It's no wonder that pimiento cheese sandwiches are a time-honored American favorite, particularly in the South. The mildly sweet-sharp flavor of the pimiento pepper can be traced to its split personality--the pimiento is related to the familiar sweet bell pepper, but it is also the source of paprika. Although it is often combined with mild, soft processed cheese, pimiento is a welcome contrast both in flavor and color to aged, extra-sharp cheddar cheese.

Chopped raw scallions, freshly ground pepper and cumin add a nice pungency to the basic cheese-and-pepper mixture, and the dressing, made with sour cream and mayonnaise, is pleasantly tangy without masking any of the other flavors.

The cheese spread may be made ahead of time (it keeps well for several days), but the flavor of the scallions will continue to get stronger as time passes. To combat this problem, either fold in the scallions just before assembling the sandwiches or use only 1 1/2 scallions.

While any bread may be used to make the sandwiches, we think black bread, with its slightly sour flavor, is the most tasty. If you prefer crisp sandwiches, the bread is also delicious toasted. Any leftover spread may be eaten as an hors d'oeuvre with crackers, as a snack with sliced apples or pears, as an appetizer with soup, stuffed into pieces of celery--in fact, with just about anything, at any time.

Sweet green beans, cooked until tender but still crisp and tossed with a red wine and olive oil vinaigrette, would be a delicious vegetable accompaniment. Pepper is all you need to have on hand before visiting the grocery store.

EXPRESS LANE LIST: extra-sharp cheddar cheese, scallions, minced pimientos, sour cream, mayonnaise, cumin, black bread, boston lettuce. PIMIENTO CHEESE-SCALLION SPREAD (Makes 4 cups--enough for 8 sandwiches) 3 pounds extra-sharp cheddar cheese 3 scallions 2 4-ounce jars minced pimientos, drained 1/2 cup sour cream 1/2 cup mayonnaise 2 teaspoons cumin 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 16 slices black bread 1 head boston lettuce, washed and dried

Grate the cheese using the large holes of a hand grater, or shred it in a food processor with the shredding disk. Finely chop the scallions--use both the white and tender green parts.

In a large bowl combine the cheese, scallions, pimientos, sour cream and mayonnaise. Toss the mixture with a large spoon until the ingredients are evenly distributed and well coated. Add the cumin and pepper and toss again.

To assemble the sandwiches, lightly toast the bread, if desired. Spread 8 of the slices with a generous layer of the cheese filling, dividing it evenly. Place 1 or 2 large lettuce leaves on the filling and top the sandwiches with the remaining bread slices. Slice the sandwiches in half and serve them at room temperature.