The One Ingredient That Separates Good Sandwiches From Great Ones

Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, or dinner, sandwiches play a huge role in my average week. (When sandwiches like this exist, how can I stop?) It might be my natural caveman tendency of eating with my hands, but besides that, crushing food between two carbs is satisfying and convenient. Eating sandwiches every day must be repetitive, you say? How do I fend off food boredom, you ask? It’s easy. I slap some life back into my sandwich routine with big, bold bundles of fresh herbs. 

The first time I ate an herb-boosted sandwich, I was visiting my mom. It’s standard practice for her to make me about seven different things to eat all at once (she’d been training me for this life before I had any idea). Lunch Part 1 was a ham and cheese sandwich on a white roll. Boring. But there was a surprise. I took one bite of what I expected to be basic cold cuts and plain bread, but I started tasting bright florals, faint licorice, and sweet greenery snapping among the saltiness of the ham and cheese. It was so delicate but unmistakable: She had added three large, whole, fresh leaves of Italian basil. 

Fresh herbs aren’t conventional sandwich filler in the typical American sandwich. It’s more common to add an extra layer of Swiss before even considering lettuce, let alone herbs. Leave it to my Thai mom to turn a ho-hum ham and cheese into a brand new flavor experience. 

When I say add herbs to your sandwich, I don’t mean in the typical way a person might cook with herbs—chopping them into a chiffonade or hiding them in the mix. I mean adding them to the layers of meat and cheese as their very own element. They should parade about between the slices of bread as boldly as lettuce does. Anywhere will do. Drop in a few leaves of basil, or a combination of herbs right on top of the roasted veggies or sliced chicken. This small trick can give even the most bland Subway sandwich the complexity of a Vietnamese bánh-mì. Bánh-mì, besides the number of other flavorful ingredients, like pâté and pickled veggies, gets an entire sprig or two of fresh cilantro, stem and all. If omitted, the whole sandwich suffers a distinctly less flavorful fate. With it, all of the flavors pop in harmony.

It’s the best way to add pizzazz to your everyday turkey and provolone, or even an egg white and broccoli breakfast sandwich. Add a whole stem of cilantro (the stem is edible, and has tons of flavor), sprigs of oregano, a leaf of sage, some dill, or even mint leaves. (Fresh mint is more bright, cool, and sweet rather than toothpaste-y.) Transform a party platter of sliced wraps or sandwiches by tucking a leaf of basil into each serving. With the wide variety of fresh herbs available in the produce aisle, the combinations are endless. It’s the easiest way to wake up a mundane sandwich without having to reinvent the meal.


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