Reinventing The Sandwich
Fresh new ingredients and innovative combinations make the old brown-bag favorite more than it's wrapped up to be

By Rebecca Broida Gart

For most of us, the word sandwich doesn't evoke images of culinary greatness. Even the creator of this original on-the-go meal wasn't exactly a foodie: According to folklore, the 18th-century Englishman John Montagu (aka the Earl of Sandwich) started the sandwich trend when he slapped cold beef between slices of bread so he could eat without leaving the gaming table.

Sandwiches may still seem something of a gamble (all of us can recall a brown-bag disaster or two). But with the current availability of artisan breads and cheeses, abundant fresh produce, and thinly sliced natural meats, this humble meal is undergoing a radical and welcome transformation. Today, the modern sandwich in all of its permutations reigns as one of the most flavor-packed and portable foods in the world, loved by those eating lunch at their desk, frolicking by a lake or just out and about enjoying the day.

But before you pack your picnic basket, it helps to know a few golden rules for ensuring sandwich satisfaction. First, because no one likes a mushy sandwich, choose a fabulous and sturdy foundation—hearty ciabatta (an Italian bread named for its slipper shape), crusty French baguettes and tangy sourdough rolls hold up well, even when stuffed à la Dagwood. Second, quality matters. Use the freshest, most impeccable ingredients available: vine-ripened tomatoes, fresh herbs, ready-to-eat arugula, home-style goat cheese. Third, be creative. Try replacing old standards (mayonnaise, mustard) with something new (puréed avocado, plum sauce). Finally, be aware of food safety. Make sure you have a well-insulated cooler or pack your sandwiches with cooling packs in an insulated lunch container, and refrigerate or discard any perishable foods after two hours.

This summer, fill your brown bag or beach basket with sandwiches that will knock your socks off—wouldn't you rather be going barefoot anyway? Once you're ready to think beyond peanut butter and jelly, the possibilities are endless.

Hummus and Veggie Wraps

Serves 4 / If you can find them, substitute tortillas with 13-inch, thin, pliable lavash sheets. They're delightful.

2 tablespoons olive oil; reserve half
3 small cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and liquid reserved
1/4 cup sesame tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
1/4 teaspoon hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
2-3 carrots, coarsely grated
1 seedless cucumber, cut into julienne strips
1 small bunch spinach leaves, washed and dried
4 10-inch whole-wheat tortillas

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pan. Sauté garlic and onion until translucent.

2. Transfer to a food processor bowl and add remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, garbanzo beans, tahini, lemon juice, and spices. Purée. Add reserved garbanzo bean liquid to achieve desired consistency.

3. Spread each tortilla evenly with hummus, and top with carrot, cucumber, and spinach leaves. Roll up tortillas tightly, leaving ends open. Halve diagonally with a serrated knife and wrap with wax paper.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 511 calories % fat calories: 34 Fat: 20g (3g saturated) Cholesterol: 0mg Carbohydrate: 69g Protein: 18g

Grilled Chicken With Roasted Red Peppers

Serves 4 / I especially like this sandwich on crunchy, slipper-shaped ciabatta, although any type of hearty Italian bread will work well.

2 1/2-pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, pounded 1/4-inch thick
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large ciabatta rolls
3 tablespoons store-bought basil pesto
4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese, sliced into rounds
1 small jar roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained, and cut into strips
4 thin slices red onion (optional)

1. Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. Brush the chicken breasts lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken over a hot fire or medium-high heat until browned and cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

2. Halve the ciabatta horizontally with a serrated knife and spread pesto on cut sides of the bread. Place one chicken breast on each sandwich and top with thin rounds of goat cheese, sliced red peppers, and, if desired, red onions. Top with other half of bread and slice sandwich in half.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 429 calories % fat calories: 38 Fat: 18g (6g saturated) Cholesterol: 76mg Carbohydrate: 29g Protein: 37g

Tuna Niçoise on Sourdough

Serves 4 / A traditional niçoise, but without the egg. This is perfect for a picnic because the flavors actually improve if the sandwich is left tightly wrapped and kept in a cooler for an hour or two.

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

2 medium-size, thin-skinned potatoes
1 cup trimmed green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 sourdough sandwich rolls
1 can solid white tuna, left in chunks
1/2 cup pitted niçoise olives
1 cup artichoke hearts, sliced
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1. To make the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients except olive oil, salt, and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil until well blended and season to taste. Set aside.

2. Cook potatoes in water in a small saucepan until softened and easily pierced with a fork, about 20­25 minutes. Remove potatoes from water and add green beans. Cook for about 3 minutes. Remove beans and immerse in ice water. Drain. When cool, slice potatoes into thin rounds.

3. Split each sourdough sandwich roll in half and scoop out most of the bread, leaving thick crusts lined with thin layers of bread. Brush bread with herbed vinaigrette, and layer tuna chunks, olives, artichoke hearts, rounds of cooked potato, green beans, sliced tomato and red onion.

4. Wrap tightly and store in refrigerated cooler.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 519 calories % fat calories: 34 Fat: 20g (3g saturated) Cholesterol: 23mg Carbohydrate: 62g Protein: 23g

Dilled Shrimp Salad Pita

Serves 4 / Because this is made with perishable mayonnaise, take extra care to pack these sandwiches in plenty of ice in a well-insulated cooler.

2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 cup finely diced celery
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 pita pockets, white or wheat
1 small head green lettuce

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a bowl of ice water.

2. Add the shrimp to the boiling water and cook until firm and pink, about 2-3 minutes. Drain the shrimp and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain, pat dry and chop each shrimp into thirds.

3. In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise, yogurt and lime juice. Stir in the celery, dill and scallions. Add the shrimp and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cut the top off of each pita and lay a piece of washed and dried green lettuce on one side. Scoop shrimp salad on the lettuce and top with another piece of lettuce. Repeat with additional pita pockets.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 522 calories % fat calories: 26 Fat: 15g (3g saturated) Cholesterol: 346mg Carbohydrate: 40g Protein: 53g

Smoked Turkey and Avocado Club

Serves 4 / Although I like regular or smoked gouda on this sandwich, you can substitute a variety of cheeses, including Monterey Jack, sharp cheddar or Swiss.

2 ripe avocados
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 French baguette
1/2 pound thinly sliced smoked turkey
6 ounces gouda cheese, thinly sliced
8 slices turkey bacon, cooked until crisp
2 large yellow tomatoes, sliced
16 large arugula leaves

1. Scoop out avocado and mash with a fork. Mix with lemon juice. Using a serrated knife, halve baguette lengthwise and spread cut sides with avocado mixture.

2. Top evenly with turkey, cheese, bacon, tomatoes and arugula.

3. Top with other half of baguette and slice into four equal sandwiches, securing with toothpicks.

Nutrition Facts Per Serving: Calories: 708 calories % fat calories: 42 Fat: 34g (12g saturated) Cholesterol: 94mg Carbohydrate: 67g Protein: 38g With two young children at home, food writer Rebecca Broida Gart barely finds time to make a sandwich for lunch. And that's on a good day.