Top: The Stoplight: Red pepper, yellow squash and kale Bottom: Eggplant portabella
Top: The Stoplight: Red pepper, yellow squash, kale and vegan mozzarella on a pressed hoagie roll 
Bottom: Eggplant portabella, with vegan mozzarella, spinach and hot sauce on a kaiser roll

By Christopher Nank, Gulf Coast Correspondent

Eat a Sandwich can finally claim to have moved the needle on a grassroots, far-reaching level, at least when it comes to sandwich culture (if such a thing exists). And as an added bonus, this month’s focus on vegetarian-friendly sandwiches inspired what is probably the healthiest meal I’ve eaten in some time.

From this blog and other sources, I’ve determined that the hallmark of a truly good meatless sandwich is this: Would you seek it out and eat it even in the presence of other options? To my mind, I can honestly say only the Capri from Waterworks in Tallahassee fit this description for me — and as you might sense from the profile I wrote earlier this year, that old favorite ain’t what it used to be. I’ll generally go out of my way for good falafel, as well, but my tastes there aren’t tied to a specific establishment.

So, for the forces that gathered in the quiet Tampa neighborhood of Seminole Heights on a fateful September Saturday, the goal was to create sandwiches that the masses — i.e. those without silly aversions to animal flesh — would seek out for their own merits. Too often, “veggie” sandwiches seem to occupy the same level of esteem as non-alcoholic beers in the public mind. Sometimes this is deserved; as the creator of this blog points out, there often isn’t a great deal of imagination put into the meatless options on sandwich menus. But I believe the creations brought forth here would satisfy just about anybody, and not provoke sentiments like, “Wow, this would be really good with some roast chicken/ham/pork/ground beef/etc.”

Now, one can hardly be expected to give an objective “review” of one’s own work without it sounding like either marketing or deliberate self-deprecation, so I’ll merely describe the sandwiches we created and the process of their creation:

First up: The Stoplight. So named because of the red pepper, yellow squash and green kale that fill the hoagie roll into which said ingredients were loaded and then subsequently pressed. The squash and red pepper were marinated in honey, soy sauce, black pepper and cumin, then stir-fried in olive oil. The kale was added near the end of the stir-frying. Then, the veggie mixture was placed within hoagie rolls cut lengthwise and into halves, insides brushed with dijon honey mustard, and vegan mozzarella “cheese” was added. The sandwiches were pressed for two minutes on medium heat. The results are pictured above.

Next up: An unnamed sandwich consisting of one disc each of grilled eggplant and grilled portabella mushroom. Vegan cheese was added atop each layer, and stir-fried spinach topped it off. You’ll note the store-brand hamburger bun lightly brushed with Valentina hot sauce. Someone out there does not subscribe to the notion that good bread is essential to a successful sandwich, but hell, this was delicious anyway, and we were grilling out in someone’s backyard, for God’s sake!

These sandwiches were enjoyed along with various beverages (water, Miller Lite, Negra Modelo, screwdrivers) as we watched the Seminoles of Florida State eke out a hard-fought 54-6 victory over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. You, too, can reproduce such a scene, in the comfort of your own ‘hood and home, and eat healthy to boot (well, sans the alcohol)!

Christopher Nank, Ph.D., is adjunct instructor of literature at Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida. His contributions to the Carrollwood, Florida, Patch blog can be read here. He resides in Tampa.

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September 23, 2013