I love sandwiches. What luck that Susan Russo of Food Blogga, one of my regular reads, was offering readers the chance to review her latest book, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. I ask for and received a copy. I’ve taken a long time to review it, much longer than I intended. Life is so busy these days. But sandwiches are one of my favorite things to eat, probably because they are an excellent vehicle for condiments, another one of my favorite things to eat. The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches is published by Quirk Books and distributed by Random House. Pick up your copy here, here, or here.
The book is not too big and not too small, a good size for reading while lying on the couch pondering your food for the day. It's also a good size to have on the kitchen counter as a reference while you work your sandwich magic.
Thankfully, the book is not just list after list of sandwich ingredients. Each sandwich recipe is preceded by a short history and cultural profile. Did you know this is how to order a Philly cheesesteak so you don't stick out like an obvious tourist?
1. Know what you want before getting in line.
2. Don't smile or dilly-dally when it's time to order.
3. Order like a local, and keep it to three words. The first word is one, which means you're ordering one sandwich. The second indicates the type of cheese you want. And the third is either wit or witout, which indicates your preference for fried onions. So "one, Whiz, wit" is a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and fried onions.
Now you know.
Many recipes have suggestions for variations on the theme. I appreciate this part probably the most. I rarely use recipes but I do like to use them for inspiration. So I like to know what the author suggests for ways to be creative with the basic plan. For example, a BLT is simple enough, right? By why stop there? One or two more steps and you could have a BLAT (by adding avacado) or a BLOFT (with carmelized onions and feta). From these suggestions I came up with a BLOPT (with carmelized onions and roasted peppers).
Sure, you'll find American favorites like PB&J, a hamburger, and egg salad but I really like that Russo has shared with us the sandwich traditions of other cultures. We've got the Vietnamese Bánh Mì, the Cubano, Falafel, and Croque-Monsieur, to name a few. At first pass through the book I was disappointed that I didn't see the pan bagnat, one of my all-time favorite sandwiches. Upon closer inspection, I realized Russo calls it the Tuna Niçoise Sandwich.
Photography by Matt Armendariz is clean and bright. For the most part, this works just great for me. I do like to know what the author had in mind for a finished product. But I would have liked to have seen a few gritty shots of not so brightly lit, half-eaten and crumbling sandwiches, you know? A few shots of what a sandwich really looks like when someone is just groovin' on a good thing.
Today, after flipping through the book again (almost every couple days I pick it up to help get the sandwich wheels turning in my brain), I thought hey, I've got an eggplant, I just roasted peppers earlier in the week, I've got mushrooms I can carmelize and a nice block of goat cheese. I will make a fabulous sandwich! And that's what I did.
I sliced and roasted the eggplant, after brushing with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. I carmelized mushrooms in olive oil and a few shots of Bragg's Liquid Amino which gives it a meaty but not too salty taste. I sliced open a seedy baguette, brushed with olive oil and toasted under the broiler. Then I stacked all the ingredients and had a wonderful lunch. In a couple of days, I'll no doubt pick of Russo's book again and start the whole process over.