Healthy vegetarian and vegan sandwiches packed with lentils, and loosely based on a Midwestern classic.
Let me explain… (Always a good start to a recipe post, I know).
Tomorrow, the first of February, is the day of the Iowa caucuses. In the long road to the White House, this is when things start getting serious. This is when we find out whether Americans will look at Donald Trump, hear what he has to say, and conclude, ‘Yep, that guy should be in charge’.
At the same time we’ll discover whether Bernie Sanders’ appeal reaches beyond enthusiastic college students.
But before I end up completely off-topic, let me explain what all of this has to do with sandwiches.
Being someone who loves both food and watching the dog-eat-dog world of presidential politics, I wanted to mark the Iowa caucuses with a food that’s characteristic of the Hawkeye State. There was only one problem with that plan: I had no idea what type of food screamed ‘Iowa!’. I’ve never been to Iowa, and – to be completely honest – when I think of Iowa all I think of is corn. (Well that and caucuses).
After doing some research into the cuisine of the Midwest – which is a lot more varied than I realized (yeah, there’s a lot more than corn) – I stumbled across two sandwiches that seem to be particularly popular in Iowa: pork tenderloin sandwiches and loose meat sandwiches.
Then came my second problem: I’m a vegetarian and both those sandwiches are clearly based around meat. A pork tenderloin sandwich is essentially a giant pork schnitzel in a hamburger bun (plus condiments). One of these days I’ll make a vegetarian schnitzel, but for today, the loose meat sandwich seemed easier to de-meat.
A loose meat sandwich, also known as a Maid-Rite or a tavern sandwich, basically consists of ground beef and onions in a hamburger bun or kaiser roll, plus condiments (typically yellow mustard and pickles). Beef broth is added to the meat while it’s cooking, as well as a few other flavor boosters such as Worcestershire sauce, mustard, pepper, vinegar and sugar.
So we’re not talking about the most vegetarian-friendly sandwich on earth. Nevertheless, for reasons that don’t make much sense whatsoever (even to me), I made it my mission to create a veggie version.
With their small size and hearty texture, little lentils seemed like the ideal replacement for ground beef. But they definitely needed some extra flavor (let’s face it, legumes don’t offer much in the flavor department). So for flavor and texture I added some roasted red bell peppers (also called capsicums), carrot, herbs and garlic.
The roasted bell peppers take some time, but just trust me on this one, they’re necessary. Roasting the peppers in the broiler (aka oven grill) until the skins are black (and then removing the skins) adds a mountain of flavor to the sandwich filling. Or to anything else – if you’ve never made pasta sauce with roasted peppers, then you are seriously missing out.
If you’d prefer, you can always roast the peppers and remove the skins a day or two in advance. Just store them in the fridge until you need them. Actually, the entire sandwich filling can be made in advance and reheated as needed. (Hooray for convenience!)
While a hamburger bun is the typical way to serve loose meat sandwiches, any soft bread roll will do. Or even sliced bread, if that’s all you’ve got. Due to my love of mini foods (mini muffins, mini doughnuts, etc.), I loved making mini burgers. Oh, and I decided to take photos of the mini burgers – so no, those are not insanely gigantic fries sitting next to the sandwiches.
Eating these sandwiches with a side of fries, by the way, is definitely recommended.
Well, this obviously isn’t an authentic Iowan loose meat sandwich. For one thing, there’s no meat in it. And I’ve mixed up the flavors quite a bit because simply substituting lentils for beef would result in a horribly bland sandwich.
So consider this hearty sandwich my homage to loose meat sandwiches. Or my ‘Loosely based on loose meat lentil sandwiches’. Whatever you call it, in my humble opinion, it’s a very tasty sandwich. A sandwich that you could totally eat while watching the results come for the Iowa caucuses. Or watching the Super Bowl. Or while watching hours of Netflix. Or all three.
Just don’t eat these sandwiches while wearing your best dress or black-tie suit. Trust me, these sandwiches certainly know how to be messy!
- 1 cup (200g) dry green lentils
- 2 red bell peppers (capsicums)
- 2 cups (480mL) water
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 teaspoons (10mL) olive oil
- 1 large shallot, finely chopped
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium carrot, grated
- ½ cup (120mL) vegetable broth
- 2 teaspoons (10mL) soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- ⅛ teaspoon dried oregano
- Several dashes black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes or chili flakes
- ¼ teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
- 6 burger buns or bread rolls
- Cover the lentils in plenty of water and set aside to soak for 3 – 4 hours, or overnight.
- Roast those bell peppers: Preheat the broiler (oven grill). Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil, and grease the foil with cooking oil spray.
- Slice the bell peppers in half, and remove the stems and seeds. Place them skin side up on the prepared baking sheet. Broil (grill) for 10 – 20 minutes, or until the skins have blackened.
- Transfer the blackened peppers to a plastic freezer bag, seal the bag closed, and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes. Once cool, remove the skins and chop the peppers into small pieces (scissors are easiest for this). Set aside.
- Cook the lentils: Drain the soaked lentils, and rinse thoroughly. Place the rinsed lentils, bay leaf and 2 cups of water in a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, and then reduce to a gentle simmer.
- Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, adding more water if necessary, or until the lentils are just tender. Drain and set aside.
- Prepare the sandwich filling: In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the shallot is tender and translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for another minute.
- Stir in the roasted bell peppers (with any excess liquid), cooked lentils and grated carrot. Turn up the stove heat to medium. Add the vegetable broth, soy sauce, fresh thyme leaves, dried oregano, black pepper and red pepper flakes (or chili flakes).
- Cook the mixture for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the liquid has reduced. The mixture should be moist, but not wet. If the sandwich filling appears to be too dry, add some water. Alternatively, if there is too much liquid, turn up the stove heat.
- Stir in the Dijon mustard (if using). If necessary, also add some additional salt.
- Pile the sandwich filling into the burger buns (or bread rolls), along with any extra condiments.
When simmering the lentils, they should be just covered in water. Add more water as needed to ensure the lentils are covered.
If you'd prefer not to soak the lentils, cook them for at least 20 minutes and use 4 cups of water.
For extra flavor, try using a vegetarian (or regular) beef-style or chicken-style broth - also known as stock.
If you don't feeling like mincing two cloves of garlic, use a teaspoon of jarred minced garlic (or garlic paste) instead.