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We partnered with California Walnuts to share a few hearty, no-meat main dishes, like a fully loaded falafel-like sandwich made with a walnut crumble, hummus, and spiced yogurt.
By my parameters, a great sandwich...
- offers a balance of textures, flavors, and (maybe) temperatures, via...
- components that taste great on their own and that...
- can be repurposed into a whole array of other meals (meaning that if you only want to make one sandwich, you'll be able—and glad—to use the rest of its inner workings in a myriad of ways).
And, oh yeah, it must have enough protein heft to keep you running even after your body has blown through the bread (and, most likely, it requires two hands for eating). So while a cucumber tea sandwich is dainty, it does not make my Top 10 Sandwich List.
Many of the Great Sandwiches get that protein fuel from meat (like pork or steak, fried chicken and hamburgers). But for a no-meat alternative (and one that doesn't require you fire up the grill or roast a whole chicken), I'd like to propose a walnut and lentil crumble as a not only viable but desirable alternative for your sandwich's bulk (stick with me!).
Let's break down this walnut-lentil gyro (which, since it gladly forgoes the spit-roasted meat, is more gyro-inspired than gyro-compliant):
- Walnut-lentil crumble: toasty walnuts are complemented by cooked lentils that have been sautéed at high heat so that they pop and crisp (a technique borrowed from Mark Bittman by way of Amanda Hesser), and everything is spiced with za'atar and cumin
- Flatbread: on sandwich bread, this dish would be an architectural nightmare (imagine lentils in your pants pockets); instead, a flexible flatbread (or a pita) helps keep the wriggly walnuts and lentils contained
- Spiced yogurt sauce: seasoned with lemon juice, za'atar, cumin, and garlic, it acts like glue, adhering the other components to the bread below
- Hummus: if you have it in the fridge, it adds creaminess (and protein)
- The fresh/sharp/vegetal accessories: arugula, pickled vegetables (I liked pickled beets, carrots, or onions), roasted red peppers
In the end, you have a complete meal that delivers the same satisfaction as a falafel-stuffed pita and as a roast beef sandwich, but that takes less time than either.
Feel free to swap the hummus for baba ghanouj (if you're using it at all); skip the arugula with a smattering of torn parsley and cilantro; replace lemon with lime; add grilled zucchini instead of roasted peppers; or forgo the sandwich altogether because you've eaten the walnut-lentil crumble with the serving spoon.
For the spiced yogurt:
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon za'atar
- 1 garlic clove
For the walnut-lentil crumble and assembly:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 jalapeño
- 1 cup cooked green lentils
- 1 cup coarsely chopped, toasted walnuts
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon za'atar
- 1 pinch cayenne
- 1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 lemon (you can use the last of the lemon from above!)
- 2 cups arugula
- roasted red peppers, sliced
- pickled beets, carrots, or onions (optional)
And, as promised, the walnut-lentil crumble will be a handy half-step to dinner all week long:
- For a fake mujaddara, brown onions in olive oil, then stir in some cooked rice and the leftover lentils and walnuts.
- Halve sweet potatoes, then roast them cut side down. When soft, flip them over, use a fork to ruffle the insides, and smush goat or feta cheese inside. Top with the lentil and walnut crumble and send back into the oven for 10 minutes, or until the cheese has softened and the lentils have re-crisped.
- Food-process the walnut-lentil mixture with an egg, breadcrumbs, some sun-dried tomatoes, and a can of white beans, then shape into patties and bake or pan-fry: veggie burgers!
- Or, food-process with dried chickpeas that have been soaked for 8 hours, then drained, for falafel.
- Sauté torn kale in hot olive oil until wilted and seared. Mix into the walnut-lentil mixture, along with cooked orzo and halved cherry tomatoes.
Spread any leftover yogurt out on a plate, then use it as a bed for a fried egg or two.
What's the best vegetarian sandwich you've ever made? Tell us in the comments below.
According to a recent survey by the California Walnut Board, more than three-quarters of Americans are open to including meatless dishes in their regular routine. So, we partnered with California Walnuts to share plant-based recipes starring walnuts that'll stand in for meat on your dinner table. To see more recipes, head here.