The scene: a typical American chain restaurant: squishy booths, one-thousand and one flat-screen TVs, platters of bottomless onion rings zooming around the dining area
The menu: burgers, steak, fried chicken, and fries, fries, fries
The vegetarian option: roasted (or grilled) vegetable sandwich
Sounds good, right? Until the server brings you this soggy sandwich of watery zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, and under-cooked mushrooms. You wonder if they even bothered to season the vegetables before grilling, and how something that claimed to be “fresh off the grill” is cold and mushy. The layer of cheese (because there’s always cheese on top) is somehow thick and rubbery. You peel it off, hoping that will make the sandwich easier to digest.
You look, somewhat enviously, at your friends steaming burgers, which were obviously prepared with more care. Your poor vegetable sandwich was an afterthought, thrown onto the menu to appease the few vegetarian customers unlucky enough to eat there. You wonder if the salad would have been a better choice. But who wants to spend $15 on a salad that contains mainly lettuce and a few random veggies (since you had to order it without the chicken) when you know it won’t fill you up?
You try to dig in, eating a few bites of the sandwich before deciding to give up and just eat the fries (which are damn good).
While there are plenty of restaurants that make decent food for all types of diets, I’ve lived most of my life in the suburbs, where chain restaurants are the norm. As the only non-meat-eater in a family of meat-eaters, I’ve ordered this sandwich many times, from many different restaurants, and it always comes out the same. I’ve since given up, choosing instead to order two or three side dishes rather than suffer through this sandwich atrocity.
That is why I decided to recreate this in my own kitchen.
Roasted eggplant and zucchini (both from my garden!) are the stars in this recipe. Although both of these vegetables are notorious for being mushy when cooked, they are crisp and tender when prepared properly.
After slicing, place both in a colander and salt generously (1 to 2 tsps. per vegetable). Let them sit for at least 30 minutes, then rinse the salt off and pat dry. Doing this not only eliminates the excess moisture that results in mushy vegetables, it also reduces the bitterness typically associated with eggplant. If you’ve been afraid of eggplant, try it again using this technique! Trust me; you won’t be sorry.
Roasting the tomatoes and onions softens them and brings out their natural sweetness. If you have mushrooms sitting around, you could roast those and add them to the sandwich.
I roasted all of the vegetables (because I don’t have a grill), but you could grill them instead. I’m positive they will be just as delicious. To mimic the grill, I roasted the zucchini and eggplant on a rack on my baking sheet, so any extra moisture would end up on the pan instead of in the vegetables.
Topped off with garlic-y mayonnaise and fresh basil, these roasted vegetable sliders puts the soggy restaurant version to shame.
Have you experienced the almost always disappointing “vegetarian option” at restaurants? Did you try out this recipe? If so, share your story in the comments below!