Cast your eyes over café menus right now and you’re sure to find some delicious hot sandwich options, in many disguises. On display in glass-fronted cabinets, fancy breads such as pides and piadinas vy for shelf position alongside thickly sliced sourdough and artisan-made rolls in all shapes and sizes.
The displays are as mouth watering as the fillings. Vegetables roasted to reveal their natural sweetness, every type of cheese you can think of and all the usual cured meat suspects (think prosciutto, salami, etc). Smoked salmon, succulent chicken, slow roasted pork, lamb and beef add more flavour to sandwiches already bursting at the seams. Pickles and chutneys, aioli and mayonnaise add the finishing touches. Combinations range from classic to clever and sometimes unexpected.
Trawl the local café scene and I think it is entirely possible to eat a sandwich every day for a year and not have the same thing twice.
Below are three of my favourite recipes at the moment. The mushroom burger is inspired by Melbourne’s Market Lane café at Prahran market, where on Saturday mornings you’ll find portabello mushrooms barbecued to perfection with lashings of herb butter and spicy chipotle mayonnaise.
The chicken souvlaki is a classic combination of juicy chicken with garlicky yoghurt sauce whipped with feta on soft homemade pita. Or try my indulgent steak sandwich with thinly sliced steak and caramelised onions on toasty sourdough.
Oh, and for good measure, a side serve of crunchy onion rings. Tuck in.
Mushroom burgers with haloumi
Portabello mushrooms are barbecued to perfection with lashings of herb butter, finished with hot and salty haloumi and a healthy dollop of chipotle mayo.
125g unsalted butter, softened
2 tbsp finely chopped herbs (parsley, thyme, basil, oregano)
1 anchovy fillet (optional)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 tsp curry powder
1 lemon, for juicing
4 large portabello mushrooms
sea salt and black pepper to season
1 cup good quality mayonnaise
1 tbsp chipotle in adobo*
4 slices haloumi
plain flour for dusting
fennel pickles to serve**
4 large crunchy burger buns, toasted on the cut sides
Mix butter with herbs, anchovy, garlic, curry powder and a squeeze of lemon juice to make a spreadable consistency.
Heat a grill pan or bbq until hot, brush mushrooms with herb butter, season and grill for 5 minutes on each side, or until well cooked. Brush liberally with herb butter whilst cooking.
Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise with chipotle sauce and set aside.
Dust haloumi with flour and place on grill to cook on both sides until golden. Remove from heat and place on top of mushroom. Squeeze over some lemon juice and dollop with spicy mayonnaise. Add some pickles and serve on toasted buns. Immediately!!
(Any leftover herb butter can be kept refrigerated or frozen until next time).
*chipotle in adobo are spicy Mexican style chillies available to buy in tins from selected supermarkets and specialty stores.
** fennel pickles are available at selected food stores. Substitute any pickles if you can’t find these.
Fried onion rings
Crunchy onion rings are the perfect accompaniment to a hot sandwich. Watch out, as these are spicy!
In a bowl, mix paprika, cayenne and onion powder. Set aside half of this spice mix to add to the flour. Combine the buttermilk with tabasco sauce and half the spices. Add the onion rings and press to coat. Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
Heat a deep fryer to 180C.
In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with remaining spice mix. Dredge the onions in the seasoned flour, coating each ring evenly. Shake off any excess flour and dip back into the buttermilk mixture. Finally, recoat with spiced flour. Carefully place the rings in the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, turning to cook evenly and prevent sticking, about 3 minutes per batch. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Warm juicy chicken with a garlicky yoghurt sauce in soft home made pita bread. Fast food never tasted this good. Skip making the pitas when you’re short on time, but trust me, once you’ve made them, you won’t buy pita again.
1¼ cups lukewarm water
1½ tsp dry yeast
1½ tsp caster sugar
450g plain flour
½ tsp sea salt
½ cup olive oil, plus extra for brushing
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp chopped fresh oregano
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
4 garlic cloves, minced
500g boneless chicken thighs
Tzatziki Feta Sauce:
½ cup plain Greek style yoghurt
125g Greek style feta cheese
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Lebanese cucumber, seeded, coarsely grated and drained
To make the pita, mix together water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and leave in a warm spot for 20 minutes until mixture foams.
In a bowl of an electric mixer with a dough hook, mix flour and salt. Add olive oil and the yeast mix and combine. Continue to mix until the dough becomes smooth. Turn out on to a lightly floured bench and knead a few times then shape into a ball.
Put it back into the bowl and cover with a tea towel and leave to prove for around 15 – 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, marinate the chicken. Combine lemon, oregano, oil, garlic and chicken in a shallow bowl. Cover with clingfilm and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
To prepare tzatziki feta sauce, combine yoghurt and feta in a bowl and blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Add lemon juice, garlic and blitz again to incorporate. Add cucumber and stir through. Season with salt and pepper if required and set aside.
Preheat the barbeque or grill plate to a medium heat.
Divide the dough into 12 and roll out into flat thin even disks approximately 16cm in diameter.
Brush the flat bread with some olive oil and place it on the grill. Gently brush a little oil on top as well.
Cook for 20 seconds or until the bread puffs up, then turn over and cook for 20 seconds more. Do not cook for too long or they will dry out too much and become crisp.
When they are cooked stack them on top of each other and wrap tightly in a clean tea towel to keep warm.
Remove chicken from bag; discard marinade.
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 8 minutes or until chicken is done, turning once. Remove and rest on clean plate, then shred roughly into bite size pieces.
Place chicken in each pita bread, top with tzatziki and serve with fresh salad.
Quick steak sandwich
Thinly sliced fillet steak, or, if you prefer, use rump. Pan-fried onions, wilted spinach and good tomato chutney on grilled sourdough with all the meat juices soaking into the bread. Yum. Some people like to add mushrooms, even a fried egg. Whatever you choose, make it your own, but make it now.
600g eye fillet steak
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
2 red onions, thinly sliced
8 thick slices sourdough bread
150g baby spinach leaves
salt and pepper to season
good quality chutney or relish
Thinly slice the steak into 8 pieces. Set aside.
Heat oil in a pan and cook onion until softened. Lower heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes until onion starts to colour and get deliciously crunchy around the edges.
Brush sourdough with a little oil and cook on a hot grill plate for a few minutes either side. Or, if you prefer, simply toast the bread.
Wilt the spinach for a few minutes in a small non stick pan (no need to add any oil).
Cook steak in a very hot pan with a little oil for about 30 seconds either side. Season with salt and pepper and set aside, keeping warm.
Pile the wilted spinach onto a slab of toast, top with two slices of steak and lashings of onions. Dollop with some good quality chutney, sandwich with the other slice of toast and tuck in!