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This California veggie sandwich makes the most of the state’s summer bounty

A veggie sandwich on multigrain bread, with sprouts and cheese
Cool cucumbers, creamy avocado, and crisp sprouts make the best veggie sandwich, for salad haters and lovers alike.
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

I like to think of myself as someone who will eat just about anything. Organ meats? Love ’em. Raw seafood? Easy. Fried crickets? They’re great dipped in chile powder, between sips of mezcal. And I don’t hate many foods, but the one thing that comes closest to me is a salad, especially as the whole meal. And in Southern California, quite possibly the land of the best salads one can get in the U.S., I know that’s not a popular opinion.

Salad greens are wonderful, and shaved raw veggies are delightful. But together in a bowl all by themselves? That’s where I get lost. Even if you pile on cheese, meat or bread, it still doesn’t quite feel substantial enough for me. Granted, I eat four eggs minimum for breakfast every day and often put away an entire large branzino alone when out to dinner, so “substantial” means something different to me than it probably does to you.

But over the years of living in Los Angeles, I’ve found the version of a salad that I absolutely adore: the California veggie sandwich. Basically a salad between two slices of bread, it’s the dish that will have me happily eating tons of raw greens and vegetables every single day. But to call it a salad between bread is not quite right either, because it misses what makes a veggie sandwich so wonderful in the first place. It’s the particular mix of vegetables — cool cucumbers, creamy avocado and peppery, crunchy sprouts — that forms the trifecta for a perfect sandwich.

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Years ago, when I first moved to New York City from Mississippi, where I was raised on a steady diet of fried catfish and stewed turnip greens, I was enamored with the “hippie” food I encountered in the health food stores that absolutely didn’t exist where I grew up. Seitan- or tofu-packed sandwiches, brimming with sprouts and hummus, tucked between two soggy slices of bread wrapped in cellophane; they were beguiling to a young kid used to BLTs being as close to a vegetarian sandwich as you can get. And somehow, I also found them delicious in a novel way, even though they were dry as the Mojave and I’d have to chase each bite with a glug of water.

But when working at a restaurant or test kitchen of a food magazine, where rich and fatty and highly seasoned food surrounded me, there must’ve been something in those dry “health” sandwiches that my body was craving to balance out the rest of the food I’d eaten during the day. While working at Saveur magazine in those early days, my colleague Betsy Andrews wrote about the “California sandwich” for a special sandwich-themed issue. I got to test the recipe — a handful of alfalfa sprouts, tomato slices, avocado and homemade buttermilk ranch dressing between two slices of whole-grain bread — and I was immediately hooked upon tasting it. This was what I wanted all those dry bodega sandwiches to be.

Slices of bread piled with cheese and avocado slices, next to cucumber ribbons and sprouts
(Katrina Frederick / For The Times)

Ever since that day, making veggie sandwiches has been a pastime, especially on Sundays after a farmers market run. My partner loves these sandwiches, too, so we often play around with different combinations or search out new ones to try at restaurants. Of the ones I buy, thankfully two are in my neighborhood. One is at All Time, Tyler and Ashley Wells’ restaurant in Los Feliz. Their sandwich — as massive as an infant — comes on sourdough bread bursting at the edges with cucumbers, sprouts, avocado, cheddar, pickled red onions and, most important, Kewpie mayo; it’s a fantastic deli-style iteration. And the second is at Friends & Family, Roxana Jullapat’s bakery in East Hollywood, where her “hippie” sandwich takes a slightly more green approach, filling the house-made sourdough with mashed green peas, avocado, cucumber and sprouts perked up with salty Greek feta and spicy radishes.

All three of these sandwiches play an influence in the recipe that I’ve been making for the last few weeks — the veggie sandwich is the ideal lunch for this particular part of summer. I start with a whole-grain bread, which I usually detest, but in this type of sandwich, it works. You want that nubbly, hearty bread to balance the non-veggie ingredients and give the sandwich plenty of weight, lest it float into the air with nothing but feathery sprouts inside. Whether it’s five-grain, seven-grain, or damn-near 31 grains, I don’t care; the more grains the better.

I then perk up store-bought mayonnaise with fresh chives and lemon juice, but that’s it; I want to keep this affair as simple as possible. (Homemade mayonnaise would obviously work well here too, but I’ve made enough of that in my life and would rather leave it to the professionals.) I slather the mayo on the bread, then pile on slices of cucumber for a cold crunch; avocado for its green, waxy creaminess; and sharp white cheddar for a salty, fatty edge.

But the best part of the sandwich is the sprouts. I suspect the sprouts are where the “California” moniker comes from, since decades ago anything seemingly healthy was synonymous with the state. Regardless of their provenance, I love the way the sprouts tangle together and, when you bite down, crunch in mass, releasing their peppery bite. And as anyone who’s eaten a veggie sandwich knows, a sprinkling of sprouts just will not do; they must be packed in like a baseball-sized fur ball, forming at least half of the thickness of the entire sandwich. I love the classic, clean flavor of alfalfa sprouts, but radish or broccoli sprouts are also great; use whatever you can find.

That mass of sprouts is a wonderful balance to the creamy mayo, cheese and avocado — even while staring at all those fatty ingredients, this sandwich is unafraid to proclaim itself as “healthy.” And I guess I see myself in it too. I’m trying my best to eat my veggies all the time, but I know that all I really want is my greens between some good bread with a lot of cheese and mayo. After all the dry tofu sandwiches I’ve had in my life, is that too much to ask?

Get the recipe:

California Veggie Sandwich

Time10 minutes
YieldsMakes 2 sandwiches


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