The Surprise Hero of My Sourdough Journey

August 11, 2020 — The At Home Issue

The Surprise Hero of My Sourdough Journey

In an era where bread making has become the rage, the humble sandwich makes a big comeback.

Words by Jill Haapaniemi
Illustration by Chris Markides

This story was published in The At Home Issue of Life & Thyme Post, our limited edition printed newspaper for Life & Thyme members.

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Like many others, I’ve been making sourdough since Covid-19 hit. Isolation has given me the time to make bread, but making bread has also helped give my days at home structure and purpose. 

The surprising triumph of my breadmaking has been falling back in love with the sandwich. Maybe it’s the fresh, crusty slices of bread that have won me over, or maybe it’s the nostalgia of my youth and a brown paper bag lunch. Either way, I’m convinced that a good sandwich is the perfect food.

The key to a truly great stack (aside from the fresh bread) is getting the right balance of textures and flavors. But this doesn’t mean the culinary rulebook should go out the window. Sandwich making doesn’t need to be complicated or time-consuming, however. Chances are, you’ve got enough odds and ends in the pantry or fridge to make a solid work-from-home lunch. 

Balance Your Flavors 

Take a note from Samin Nosrat and balance salt, fat, acid and heat (as well as the five tastes: salty, sweet, bitter, sour and umami). You don’t need to tick every box each time, but if your sandwich falls flat, consider what elements might be lacking. When making a tuna salad, mix the tuna with some mayo (fat), capers (salt), and lemon juice (acid). Missing something? A freshly chopped onion or a grind of black pepper will elevate things with some heat. Keep it simple or elevate with caramelized onions (sweet), tangy feta (sour), arugula (bitter), and tomatoes (umami). A pinch of sea salt—or another salty element like chopped olives or a slice of prosciutto—will round things out beautifully. 

Vary Texture 

Consider not just taste, but the texture of your sandwich ingredients. For example, in terms of flavor, roasted carrots, hummus, ricotta and spinach work well together. Adding something crunchy here will be a game-changer so the sandwich isn’t monotonously soft. Swap spinach for crisp iceberg, use grated carrots instead of roasted ones, or try a hard goat cheese in place of the ricotta, which is texturally akin to the spreadable hummus. 

Consider the Bread

Every good sandwich begins with good bread. Once you go down the sandwich rabbit hole, you’ll likely find yourself trying new varieties and discovering which loaves you like best for certain types of sandwiches. As a rule, I make or buy loaves made with at least fifty percent whole grains, not just because they’re healthier, but because I find them so much more interesting. Bread is not merely a vessel; it should provide a flavorful base for your sandwich. That’s not to say white loaves don’t have their place (I’m looking at you, grilled cheese), but the wide range of increasingly available whole grain flours have a lot to offer. Whole wheat loaves are delicious, versatile and appropriate for most sandwiches. And the more pungent and funky my ingredients—pickles, smoked meat or fish, sharp cheeses—the darker I like my bread to stand up to those flavors. 

Substitution Is Your Friend

The last tip is to get yourself into the habit of substitution. Look to old school classics to start, like a peanut butter and jelly, ham and cheese, reuben, or egg salad. Use these as templates and modify ingredients as needed and desired. Maybe you have boiled eggs but no mayo. Hello, avocado-egg salad! Nostalgic for a PB & J but looking for something with more substance? Leftover satay sauce is a handy thing to have around, and is something I like spread over a ciabatta with slow-roasted tomatoes and grilled tofu. This combination mimics the nutty spread-meets-fruit component. 

Winning Combos 

Here are some of my favorite sandwiches to get your creative juices flowing: 

  • Country white loaf with gruyere, ham, pickles and mustard 
  • Seeded loaf with romaine, roasted beetroot, cheddar cheese, dill and mayo
  • Baguette with poached chicken, yogurt, tarragon, watercress and black pepper 
  • Spelt with pesto, bocconcini, soppressata, fried capers and endive 
  • Whole wheat with bacon, tomato, bibb lettuce, avocado and soft-boiled egg 
  • Dark rye with smoked trout, radish, chives, lemon and crème fraiche 
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