Review: Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day

It is very rare that a cookbook comes along that elicits the kind of excitement and bold punch of flavor that Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes has done.  For the longest time I read as blogger after blogger photographed gorgeous sandwiches and penned rave reviews, while I watched on with my mouth watering.  Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day moved higher and higher on my Christmas wish list.  And I waited eagerly for the time when I’d be making puff pastry pot pie sandwiches, tofu pomegranate pockets, and sauerkraut & tempeh-filled bierocks.  Then as luck would have it, I won a copy in a giveaway hosted by Olives for Dinner, and my wait time was cut short.

As soon as I flipped through all of the stunning recipes with loads of pictures, I felt an excited stirring in my stomach.  I wanted to make everything… now.  I never would have guessed that a book on something as basic as the sandwich could deliver so much flavor and creativity.  With 101 sandwiches from breakfast through dessert, these sandwiches are far from ordinary.  Here’s what I’ve made so far…

The first recipe I tried was the Chickpea Shawarma.  I would consider this recipe to be Indian/Mediterranean fusion, because the chickpeas are spiced with curry powder in addition to apple cider vinegar, fresh lemon juice, non-dairy yogurt, garlic, and onion powder.  (Hot curry powder from Penzey’s Spices is my favorite.)  The chickpeas are baked in the sauce until it’s mostly absorbed and then served in a pita or tortilla with lettuce and tomatoes.  (The smell of curry permeating the air made the house smell fantastic.)  It’s then topped with a creamy tahini and non-dairy yogurt dressing.

The recipe makes a lot of dressing, more than I thought I could use in a week…  But I was wrong, because the next day I generously offered to finish off the remaining chickpeas, only to have my husband ask if we could make more so that he could have some too.  So for breakfast, there we were having a full batch of chickpea shawarma all over again with more tahini sauce.  Then a few days later we were craving it anew, and I was only too happy to have the tahini sauce on hand, and with that, we finished it off.  So if you plan on making the shawarma once, you might want to halve the recipe, but then again, you might not!  I also want to add that David is generally not into sauces, especially ones made with yogurt, and he thought the sauce was the best part.  The cool, sour tang complements the spicy heat of the curried chickpeas.

Next I made the Carnitas Sandwiches.  The carnitas in this sandwich are made with jackfruit.  (Jackfruit always intrigues me, whether it’s in tacos, Nepali cuisine, or vegan crab cakes.)  The carnitas require some pre-planning, because the jackfruit cooks in a mixture of orange juice, tamari, hot sauce, and spices for an hour on the stove.  (Water is also added to cover the jackfruit, and I think I added a bit too much.  The directions say to cover the jackfruit by a couple of inches, but my shredded jackfruit just kept floating.  Next time I’ll err on the side of less rather than more, so that the flavor isn’t diffused.)

After an hour of cooking, the jackfruit marinates in the cooking liquid overnight.  Then it’s browned in a pan with shallots and garlic.  Next time I plan on browning the jackfruit in batches, because my pan was too overcrowded with the chilled jackfruit to brown properly.

The sandwich is topped with guacamole (or avocado in my case) and chili crème made with silken tofu, lime juice, and spices.  The sandwich was very tasty with a mixture of spicy hot and cool.

Finally, I harnessed my inner Elvis with Peanut Butter Banana Bacon Sandwiches.  The absolute standout in this sandwich is the chickpea bacon, made by broiling chickpeas in maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, smoked paprika, smoked sea salt, liquid smoke, and spices.  The chickpeas become smoky, sticky sweet and totally addictive.  I used less liquid smoke than the recipe indicated (I used ½ teaspoon), because my preferred brand of liquid smoke (Wright’s) is concentrated.  The chickpea bacon, peanut butter, and bananas made for an unusual twist on one of my favorite breakfasts.

Even when I’m not making this sandwich, I know that the chickpea bacon is going to be a recipe I turn to again and again for chef salads, BLT’s, and to put on potato soup or baked potato skins.  I had a hard time staying out of them in the refrigerator, because they taste so good on their own, by the handful.  I’ve already made the chickpea bacon a second time, and this time I made a double batch so that I can put them on everything with abandon.

Expect to see more on my blog about my cooking expeditions through Vegan Sandwiches Save the Day.  It’s an instant classic.

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Caramelized Tempeh Shawarma: Vegan Table Tuesday

The first time I drank fresh soy milk, I was amazed.  “It tastes like edamame,” I marveled.  Of course it tasted like soybeans.  Why wouldn’t it taste like soybeans? Yet, soy milks sold commercially in the US aim to somewhat duplicate the flavor of cow’s milk.  Expectations mean a lot when it comes to a food being palatable or not.  It’s sort of like when you set down your apple juice on the table, go back to drink it, and mistakenly pick up and sip your husband’s grapefruit juice instead.  The immediate reaction is a bad one.  Why?  That’s not the flavor you were expecting.  So since most Americans aren’t looking for a bean-y tasting milk, marketers don’t think an authentic soymilk would appeal to them.

I think this can be a reason why some people aren’t immediately drawn to foods like tofu or tempeh.  They expect them to taste like meat because of their place in the meal and because they are high in protein and iron.  However, in places where people have been eating tofu and tempeh for centuries, tempeh and tofu are no more meat replacements than a red bell pepper would be a tomato replacement.  They’re different foods.  If I substituted broccoli in a recipe that called for asparagus, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to say afterwards that it lacked something because of its broccoli-like flavor.  Of course, it tasted like broccoli.  When I sit down to eat wine marinated tofu, I don’t expect or want it to taste or feel like chicken’s breast.  I want it to be tofu.

Although it’s not widely popular in the States, tempeh has been a staple food in Indonesia for over 2,000 years.  It’s similar to tofu, in that it is made from soybeans.  Tempeh is a fermented food that is often cured with grains.  It has a nutty flavor and a wonderfully chewy texture.  It’s great steamed and then marinated and used as a main course or sandwich filling.  Today for Vegan Table Tuesday, I made the Caramelized Tempeh Shawarma.  Colleen invites readers to think of this dish as “Middle Eastern burritos.”  In addition to the sweet and salty tempeh, lavash bread is filled with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and parsley.  It’s then topped with a tahini sauce that is also fantastic to use as a salad dressing.  I served the filling and flavorful shawarma with potatoes roasted in lemon juice and garlic.