Last week, we were invited to a potluck called “Dinner of Lies.” The directive: bring a dish that looks like something other than what it actually is. I love a good food-challenge, and decided to scale a mountain that had been tempting me for a while. It was time to tackle the Swedish sandwich cake.
For those of you who don’t spend as much time falling down foodie rabbit holes as I do, the Swedish sandwich cake—or Smörgåstårta—is a savory cake where the layers are bread, the fillings are usually fishy, and the frosting is cream cheese. They’re elaborately (some might say garishly) decorated, the kind of thing you might have made for a blowout party in the 1970s. I decided to adapt that idea into a pretty, elegant cake…
…that’s actually a multi-layered sandwich.
This was a PROJECT. Here’s how I tackled it, one element at a time (with pictures!):
This sandwich was SO HARD to photograph. It just did not want to behave. I’ve been making a version of this sandwich once or twice a week for the past month, and they’ve all been docile and well-constructed and probably totally photogenic. Then I finally got around to charging my camera battery and made myself a sandwich specifically to photograph. This one decided to fall apart every time I put it down.
Once again, I beg you to ignore the photo. Because this right here? Is one phenomenal sandwich. I first had it at a sandwich shop near where I used to work, and fell in love. After almost a year of craving it since leaving that job, I finally managed to recreate it at home. It’s got the sunny chewiness of scrambled egg, which I like so much better than the pork you usually find in a banh mi. On top of the egg, add lots of utterly compelling things: pickled carrot and daikon, cucumber sticks, jalapeno slices, cilantro leaves, and lots of spicy mayo. It’s hot and cold, sweet and sour, crunchy and chewy, spicy and rich–everything there is to love about banh mi.
I call this a “scrambled egg” sandwich, but what really fills its belly is a simple flat omelet. At the sandwich stand, they’d steam the eggs in a special container in the microwave, creating a eggy half-moon. To replicate that effect, I beat the eggs and add them to a lightly oiled skillet over medium-low heat. Then I let them cook, completely undisturbed, until they’ve set into a springy, slightly puffed disc. (This usually takes about 15 minutes on my stove, which leaves plenty of time to leisurely prep the other sandwich ingredients.) Slide the disc out of the skillet, cut it in half, et voila–two eggy half-moons, ready to slide between halves of bread.
So much for the egg. There’s one other bit of advance prep needed for this sandwich: pickling some carrots and daikon. I made up a quart of refrigerator pickles, following a recipe from the New York Times, and have it handy in the fridge for whenever the banh mi craving strikes. You could also make a batch of fifteen-minute quick pickles, which will be ready in about the time it takes the eggs to cook. Either way, you’ve got the makings of one satisfying lunch.
So yesterday was a pretty big deal. And I just about missed it.
I’d been thinking for ages about how to deal with September 11, 2011. The events of ten years ago have left a deep bruise-purple handprint on the psyche of an entire American generation–a generation of which I am part. But everything that could be said, has been said many times over. Anything I could say would be a whisper in an echo chamber.
So instead, I spent the day engrossed in the business of living. I woke up late and cuddled with my boyfriend; bought a purse at the local art and wine festival; played with my friend’s new kitten; watched The Matrix; ate sushi; packed for a business trip; slept. When I return from my trip, I’ll make myself a simple tuna and piquillo pepper sandwich, inspired by the one I ate on my last afternoon in Spain. I’ll call my parents. I’ll braid my hair.
Ten years ago, we questioned whether these little things might ever be so normal again. For all the intervening upheaval, they are. That’s no small triumph.
Bocadillo de Atún
Toast a slice of good crusty bread, and let it cool just until you can handle it without burning yourself. Drizzle the bread with olive oil. Cut a juicy ripe tomato in half, and rub the cut side all over one side of the bread. Spread some canned tuna on the tomato-rubbed bread, then drape a couple pieces of roasted red pepper over top. Lay two or three oil-packed anchovy fillets on top of the sandwich, then take a big bite and immediately make a mess of tuna and tomato all over your plate. So. Good.