August 23, 2021. Dear Kids– Well, it’s about to be Tomato Season, and next to Corn and Christmas Season, it’s my favorite time of the year. I don’t know if I spent enough time when you were growing up telling you about the virtues of a simple tomato sandwich. Probably not, since you liked picking tomatoes better than eating them, your Mom would not eat raw tomatoes of any kind (except for fresh salsa- go figure) and I was a bit late to the game on tomato sandwiches, not realizing just how good they are until I started serving them as a quick and easy appetizer (crusts removed and cut into 4ths to make it fancy) when we lived down South from the North. So let me make it up to you now with a recipe for a simple tomato sandwich.
I know, you’re thinking, “Duh, Dad, like I really need a recipe to make a sandwich!”- similar to the mom I overheard at the gym who was making fun of the sandwich recipes I wrote for a Teacher Appreciation Lunch back in the day (“Can you believe they actually gave us recipes for sandwiches- do they think we’re morons?!”), but you’d be surprised at some of the nuances people overlook when they make a sandwich (like those parents who didn’t put the dry, salad spun lettuce between the bread and the filling and gave the teachers soggy sandwiches), so please keep an open mind.
There’s an optional perk offered in this recipe, with basil mayo and arugula because tomatoes and basil are such a classic and mouth watering pairing and the bitter arugula adds a welcomed balance to the sweetness of the sandwich, but all you really need for an amazing tomato sandwich are good tomatoes, bread, mayo, salt and pepper if you don’t agree. Also, in spite of what I told those parents, with this particular sandwich, you’ll likely appreciate soggy bread from the mix of mayo and tomato juices because it gifts you a savory bread pudding-like experience I think you’ll find very delicious (yes, it’s a messy work of goodness, so serve with extra napkins and over a plate to collect all the juices for a French Dip-like experience). It’s a perfect no heat, summer treat for a snack, lunch, starter or dinner.
Diet: Vegetarian, Vegan
Prep Time: 15 minutes and that’s being generous!
Cook Time: 0 minutes
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 1 cup mayonnaise or vegan equivalent
- 1 cup basil, loosely packed and torn or chopped
- 1 tablespoon or so of fresh lemon juice, optional
- 2 ounces baby arugula, optional
- 3-4 wonderfully ripe tomatoes of your choosing
- kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 8 slices of your favorite bread, even Wonder Bread, but I like my homemade/bakery sourdough
COOK AND PLAY
Play “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off” by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong , and make the sandwich the way you like, with this recipe as merely a suggestion to inspire you, so we don’t have to call anything off.
1. Basil Mayo. If using basil mayo, get a stick blender, countertop blender or food processor to thoroughly combine mayonnaise and basil into a wonderful, light green bit of flavor. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. You’ll have more than you need for the sandwiches and that’s a good thing- use it, storing for several days in fridge, on other sandwiches or as a dressing thinned out with butter or plant milk.
2. Slice of Life. Cut top and bottom slices off each tomato and eat them (remove core first) to whet your appetite and cut tomatoes into slices as wide as you like- 1/4”-1/2” slices are all the rage. Season liberally with salt and pepper or to taste.
3. Get Ready For Some Messy Delicious! Slather a bit of mayo to taste on four or all of the bread slices and add tomatoes and, if using, topped with arugula (arrange the arugula between the tomatoes for extra juicy bread), in between each pair of slices, making sure at least one slice of each sandwich has mayo.
A History Lesson Of Sorts. There’s a bit of history to this sandwich and, while it may not have been a contributing factor to the Civil War, I feel like there has always been a sharp divide between the North and the South on the origins of and the ingredients required for a tomato sandwich. In spite of this, I say it’s high time we come together as a nation and celebrate this wonderful sandwich any way you care to make it and regardless of provincial origin! Perhaps, if we can all just start to get along and appreciate our differences, one sandwich at a time, we can grow closer together from there. Let me hear an “Amen!”
In case you missed it, this “get along with each other in spite of our differences” theme, is picked up in the Cook and Play with the song “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”- the story of a couple who come close to foolishly calling off their relationship because they beg to differ on a variety of subjective matters, as can be seen from this snippet of the lyrics- “You like potato and I like potahto. You like tomato and I like tomahto. Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto. Let’s call the whole thing off.” Spoiler Alert, and fortunately, the couple realize the loss that will occur if they can’t change and thoughtfully compromise to continue on their road to happiness.
In the matter of the humble tomato sandwich, the war of words rages over the certain bread, like Wonder, or the certain mayonnaise, like Duke’s that is required for a tomato sandwich- any variation and you risk the ire of an entire state or states! So, with this in mind, and as explained below, you make your tomato sandwich the way you want and I’ll make my tomato sandwich the way I want and we’ll both be happy with an amazing tomato sandwich!
On the other hand, I am absolutely in favor of you expressing your love for an ingredient that, for you, evokes a sensation of wonderful flavors, happy memories and/or your sense of history, but I do hope you share such passion with kindness, respect and wonder so that when you tell me or others how good your special ingredient is, that we’ll be inspired to try it and that you, on the contrary, don’t so sanctimonious demand that we use such ingredient or risk the peril of becoming an outcast to you and your like.
The Bread. There is a school of thought out there that holds, the cheaper the bread in a tomato sandwich, the better. I admit, pretty much the only bread around when I was a kid was the cheap white stuff- the white Wonder Bread wrapper, with colorful polka dots, still fills me with a sense of happy nostalgia when I see it in the market- and while we don’t have as much plain, white bread around the house as I used to, when it is around, I am happy to use it. In fact, I’ve had tomato sandwiches on countless types of bread- even the “weeds and seeds” breads your grandmother loves and enjoyed everyone of them. Although, everything being equal, my bread of choice is my homemade or a quality bakery sourdough- the sour contrast to the sweet tomatoes is tasty and the sometimes large holes in the bread just makes for more tomato-mayo (“tomayo”) juice on the plate to sop up with your sandwich like a French Dip. So, as I hope you will agree, there are many breads to use for a terrific tomato sandwich and you should use whatever bread you like- why, you could even toast it (rubbing the the toast with a raw clove garlic for some zing wouldn’t be bad either) for some crunchy contrast if that sounds good too.
The Tomato. There is nothing like a perfectly ripe, garden tomato for this sandwich, but admittedly there is a short window for such treasures (45 minutes according to a recent New Yorker cartoon). Still, the season for deliciously, even if not perfectly, ripe tomatoes is a bit longer and recent horticultural advances in greenhouse gardening provide for very good tomatoes for a much longer period if you’re open to such- I am.
The best solution, however, for the best tomatoes, I would suggest, is to grow your own, although that may seem like a bit of work at this point in your life. It certainly was the case when you were kids- you were happier to plant and pick from a garden then to tend to it, but I’m happy to say that you both are now very joyful to work hard to tend gardens when you have had the time and space. If, however, whenever you do find yourself short on time and/or space, the next best thing for stupendous tomatoes, which is even better than a Farmer’s Market (which would be the next, next best thing) would be to befriend an elderly gardener- ask them about their garden and/or their life, weed their garden or shovel their walk when you can, etc. Frankly, being friends with elderly folks (like me) is something you should do regardless of whether there is a garden involved, because it will make you and them feel great, but if there happens to be a garden, it will likely come along with the added bonus of sharing in the abundance of the tomato harvest most backyard gardens celebrate and suffer during the season.
The Mayo. My quick survey to find the mayonnaise that is most renowned for use in a tomato sandwich suggests it is Duke’s, but I grew up in a geographic region that made Hellman’s the popular choice and, which BTW and in my opinion, has a very good vegan mayo. As for the mayo in your tomato sandwich, and for any other cooking ingredient, as I’ve said countless times already, I say use whatever you like, but try some or all of the other options that passionate eaters suggest because otherwise you’ll never know if there’s something better out there. You will find most differences in the recommended mayos come down to sweetness and acid, unless you come across Kewpie Japanese mayo; a mayo that introduces a savory component to the mix that may surprise and, perhaps, delight you. If you’re interested in even more detailed thoughts on mayo (dude uses a bar graph!) by a food writing rock star who took a lot more time thinking about mayonnaise than I, check out this Serious Eats article by J. Kenji López-Alt, who has almost as many names as there are mayos on the market.
The Extras. While I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to eat your simple and wonderful tomato sandwich every day during tomato season, you should feel free to use any extras you like.if you’re in the mood for a little variety. As you know, I like the basil mayo and arugula extras, but your Granny was always happy to slide in a slice of cheese from time to time. Obviously, bacon is a popular choice, too, and the list goes on- avocado, pesto, watercress, watermelon, pimento cheese, marshmallow fluff (just kidding to see if you were paying attention- if you were, the first person to email firstname.lastname@example.org with a message that includes your favorite extra in a tomato sandwich and the words “Dad’s Dinner Diary is the best!” will receive a free 2nd Edition, Dad’s Dinner Diary tee shirt- a $25 value- next time I order them), hummus, spicy mayo ……
The Tomato Club Sandwich. I started making these tomato club “sandwiches” with tuna salad a few years back and then added a vegetarian version for a certain child, with a chickpea salad, soon after that. I suppose you could eat this sandwich in hand, but I suspect only the messiest of eaters will do so, while the rest of us opt for fork and knife.
For this club, just get out your tomatoes along with some mayo, seasonings that you like (at least kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper), 1-2 cans of drained chickpeas, a few lemon wedges and finely dice up or grate a 1/4 cup or so each of celery and carrots.
Mash up half the chickpeas, add the celery, carrots and seasoning. For seasoning, I only used kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper (it was still delicious BTW) because Henry, the 15 year old and 80 pound lab we are watching, plopped down in front of the spice drawer and I couldn’t get him to move. If you have better access to your spices, I bet some curry powder in there might be nice. Add mayo to taste (with the creaminess of the smashed beans, less mayo is needed) and mix it all up- I did this all on a large cutting board, which takes some finesse, but it did save me from washing a mixing bowl.
Put down a slice of tomato on a plate, top with chickpea salad, another tomato slice, more chickpea salad, one last tomato and a final dollop of chickpea salad. Make it look even nicer with some greens dressed in fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper and a drizzle of something sweet and sour (I used a balsamic vinegar glaze) and you’re done.
This was a long post and I truly thank you if you made it this far and I hope you won the tee shirt!
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