Variations on a Theme: Sandwiches, Part I

One of my favorite sandwiches was served at a cozy Japanese cafe in the Lucky Plaza Shopping Centre in Singapore called Mitsubachi (Honey Bee). I have recreated their shiitake and melted cheese toast many times at home. Sandwiches can be an exciting lunch option, with infinite possibilites for fillings. Yet, the sandwich choices available on average menus are usually disappointing. Often the bread is too dense and the fillings are uninspired renditions of portabello mushrooms and pesto. There are so many unusual ways to approach the sandwich, from delicate tea sandwiches to grilled cheese and I've found that like pancakes, sandwiches are found in many different forms around the world. I have enjoyed and made some memorable sandwiches including Manfred's Popeye & Olive Oil Sandwich, filled with luscious spinach, from the John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds website, and Vietnamese bahn mi, with its sweet-sour-salty seasoning in a French baguette. Below are some of my own sandwich recipes.

Shiitake & Melted Cheese Toasts
For each sandwich you will need:
4 shiitake mushroom caps, fresh or dried and reconstituted
1 piece thick-sliced Japanese white bread (found at Japanese bakeries and markets)
1-2 thin slices of cheese such as provolone or Swiss
soy sauce (not neccessary if using dried mushrooms)
1 Tbs oil

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat and add whole shiitake caps.
After a couple of minutes add a splash of mirin and a little soy sauce and cook a few more minutes.
Turn caps over and cook a few more minutes until the mushrooms are coated with a syrupy, brown glaze.
Arrange cooked shiitake evenly over bread, cover with cheese and place in a toaster oven or under a broiler until cheese melts.
Serve with a little honey on top.

This protein-rich snack can be made with canned red bean paste or the homemade version below. To make the recipe vegan, omit the butter or use a butter substitute.

Sweet Red Bean Toast
To make 2 toasts you will need:
8 oz. sweet red bean paste (store bought or homemade recipe below)
2 pieces thick-sliced Japanese white bread (found at Japanese bakeries and markets)

Heat a little oil in a pan over medium heat. Butter both sides of each bread slice and then gently smear each side with a thick layer of red bean paste as you would peanut butter. Place bread in hot pan, for a few minutes until golden brown. Flip, repeat, and serve.

To make red bean paste:

In a large bowl, cover 1 cup uncooked adzuki red beans with water and soak overnight. Drain, add beans to a saucepan, cover with water and cook until soft, about 30-40 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Puree cooked beans in a food processor with 2 Tbs brown sugar until well combined. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use (up to 2 weeks).

In this multi-part series of sandwich recipes, I will be featuring a variety of sandwiches inspired by Nita Mehta's Sandwiches, which has led me to broaden my concept of how to approach the ingredients and preparation of a sandwich.

In the following recipes the chili toasts are made with delicious and easy quick-pickled chili peppers, which are slightly mellowed by the cheese topping. The macaroni sandwiches are my own invention, after I became intrigued by two sandwiches in the book that feature pasta with tomato sauce. I wanted to create something a little lighter and so my version is dressed simply with oil and spices wrapped in a soft and fluffy tandoori naan, the texture of which suits the macaroni well.

Pickled Chilies & Melted Cheese Toasts
For 2-4 servings you will need:

2 baguette loaves
pickled chilies (recipe below)
thinly sliced cheese such as provolone

Slice the baguettes into 2" rounds at an angle. Spread each slice with hummus and top with as many chilies as you like. Cover with cheese and place in a toaster oven or under a broiler until cheese melts. Serve with honey and black pepper on top.

To make quick-pickled chilies:

Take about 4 or 5 green chilies (about 3"long), seed them, and slice into 1/2" rounds. Place in a jar with 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and enough white vinegar to cover the chilies. Screw lid tightly and shake well. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Bowtie Pasta Sandwich in Naan
To make 3 wraps you will need:

1 store-bought tandoori naan, divided into 3 slices
1/2 cup small macaroni such as elbows or mini farfalle (bowties)
1 1/2 Tbs canola or grapeseed oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
dash of asafoetida
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbs parmesan cheese
Coriander leaves, optional

Cook macaroni in boiling water, drain, and return to the pot, away from the heat. Sprinkle paprika and parmesan on top. Do not stir. In a small saucepan such as a butter warmer, heat oil and mustard seeds until mustard begins to pop. Add asafoetida, remove from the heat, and pour onto the macaroni. Stir well to evenly distribute the spices. Spread naan with hummus and a few spoonfuls of macaroni and coriander. Gather up sides of naan, secure with a toothpick and serve.

See Sandwiches, Part II


OysterCulture said...

I love the combinations that you showed here, and look forward to reading Part II. I was in Singapore for the first time last year and found it an incredible experience. My college roommate lives there and she and her family were kind enough to show me the delights. I googled the place you mentioned and that we did not get there during our visit, but you've inspired me for future adventures. Thanks for sharing.

Padmini said...

I used to live in Spore as a child and I remember Mitsubachi well - unfortunately I think they closed after Lucky Plaza was renovated. It was a delightful place for lunch, though. Thanks for bringing back the fond memories :) I'm so excited to recreate the experience now!