Sandwiches can make your Labor Day shindig easy and breezy: They're simple to prep, a whiz to make, fun to hold and exploding with all sort of flavors, colors and textures. Stack them on trays and take them out to the deck or backyard, or wrap up and cart them to the beach or park. You don't have to make one sandwich on one roll for one person. You can cut a sandwich into bite-size nibbles. Or use a large, long roll and cut it into individual portions. However you build them, these three versions offer varied ethnic flavors for your end-of-summer celebration.
Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Makes: 6 sandwiches
Pounded, breaded and fried till crispy chicken breasts star in this torta (a traditional Mexican sandwich) from "Street Food of Mexico" by Hugo Ortega, a Houston restaurateur. Cemitas are sesame seed buns from the Mexican state of Puebla. Another round bun or roll can be substituted. Papalo, a wild herb, can be subbed with cilantro.
6 chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/8-inch thick
Salt and pepper
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs lightly beaten
3/4 cup panko crumbs
1/2 cup corn oil
6 rolls, split open
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
3/4 cup canned refried beans
6 cups quesillo cheese, aka queso Oaxaca
2 avocados, peeled, pitted, sliced
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced
6 canned chipotle peppers in adobo, seeded, sliced
1/2 bunch papalo or cilantro, leaves only
1. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place the flour, beaten eggs and panko crumbs in separate shallow bowls. Pass each breast through the flour, beaten egg and finally through the panko crumbs, shaking off excess each time. Place breaded chicken on a baking sheet.
2. Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Working with one at a time, fry breasts until golden brown, 3 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Keep warm.
3. To assemble, spread 1 tablespoon mayonnaise on the cut side of the bottom half of each bun and 2 tablespoons refried beans on the tops. Add the chicken breasts, cheese, avocado slices, onion slices and chipotle peppers. Top with papalo or cilantro leaves.
Grilled lemon grass pork
Prep: 1 hour
Marinate: 1 hour
Cook: 17 minutes
Makes: 6 servings
Adapted from Andrea Nguyen's "The Banh Mi Handbook."
1 1/2 pounds boneless pork shoulder
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup coarsely chopped shallot
1 fat stalk lemon grass, trimmed, coarsely chopped (1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce, or 1 1/2 teaspoons regular soy sauce plus 1/2 teaspoon molasses
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon canola oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 banh mi rolls or 1 or 2 long baguettes
Hoisin or soy sauce
1/4 cup pickled vegetables, such as daikon, drained
3 to 4 thin slices medium-hot chili pepper such as jalapeno or Fresno
4 to 6 cucumber strips, cut 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick
Coarsely chopped cilantro sprigs
1. For the pork, cut the pork across the grain into strips, each 4 to 5 inches long, 1/4-inch thick and 1 inch wide. Set aside in a bowl. Put the remaining ingredients in a food processor. Whirl into a semicoarse puree. Massage the puree into the meat with your hands. Thread onto skewers. Set on a plate, cover and marinate at room temperature, 1 hour.
2. To cook, prepare a charcoal fire or gas grill for medium-high heat. Brush a little oil on the skewers. Cook, turning frequently and basting with oil, until the pork is slightly charred and done, about 12 minutes. Briefly cool before sliding the pork off the skewers. Keep as nuggets or thinly slice to better distribute in sandwiches.
3. For assembly, slit buns or baguettes lengthwise, leaving them attached in the back. Remove some of the insides from one or both halves to make more room. Spread with mayo on the two cut sides, covering all the way to the edge. Drizzle with hoisin or soy sauce. Layer on the pork, pickles, peppers, cucumbers and cilantro.
Tofu po' boy
Prep: 20 minutes
Marinate: 1 hour
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
A vegan version of the classic sandwich adapted from Mark Shadle, owner of G-Zen restaurant in Branford, Conn.
1 pound extra-firm tofu
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepper
1 long baguette or 4 small baguettes
1 to 2 cups kimchee
Sliced tomatoes and fresh basil leaves
1. Place tofu between two plates; weight with a heavy can. Let rest in sink, 1 hour. Pour off exuded water. Slice block into 4 pieces. Mix wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, basil and black pepper in a small bowl. Pour marinade over tofu; let stand, 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
2. Place tofu pieces and the marinade in a baking dish; bake in a 400-degree oven, 10 minutes. Turn tofu pieces over; bake, 5 minutes. Remove tofu from oven; allow to cool.
3. Cut long baguette into four 4-inch lengths or use individual baguettes; slice the bread open lengthwise. Pull some of the bread out to create a shallow well to hold the filling.
4. Reheat tofu on a hot grill, to create grill marks and heat through, no more than 5 minutes. Place tofu in baguettes. Top with kimchee; drizzle with Sriracha sauce. Garnish with tomato and basil.