The Cairo: hummus, cucumber, brined vegetables, walnuts and fresh herbs on a baguette.
The Cairo: hummus, cucumber, brined vegetables, walnuts and fresh herbs on a baguette.

I have a few theories on the factors limiting the popularity of meat-free sandwiches. Chief among them is the sandwiches’ lack of an easily-identifiable showcase ingredient. Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? Ask yourself: What is a hamburger? In the most basic sense, a hamburger is a ground-beef patty on a bun, with fixings, right? Likewise, a Cuban sandwich is roasted pork on Cuban bread, with fixings. A cheesesteak is shaved grilled steak on an Amoroso roll, with fixings. You get the idea.

Anyone accustomed to this dynamic of sandwich composition could easily perceive the Cairo from SUNdeVICH as a sandwich composed entirely of “fixings.” And I’ll admit, among the Cairo’s combination of hummus, cucumber, brined vegetables, walnuts and fresh herbs, it is  tough to identify a star player. But the absence of an obvious focal point is exactly what makes the Cairo so impressive. Fresh, thick-sliced cucumbers provide a crunchy backbone. A combination of brined carrots, celery and cauliflower introduces a salty tang to the mix, leafy herbs add a subtly aromatic note, and a generous smear of hummus and crushed walnuts balances everything out. It’s a brilliant synergy; like many of the vegetarian-friendly sandwiches we’ll feature this month, the whole of the Cairo is something beyond the sum of its parts.

The mantra at SUNdeVICH, where each of the 20 sandwiches is named for a different world city, is “Local Ingredients, Global Flavors.”  Of the largely meat-free cuisine of Egypt, many of whose most prominent dishes achieve a similar harmony of disparate flavors, the Cairo is a fitting representative. For sandwiches lacking a single dominant component, meat or otherwise, perfecting the interplay of flavors and textures is a deceptively complex and delicate task. Balance is tantamount. Success requires thought. The Cairo’s greatest accomplishment is making it all look easy.

 SUNdeVICH is located at 1314 9th Street NW in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The SUNdeVICH food truck can be tracked on Twitter.

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September 6, 2013