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Spring sandwiches

Asparagus melt with ham (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

It feels like summer, but it’s still spring. It’s a busy time for gardeners — and everyone!

Pandemic season is winding down and summer activities are opening up. The farmers’ market will be in the park soon. This past weekend, Pendragon hosted its first live theater performance in over a year. Art markets, outdoor concerts and other events are in the planning stages.

We’re busy! But not too busy to bring healthy meals and moments of delicious joy to those who share our homes. Those meals don’t need to be complicated, they can be as simple as a sandwich.

A sandwich can be a perfect, healthy meal. It combines food groups — carbohydrates, protein, and vegetables or even fruit. Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. explains it like this: “Its combination of food groups can meet the three fundamentals of healthy eating: balance (inclusion of basic foods), moderation (a sensible amount) and variety (eating different things from each food group).”

We owe the word ‘sandwich’ to the Earl of Sandwich. In 1762, he began ordering meat slices stuck between two pieces of bread, so he wouldn’t need to put down his poker hand during gambling sessions. The two-slice sandwich became a fixture of the American lunch in the 1930s, when pre-sliced loaves of Wonder Bread hit supermarket shelves.

Green tartine with spinach (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Open-face sandwiches have a unique origin and history different from the 2-slice sandwich. During the Middle Ages, thick slabs of coarse bread were used as plates. The Brits called these Trenchers; in France, they were known as Tanches. At the end of the meal, these bread-plates, now soaked through with sauces, were saved for beggars, fed to dogs, or sometimes just eaten by the diner. In many European countries, this tradition of piling good things atop a slice of bread has continued through the centuries. In America, Italian bruschetta became popular in the 1980s, crostini in the 1990s. About 20 years ago wraps hit sandwich shops and even McDonald’s introduced the snack wrap and McWrap in 2006. French tartines became popular in the last decade.

Today we have many types of sandwiches, from the ubiquitous PBJ and BLT to subs, hoagies, Italian panini, Mexican burrito, German ruben, Lebanese falafel, Indian roti and French crostini. Some use two slices of bread, some use rolls, some are open-faced.

There are also many types of bread used for sandwich fare around the world: Lebanese pita or pocket bread, Mexican tortilla, Indian naan, Italian ciabatta and French baguette are just a few.

Create your own scrumptious sandwiches by combining fresh, quality breads with an original mix of veggies, protein and spreads. Be adventurous! In addition to cold cuts, cheese or tuna, proteins can include seasoned, extra-firm tofu slices, mashed beans, eggs and other kinds of canned fish. You can spread your sandwich with mayo, ketchup or mustard — or pesto, chutney, grilled vegetable spread, pureed beans or lentils with olive oil and garlic… the choice is all yours.

In addition to ubiquitous lettuce, use other greens, like arugula, kale or spinach. Or other vegetables, like avocado, asparagus, grilled mushrooms or eggplant, even slices of apple or pear.

It’s asparagus and spinach season… soon it will be radish and scallion season. Here are some spring-themed sandwiches. But remember to experiment and customize!

Asparagus Melts

Ingredients:

Four slices whole wheat bread

Four slices American cheese

1 Tablespoon soft butter

1/2 pound asparagus spears

2 Tablespoons snipped chives or finely minced scallions

Directions:

Butter slices of stone-ground wheat bread. Sprinkle lightly with chives or sweet onions, if using. Blanch asparagus in boiling water for three minutes, then cut in three-inch lengths, and arrange on the bread. Top with a slice of American cheese. Stick under the broiler or in the toaster oven, and toast to crisp the bread and melt the cheese, about 4 minutes.

Serves four.

Green Tartine

Ingredients:

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 bunch greens (arugula, radish tops, kale, spinach, mustard greens, turnip greens, chard, etc.)

1/4 teaspoon salt or 1 teaspoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon prepared mustard (such as Dijon)

2 Tablespoons yogurt

1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Good, hearty multi-grain bread

Directions:

Wash greens and chop coarsely. Drain, spin-dry and set aside.

Heat oil in large skillet. Peel and mince the garlic, add, and cook 1 minute. Add greens, sprinkle with salt, and saut. If using tougher greens, add a half cup of broth, water or wine, cover, and braise until tender.

While greens are cooking, mix together mustard, yogurt and cheese. Stir into cooked greens.

Top bread slices with the greens mixture. Place in broiler or toaster oven and broil, watching closely, until bread crisps and cheese melts.

Option: Caramelize 1 onion in 1 teaspoon butter and a half teaspoon salt, and stir into greens before toasting. Or add slices of raw sweet onion, or thinly sliced apple.

Strawberries in Pita

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons whipped cream cheese or other soft, mild cheese

1 cup strawberries, sliced

1 whole wheat pita bread

1 sprig fresh mint

Directions:

Cut pita bread in half. Gently open pocket. Combine cream cheese with 1/4 cup of the strawberries, mashing the berries as you mix. Spread half of mixture inside each half of the pita. Fill with remaining strawberries. Garnish with fresh mint leaves, and serve.

For a warm version, heat a nonstick skillet or cast-iron pan. Spray sandwich with nonstick spray and grill both sides until golden.

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Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be found at www.yvonafast.com and reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words Are My World.

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