To say, “I’m just going to make a sandwich,” can imply some level of defeat, of phoning it in, a sigh of acceptance. But a sandwich can be a litmus test for what you want to give on any one day.
There are, of course, the low-effort sandwiches: the peanut butter and jelly, the classic grilled cheese, perhaps the avocado toast if you’re willing to stretch a definition. But then there are the exercises in true sandwich artistry, the ones packed with crunchy vegetable salads and tangy pickles and crispy tofu cutlets — sandwiches that needn’t be prefaced with “just.”
A great vegetarian sandwich should be crunchy, creamy and a touch tangy, regardless of the energy you’re willing to expend. Below are four sandwiches that exist on various points of the effort spectrum, each of them tasty and easy to love.
Zero effort: A tomato sandwich
You need little more than a juicy tomato, white sandwich bread (preferably toasted for crunch) and mayonnaise to construct this symbol of Southern summertime. But don’t make just any tomato sandwich. Make Eric Kim’s furikake tomato sandwich, which requires only one more ingredient but no more energy than the classic.
Furikake, the sweet-and-salty Japanese rice seasoning of nori and sesame seeds, helps the tomato reach its full naturally sweet and savory glory. Be mindful that some store-bought furikake contains bonito flakes, so read the ingredients before purchasing.
Minimal effort: A sort-of grilled cheese
Breaking out a skillet to sear your sandwich is about all Ali Slagle’s vegetarian Reuben will ask of you. Part deli classic, part grilled cheese, her recipe plays up the most delicious parts of a Reuben: mounds of briny sauerkraut and slices of melty Swiss. It’s proof positive that even the most iconic meaty sandwiches can stand on their own without the meat.
Some effort: A curried chicken-salad-inspired hoagie
Cauliflower may not be able to do it all, but it can do most things, including stand in for chicken in an apple, walnut and raisin-flecked curried salad. In his cauliflower salad sandwiches, Ham El-Waylly roasts florets at high heat until they’re charred in spots and at an optimal soak-up-the-dressing texture.
Tuck the salad into split hoagie rolls and eat upon assembly, or wrap them in plastic wrap or foil to lug out to a picnic or the beach in a cooler. The sandwiches are even better after they’ve sat a bit.
Significant effort: A restaurant-caliber sandwich
Brooks Headley’s delectable fried tofu sandwich isn’t on the menu at the revamped Superiority Burger, so you’ll just have to make it at home to experience the shattering exterior of his once-beloved “tofu-fried tofu.” Alexa Weibel has thankfully adapted the recipe from the chef’s cookbook.
It takes some work, sure — you’ll marinate the tofu in spiced pickle brine for at least a few hours before twice-coating and frying it — but the results are enough to send you to the East Village in New York to revel in Brooks’s other exceptional creations in vegetarian sandwichery.