First thing’s first, THANK YOU to everyone who came out to Panera last night!! Writing a blog often feels very one-sided (there’s back and forth communication via comments, of course) so it’s nice to meet the people who’ve been reading what you’ve been putting out there for so long in person. I thought it was just awesome, and appreciated it so much!
Before the meet-up, Panera asked me to give a little 10 minute presentation (well, it was supposed to be 10 minutes, but I was so nervous it ended up being about 5!) to some folks on my tips for building a better sandwich, as part of a sandwich workshop they were hosting to promote their Sandwich Showdown Contest. (Got that?)
Anyways I thought heck, since my tips are already written (and permanently etched in my brain from practicing my speech so many times) I might as well share them with you all, then post the recipe for my favorite Panera sandwich of all time, the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich!
The “Med Veg”, as I like to call it, starts with Panera’s incredible Tomato Basil bread, which is stuffed with layers of thinly sliced fresh veggies, jalapeno-cilantro hummus, feta cheese, and a surprise ingredient – peppadew peppers. This is a surprise because I HATE peppers, but I LOVE these peppers. They’re a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and totally make this sandwich!
5 Tips to Build a Better Sandwich
1. Start with Good Bread
- Slice at home: Start with a good quality loaf of bread, then slice it thickly at home. Pre-sliced bread is often very thin, which doesn’t hold up well to a lot of toppings, and tends to fall apart if pressed on a panini press. Some of my favorite breads to buy for both hot & cold sandwiches are sourdough, focaccia, ciabatta, baguettes, and the aforementioned Tomato Basil bread from Panera.
- Read the label: If you do buy pre-sliced bread from the store, and are looking to go the whole-wheat route, make sure 100% Whole Wheat is the first ingredient listed in the ingredient list. The bread aisle is filled with so many confusing buzzwords – 100% whole wheat, 9-grain, whole grain – which I can never keep straight, so look for 100% Whole Wheat listed first, and you should be good to go.
- Think outside the loaf: A great sandwich doesn’t have to be made with 2 slices of bread. Some of my favorite sammies are made on pretzel bread or rolls, ciabatta rolls, bagels, english muffins, and wraps!
2. Choose Quality Meats and Cheeses
- Ditch the package: Visit the deli counter at your grocery store for deli meats, instead of buying the stuff that’s pre-packaged. The meats at the deli counter are fresher, and you can also find healthier, nitrate/nitrite-free, and low-sodium options.
- Use leftovers: Sandwiches don’t always have to revolve around deli meats. Try using roasted or grilled chicken breasts, meatloaf, or even grilled steak to build your sandwiches. One of my favorite sandwiches in the world is thinly sliced leftover grilled steak layered on a crusty baguette smeared with herbed chevre, then topped with caramelized onions and pressed on a panini press. MMM!
- Experiment with cheese: I love experimenting with cheese in sandwiches. Visit Whole Foods’ cheese counter (if you can!) where they’ll let you try any cheese you like, and recommend a good cheese for what you’re planning on including in your sandwich. Some of my favorites to use in sandwiches are brie, fontina, and chevre. Feta and bleu cheese crumbles are really good too!
3. Add Something Fresh or Unexpected
- Fresh is best: In addition to the traditional fresh toppings of tomato, lettuce, and onion, try adding something crisp to your sandwich like cucumber or sprouts, creamy like avocado, spicy like jalapeno, or sweet like sliced apples, peaches, or strawberries. Whatever you add, be sure to slice it very thin, otherwise your bread can get soggy.
- Add the unexpected: Ingredients like marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, kalamata olives, or bacon add big flavor to any sandwich.
4. Get Saucy
- Get creative: Sauces tie all the ingredients in a sandwich together into one, cohesive dish. Since mayo and mustard are banned from my house (per Ben’s gag reflexes) we get creative with adding sauces like guacamole, hummus, pesto, and even salad dressing to our sandwiches.
- Sweet & savory: Try schmearing on a sweet sauce like fig preserves, pumpkin or apple butter, or fruit chutneys to add a nice contrast to any savory sandwich. This works especially well with any sandwich involving the aforementioned salty BACON.
- Less is more: Sure, a good sandwich can have 10+ ingredients, but in my experience, a GREAT sandwich usually has 5-6 ingredients, max. Flavors and textures tend to get muddled when there’s too many players on the field, so to speak, so just remember that sometimes less is more.
Honorable Mention: Slice on the Diagonal
- Ben demanded that I add in this final tip for making a great sandwich, and that is to slice your sandwiches on the diagonal. This, according to him, makes any sandwich infinitely better. I couldn’t make this stuff up, people (although I can’t say I disagree!)
During last night’s workshop Panera’s Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich, which follows all 5 tips for building a better sandwich, was demo’d by the locations head chef for everyone in attendance to try. As I watched each fresh ingredient pile on top of one another, I thought to myself, hey, I could totally make this at home!
So I did. And I loved it! And so will you.
Start the Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich with 2 slices of Panera’s Tomato Basil Bread. I HEART this bread for it’s high squish factor, and for the tiny bit of cinnamon-streusel that’s baked on top, which adds a touch of sweet to each slice.
Next smear each slice with hummus. Now, Panera uses cilantro-jalapeno hummus but all I could find at the store was jalapeno hummus, which still tasted amaze. I could have added in a little cilantro with a food processor I suppose, but, meh, this was totally fine! Next add a few slices of crunchy lettuce.
On top of that goes a few thin tomato slices. On the other piece of bread, layer on thinly sliced cucumbers. Again, the name of the game here is THIN slices of whatever ingredients you are adding to a sandwich!
Next add thin rings of red onion, and a spoonful of crumbled feta cheese.
Finally, add zee star of zee Med Veg sandwich – peppadew peppers!
“Peppadew” is actually the brand name of the pepper, not the type. It’s sweet and hot at the same time and seriously knocks my socks off. I got these at the Whole Foods olive bar, but I think I’ve seen them in my regular grocery store, too. Just chop a couple up, then pile ‘em on.
Press the two sides together, then stick a toothpick in each side for some flare.
Finally, slice the sandwich in two (sorry Ben, this sandwich is the one exception to your rule!) then serve!
Panera’s Mediterranean Veggie Sandwich
2 slices Panera Tomato Basil bread
2-3 Tablespoons jalapeno hummus
thinly sliced tomato
thinly sliced cucumber
thinly sliced red onion
1-2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
2 Peppadew peppers, chopped
Spread both slices of bread with hummus, then layer on lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, feta cheese, and peppadew peppers. Slice sandwich in half and serve.
If you have never tried this sandwich, then you are in for such a treat. I’ve told you before that I’m not normally a cold sandwich person, but this baby can compete with the best of paninis!
Awesome for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, this sammie make a great lunch (the hummus will create a barrier so the bread doesn’t get soggy from the veggies) or dinner, served with a piece of fruit, side salad, or cup of soup.