Now that the holiday season has subsided, and single cooks are as tired of production-number meals as they are of clever ideas for leftovers, it's time to get back to the basics. Very basic. Two slices of bread.
In fact, sandwiches may be the most perfect of single-cook foods. Highly personal in their construction, they are a fine symbol of portion control. They are quick to prepare and eliminate the need to wash place settings (clean hands and a napkin often being the only requisites.) And sandwiches can be easily transported to watch the evening news, answer the telephone or let out the cat.
In addition, if you don't overload on mayonnaise or fatty meats, sandwiches can be a balanced, nutritious and filling meal. In fact, sandwiches often contain fewer calories and fat than a hefty salad. It's not hard to top 800 calories when composing a salad with cheese, eggs and a few tablespoons of dressing; a roasted turkey breast sandwich on whole wheat with a thin spread of mayonnaise weighs in at about 400 calories.
While even the klutziest single cook knows how to prepare a sandwich, this column is devoted to discussing sandwich-making beyond Fluffer Nutters.
First priority is the quality of ingredients, perhaps the most important determinant between an okay sandwich and a great one. Even a simple tuna sandwich is a treat if it's made with chunky white albacore and freshly baked bread.
Likewise, the difference between getting bored with a sandwich and getting excited about one is varying the ingredients and filling it with inventive crunches or spreads. After all, if Leathercoat restaurant in The Plains, Va., can serve homemade wild turkey ravioli with beets, asparagus and girolles mushrooms in a basil pesto cream sauce, then single cooks can replace the iceberg lettuce on their sandwiches with bibb.
Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:
*Poach a boneless, skinless chicken breast. Combine equal parts plain yogurt and mayonnaise, a squeeze of lemon juice, a drizzle of honey and enough curry powder to give it punch. Serve chicken breast hot on a toasted, halved whole wheat pita round spread with curry mayonnaise. Slide in a few slices of apple and sprinkle pocket with slivered almonds and raisins.
*Make a grilled cheese sandwich using two or three different kinds of your favorite cheeses. Add a layer of thinly sliced eggplant, pear or lean ham. Serve it open-faced on toasted english muffins, if desired, by melting it under the broiler.
*Top a toasted sesame bagel with smoked salmon, thinly sliced cucumber and purple onion, a sprinkling of lemon juice and a film of watercress butter. To make watercress butter, cream 4 tablespoons softened butter with 1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced watercress. Reserve leftover butter to serve on fish.
*Pile rare roast beef, sliced onions and mushrooms on a slice of french bread or rye. On another slice, place crumbled blue cheese. Place slice with blue cheese under broiler until cheese is melted. Top sandwich and serve.
*Make a vegetarian sub with bean sprouts, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots and sunflower seeds. Moisten with homemade guacamole or salsa.
*Spread ricotta cheese and walnuts on raisin or banana bread. Top with sliced pineapple, if desired.
These recipes take sandwich-making one step further: SZECHUAN SHRIMP SALAD SANDWICH (Makes about 2 sandwiches)
1/2 pound fresh shrimp
FOR THE MAYONNAISE:
1/4 cup mayonnaise or substitute 2 tablespoons yogurt and 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel
FOR THE SALAD:
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup chopped water chestnuts
1/4 cup blanched snow peas, quartered
Black bread or pita for serving
Place shrimp in a steamer basket. Steam, shelled, for about 3 minutes. Cool, peel and chop.
To make mayonnaise, mix all ingredients thoroughly. Combine with shrimp, sesame seeds, water chestnuts and snow peas and mix until coated. Spread on black bread or stuff into pita rounds. (Note: The mayonnaise is quite spicy; you will probably need only half of it. Refrigerate remaining portion and serve with cold chicken.) BOOEYMONGER RESTAURANT'S SCHEHERAZADE SANDWICH (1 serving)
2 tablespoons mango chutney
4 ounces sliced turkey
2 slices swiss cheese
Mayonnaise for spreading (optional)
1/2 cup alfafa sprouts
Spread mango chutney on one slice of french bread. Top with turkey and cheese. Spread mayonnaise on other slice and top with alfalfa sprouts. Close sandwich and serve. The Booeymonger also serves this sandwich warm. SALAD BAR RATATOUILLE SANDWICH (1 serving)
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
FROM THE SALAD BAR:
2 tablespoons chopped onion
Sliced or cubed zucchini, yellow squash, green bell peppers, black olives and tomatoes to equal about 1 1/2 cups
FOR COOKING AND SERVING:
Scant 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Scant 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly grated black pepper
1 whole wheat pita bread round
Freshly grated parmesan for serving (optional)
Heat olive oil in small skillet. Add garlic and onions; saute' until tender, about 3 minutes. Add vegetables and spices; cook over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Lower heat and cook until vegetables are crunchy-tender, about 10 minutes. Warm pita bread, stuff with ratatouille and sprinkle inside pocket with grated parmesan. EGG McBURRITO (1 serving)
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons finely chopped purple onion
2 teaspoons diced pimiento
2 teaspoons peeled and diced canned green chilies
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cumin
Generous sprinkling freshly grated black pepper
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons grated cheddar or monterrey jack cheese
8-inch flour tortilla
Mix beaten eggs with onions, pimiento, chilies, cumin and black pepper. Melt butter in a small skillet or omelet pan and cook egg until set, running a spatula underneath to allow uncooked portion to flow underneath. Sprinkle with grated cheese and cook until melted.
While egg is cooking, heat a heavy skillet over moderate heat. Place tortilla in pan and turn several times until warm. Do not allow tortilla to get crisp.
Slide the unfolded omelet onto the warm tortilla and roll up like a jelly roll. Eat with the hands. GREEK STEAK SANDWICH (1 serving)
1/4 cup onions, separated into rings
1/2 small green or red bell pepper, sliced
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 to 6 ounces round steak, thinly sliced
Sub roll, warmed
3 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
1 plum tomato, sliced
In a saucepan, saute' onions and peppers in oil until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add steak to pan and cook over medium-high heat until meat is done, about 5 minutes. Drain all fat from pan. Place onions and peppers on one side of sub roll and cover with meat. Sprinkle crumbled feta cheese on meat and place sub under broiler for 3 minutes, or until cheese is slightly melted. Sprinkle meat and cheese side with oregano. Place spinach leaves and tomato on opposite side of sub roll and close sandwich. SHEZAN RESTAURANT CLUB SANDWICH (1 serving)
This is a slightly adapted version of the club sandwich made by the recently sold Indian restaurant on 19th Street NW.
FOR THE OMELET:
2 teaspoons butter
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon chopped coriander leaves (substitute parsley)
1 teaspoon minced scallions
Pinch of salt, white pepper and dry mustard
3 slices whole wheat bread, lightly toasted
Romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes
2 sweet gherkin pickles, sliced
4 ounces sliced roasted chicken
Butter whipped with salt, pepper, lemon juice and dry mustard
To make omelet, melt butter in a small skillet. Combine egg with coriander leaves or parsley, scallions and spices and cook until set. Flip and cook on other side until done. Slice in half.
To assemble sandwich, spread a thin layer of mayonnaise on one slice of bread. Top with lettuce, tomato, half of omelet, half of sliced pickles and half of sliced chicken.
Spread a thin layer of flavored butter on the next slice of bread; a thin layer of mayonnaise on the third. Top the sandwich, butter side down, and repeat filling process for the next layer. Top with remaining slice of toast, spread with a thin layer of butter. Slice sandwich diagonally and secure each side with a toothpick. PEANUT BUTTER AND BANANA BREAD (Makes 1 loaf)
Peanut butter and banana sandwiches are an old favorite in many repertoires; this bread puts the combination all in one.
1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups mashed banana (about 3 medium bananas)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
In a bowl, blend together the peanut butter, honey, oil, eggs and bananas until well combined. Add remaining ingredients and blend together until well combined.
Pour into a greased 9-inch loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool and serve plain or spread with jam. Adapted from "The Lunch Box Book," by Annie Gilbar (Simon and Schuster, $3.95) ANA AND JON'S HONEY WHOLE WHEAT BREAD (Makes 2 loaves)
Every good sandwich starts with good bread. If you're prone to bread baking, try this one as your base.
2 ( 1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cups warm water
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/3 cup cracked wheat or bulgur
2 to 3 cups bread flour
Butter or other solid shortening for greasing bowl
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl. Stir in honey, oil, remaining 1 1/2 cups warm water, whole wheat flour and cracked wheat. Mix until smooth. Stir in enough bread flour to make the dough easy to handle.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Place in a generously greased bowl and turn the dough until all sides are well greased. Cover bowl with a towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. (Depending on room temperature and humidity levels, this can take about 1 1/2 to 3 hours. Dough is ready when indentation remains when you punch your finger in it.)
Put the dough on a floured board. Punch it down and divide it in half. Flatten each half with hands or rolling pin into a rectangle about 18 inches by 9 inches. Fold the dough crosswise, overlapping the 2 sides as you would fold a letter.
Starting from the short end, roll the dough tightly like a jelly roll, pressing with your thumbs after each turn to press out the air. Place in 2 well-greased 9-inch loaf pans, seam side down. Allow to rise again, covered, until it rises slightly above the top of the pan. (This should take at least 2 hours.)
Bake on a low rack in the oven at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Cool, slice and serve. This bread also freezes well.