In the fifth book, Mostly Harmless, of the classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series of books, one of the main characters, a human named Arthur Dent, is space-ship-wrecked on the planet of Lamuella, where he finds contentment and a gratifying life making heretofore never experienced sandwiches for the indigenous population.
I positively adore these books…not that I’m recommending them to you, because I think you have to be a certain kind of odd to love them as much as I do. But the author, Douglas Adams, chose sandwich making as this pinnacle activity for a simple and satisfied life. Arthur made the bread, and created wonderful sandwiches and happiness. I feel like this about a good sandwich. Sandwiches are an expression of how much you value your self. You see, we rarely make sandwiches for other people (exceptions being spouses and PB & Js for kids obviously). We make sandwiches for ourselves. This means we get to make them exactly as we want them to be without taking anyone else’s preferences into consideration. And when we order a sandwich from the Arthur Dent in our life we feel free to say exactly what we do or do not want.
This particular sandwich is a recent brainchild of mine. On a child-free afternoon in Savannah, Georgia, my husband and I sat in a little coffee shop called the Sentient Bean and marveled at the joy of being able to just sit, with each other, and people watch, and eavesdrop on the creatives, young and old who were wandering in and out from the Savannah College of Art and Design (“scad”). There were people planning events and researching projects. There were tattoos and pink hair, and grandmothers and Junior League sorts all living in humming, vibrant, harmony with a backdrop scent of good coffee and pastry. It was a heady sensory experience for someone whose attention is constantly tuned into child care.
Anyway, in this state of profound contentment there, I enjoyed a sandwich that inspired me to set about creating this sandwich. I refer to this vegetarian beast as my Sentient Sandwich, in honor of the little coffee shop that gave me a spot to just sit still for a while and watch the world go by. And, someday, if I get space-ship-wrecked on an inhabitable planet, I will be the sandwich maker. I think it would bring me great joy and contentment.
Here are a few keys to this particular sandwich: I made my own bread from this no-knead recipe. You need not make your own no-knead bread, but do treat yourself to some good bread. My bread was chewy, but not so much that I mangled the sandwich with every bite. Second, the order is important here but only in the sense that the hummus needs to go straight onto the bread and then the feta onto the hummus. Why? Because just like mashed potatoes and corn, one holds the other in place so it doesn’t land in your lap (please tell me you also did that in elementary school…using your mashed potatoes as the vehicle for eating the corn…anyway…). The rest of the order is up to you. Third, for this sandwich I bought grocery store hummus in a tub. If you want really great hummus, make it yourself with my hummus recipe. You might be curious why on earth I would make homemade bread and then buy prefabricated hummus, and I have no answer for you. But, I then mixed whole canned garbanzo beans into the hummus because it gives it texture and makes it more of a main event than a mere condiment. And, FINALLY, I use a homemade Panini maker here to toast my bread and cook my mushrooms. To wit, I lay down a piece of foil on the food and set a cast iron skillet on top for weight.
1 Portobello mushroom cap, sliced
1 small container of hummus (about ½ cup per sandwich)
½ cup to ¾ cup canned garbanzo beans
½ cup Feta cheese (¼ cup for each sandwich or to taste)
One Roma tomato, sliced
Olive oil (for brushing on the mushroom and the bread)
Salt (I used fleur de sel, but Kosher or anything else will do)
First, prepare the mushroom. Slice it into ½” thick slices and lightly coat them with olive oil. Place them on a grill pan or non-stick skillet and cook it for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until it is cooked through. I used the skillet trick here, on both sides. Remove the mushrooms from the grill pan and wipe out the pan. Tent the mushrooms with foil so that they will stay warm.
Second, cut your bread open and lightly brush each side with olive oil. Place the bread in the grill pan and weight it down with a cast iron skillet. Toast the bread over medium heat, on both sides, until it is warmed through and a little crisp on the cut side.
Third, while the bread is warming, in a small bowl, mix the hummus with the whole garbanzo beans (do not mash).
Fourth, assemble the sandwich. Lay down your bottom bread. Scoop half of the hummus mixture onto the bread. Sprinkle it with Feta cheese. Lay on half of the Portobello. Arugula. Tomato. Salt. Apply top bread. Done. Eat this while the bread is still warm so you get warm bread, cold hummus, warm mushroom, cold toppings, warm bread. The texture, temperature and taste come together for a real sensory treat.
So that you are aware of how serious I am about my sandwiches, also consider trying the Croque Madame I wrote about recently. And, if you are ever in Savannah, go enjoy an hour at the Sentient Bean, and then go to the Back in the Day Bakery on Bull Street. It was closed on the day that I went to Savannah. But my sweet husband was there the day before and procured a box of cupcakes that were really quite wonderful. I wanted to go there and try everything there, but they are not open on Sundays. It is cute and personal and truly a “one of.” I stood there with my face against the glass imagining that after my stint as a sandwich maker on a foreign planet, I would open a shop just like this one in Dallas. and, I would write all of the names of the treats on the chalkboard everyday…and I would…
I love day-dreaming. And yes, my sandwich is upside down in order, but only because I failed to look at the bread before I started assembling. But it tastes the same whether it is upside down or right side up…and you will notice, most of my Feta stayed where it was supposed to.