For reasons that have never been clear to me, my family always ate salad after we'd finished the rest of our dinner, and right before dessert. Perhaps it was a clever trick on my parents' behalf to convince us that leafy greens were a treat we could enjoy once we’d finished our proteins and starches. (Which worked, by the way — they raised three salad enthusiasts.) What mattered most to my mom and dad was that we ate a hearty dose of fresh vegetables every day — it made no difference exactly how it happened.
Behold, the Kelly Family Salad Sandwich, a feat of edible engineering I constructed each night alongside my dad. Two pieces of sweet, gummy white Wonder Bread, filled with a pile of crunchy iceberg lettuce, dainty carrot rounds, and a few cucumber slices tossed in, all slathered in tangy Italian dressing — the type you mixed together from a Good Seasons packet in the clear glass cruet that came free with purchase. This was the '90s, after all, before kale flooded the market and superfoods invaded our psyches. Iceberg lettuce was just plain lettuce — I'm not sure we knew there was any other kind.
If April Bloomfield has anything to say about it, we'll all start reaching for the bread bin this summer to construct our own modern, unfussy salad sandwiches, an ideal meal for the days you can’t stand to lean over an open flame. As she writes in her latest cookbook A Girl and Her Greens, "When I was a girl, my family practically lived on them come summer, when it was steamy outside, and the last thing my mum wanted was to hunch over a hot stove." Bloomfield's recipe abounds with bright summer flavors, but the glory of the salad sandwich is that it can be perfectly tailored to the season and your preferences. Crisp apple slices and toasty pecans can be slipped in come fall, gooey cheese can warm one up in the winter, and pickled strawberries can add some tarty flare as temperatures warm up in the spring.
And with the recent deluge of greens-based cookbooks, the variety of salad-sandwich flavor combinations is seemingly endless. Practically any of the salads from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More can be crammed into a warm, crisped pita (I'm partial to the "Slow-Cooked Chickpeas with Poached Egg" mixed up with some arugula). Even Jamie Oliver's delightfully over-the-top Comfort Food offers a "Superfood Salad," which I'd pile up between two slices of a light sourdough. For more typical fare, Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy offers the "Cucumber-Lovage Sandwich with Sweet Onion," an insanely bright concoction that’s grounded by a thin spread of cream cheese to rein in the slightly bitter lovage. And Robin Asbell's Big Vegan instructs us on how to pack together her "Stuffed Sandwiches," that overflow with summer veggies.
What's the difference between a salad sandwich and a sammy that's just plain veggie? Where your typical vegetarian sandwich is layered and designed to mimic a deli sub, the salad sandwich is tossed together haphazardly — half the pleasure in eating it is the spillage that falls back onto your plate and the dressing that slips down your chin. The salad sandwich is not expected to be dainty or have its crusts trimmed. Start with Bloomfield’s masterful recipe and then experiment from there. All that’s absolutely required is bread that's substantial enough to handle a little sog, yet delicate enough that it tears away easily with each bite. Oh, and a willingness to have a little fun with your food.
April Bloomfield's Salad Sandwich from A Girl and Her Greens
makes 4 sandwiches
Don't tell me you’ve never had a salad sandwich! When I was a girl, my family practically lived on them come summer, when it was steamy outside and the last thing my mom wanted to do was hunch over a hot stove. The salad sandwich is just what it sounds like: bread piled with veg like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and onion. My mum would add spring onions from her garden and slather the bread with butter and Heinz Salad Cream. The ones I make today aren't much different, though I typically make my own version of salad cream and might occasionally add boiled eggs with oozy yolks or use goat cheese butter. Sometimes I’ll even bake my own white bread. But really, the little details are up to you.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 lb tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 1 medium crunchy cucumber with minimal seeds, thinly sliced
- 12 or so rings red onion (preferably young onion)
- 1/2 lemon
- A few glugs extra-virgin olive oil
- Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- 1/2 lb Little Gem lettuce (about 2 heads) or another crunchy lettuce, root end and floppy outer leaves discarded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- Eight 3/4-inch-thick slices Pullman loaf white bread
- A few knobs of butter, at room temperature
- About 8 tbsp salad cream
- Fill a medium pot at least halfway with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Use a slotted spoon to gently add the eggs to the water and cook them for 7 minutes (set a timer), then run them under cold water until they’re fully cool. Lightly tap each egg against the counter to crack the shell all over, then carefully peel them. Slice them however you’d like just before you add them to the sandwich.
- Lay the tomato, cucumber, and onion in more or less one layer on a large platter or cutting board. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the veg, then add a good drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Flip them over and rub them gently, just to make sure they’re all seasoned.
- Spread each slice of bread with butter. Layer the tomato, cucumber, onion, lettuce, salad cream, and eggs on 4 slices of bread: I like to start with the tomatoes, then lettuce, then a good old slather of salad cream, then the eggs, the cucumber, and finally the onion. Top with the remaining bread and give each sandwich a firm but gentle press with your palm. Eat straightaway.
Makes a generous cup
This creamy, tangy dressing is meant to mimic the jarred salad cream I grew up with in England, which I poured all over raw vegetables. I realize now that it’s a lot like a really liquidy version of the deviled egg filling I make at The Spotted Pig, with a little tarragon thrown in. If you’re making this for salad sandwiches, you might want to give some of the boiled egg whites a good old chop and pile them on the bread along with the soft-boiled eggs. No point in wasting.
- 6 large eggs
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons red wine
- 1 tbsp dijon mustard
- 1 very small garlic clove, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- A small handful of tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
- Fill a medium pot at least halfway with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Use a slotted spoon to gently add the eggs to the water, cook them for 10 minutes (set a timer), then run them under cold water until they’re fully cool. Lightly tap each egg against the counter to crack the shell all over, then peel them, halve them lengthwise, and pop out the yolks. (Reserve the whites for another purpose, like salad sandwiches, or for nibbling.)
- Use the back of a spoon to force the yolks through a mesh sieve into a food processor. Add the oil, cream, vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt, and 2 tsp water and process until very smooth and creamy. Add the tarragon and process briefly. It keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.