrain, I preferred the chewy semi-blankness of the other two.
6 hard-boiled eggs
1 tablespoon finely pureed garlic (I grated mine on a microplane)
3 tablespoons chopped anchovies (or an equal amount of anchovy paste)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 slices bread, lightly toasted (French bâtard, Tuscan bread, or multigrain)
8 large romaine lettuce leaves, whole or cut into 1-inch-wide strips
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved with a potato peeler into long strips
Peel and slice the eggs into rounds.
Combine the garlic, anchovy, lemon zest, juice, mayonnaise, and mustard in a bowl. Stir to blend. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Anchovies are salty–you may not need any additional salt.
For each sandwich, spread both slices of toasted bread thickly with the flavored mayonnaise. Top 1 piece of bread with cheese shavings and the other with egg slices, chicken, and lettuce leaves. Assemble the sandwich and cut in half.
NOTE: How to salt-roast two large skin-on, bone in chicken breasts (a method that produces perfect, juicy meat, lightly seasoned)
Preheat oven to 425°F (218°C) Place breasts skin side up in a roasting pan and completely cover with Kosher salt, pressing it in a bit so it doesn’t slide off. Roast until cooked through, about 40 minutes. (I stab it with a knife to make sure the juice runs clear.) As soon as it is cool enough to handle, remove the salty skin and brush off all the remaining salt completely. Remove meat from bone and refrigerate. I usually do this in the morning and refrigerate the meat all day.
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