Whipping up a few surprises for the sandwich set SPREAD' S THE WORD

September 07, 1994|By Mary Carroll | Mary Carroll,Orlando SentinelCarroll Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Each September, school begins again and "What's for lunch?" becomes a daily question. Parents rack their brains trying to think of healthy, quick sandwich fillers to fill their kids, hoping maybe this year the homemade sandwiches will contain such enticing interiors that they won't be traded for Twinkies or Mars bars.

Each September, coming up empty on new ideas, parents pack the same cheese or peanut butter sandwiches that are sure to be eaten.

I face the same challenge in preparing work lunches for my brown-bagging family. By noon everyone is ready for a treat, opening the lunch bag in anticipation and wondering what's hidden behind the wheat bread and lettuce leaves. With my busy schedule, there's only one way I can satisfy these high expectations.

Sunday afternoon often finds me in the kitchen, trying out new recipes for make-ahead sandwich spreads.

Desperation led to this discovery: You can puree almost anything tasty and make it a sandwich spread. One great filler came from leftover eggplant Parmesan -- pureed, seasoned and chilled, everyone thought it tasted like an Italian submarine sandwich. Most precooked canned beans are delicious mashed with herbs, a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper. For the gourmets in the group, I tried pureeing roasted peppers orslowly cooked, almost caramelized onions -- unexpectedly delicious with smoky cheese between slices of rye bread.

And when I run out of ideas completely, I can always mash low-fat ricotta or cottage cheese and flavor it with garlic and chopped herbs, or honey and a sprinkle of chopped nuts.

The best recipes, however, are easy on the cook -- those that keep at least five days in covered containers in the refrigerator. They also must not be runny: Nothing's worse than opening a swampy sandwich at noon.

So at our house we repeat the three all-time favorites below throughout the school year. They have passed the taste test with both family and friends. Two have slightly exotic ingredients, but are worth the shopping trip.

An easy cheese spread from Gourmet magazine becomes low-fat and delicious with a change in ingredients.

Low-fat Pimiento-Cheese Spread

Makes 1 3/4 to 2 cups

4 ounces fat-free cream cheese

1 cup shredded low-fat sharp Cheddar cheese

1/8 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, well drained

1/8 cup well-drained chopped pimiento

1/4 cup fat-free mayonnaise

1/8 cup plain nonfat yogurt

2 tablespoons minced red onion, optional

chopped fresh herbs

Blend cream cheese, Cheddar and ricotta in processor until combined. Add pimiento, mayonnaise and yogurt. Process until pimiento is finely chopped. Stir in onion and herbs to taste. Spoon mixture into container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Adjust seasonings before using.

Tempeh is a high-protein, fairly flavor-free soy cheese from Java found in the frozen food section of most health food stores. In this recipe, it turns into a delicious mock-tuna sandwich spread.

High-protein Sandwich Spread

Makes about 1 1/4 cups

8 ounces tempeh, cut into cubes

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce

1/4 cup fat-free mayonnaise

1/4 cup minced celery

1/4 cup chopped green onion

-- cayenne pepper

-- dried dillweed

Steam tempeh 15 minutes in vegetable steamer over simmering water. Drain well.

Heat oil in nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add tempeh and saute lightly until brown, stirring frequently, as tempeh may stick. Remove from heat. While pan is still hot, add soy sauce, stirring to coat tempeh pieces. Remove mixture to bowl. Mash tempeh with fork. Mix in mayonnaise, celery, onion, cayenne and dillweed.

Hummus, the Middle Eastern appetizer and sandwich spread made from mashed garbanzo beans, is common enough.

What's uncommon is this version, which is surprisingly low in fat. The secret is cloves of roasted garlic, which take the place of much of the high-fat sesame paste. I've adapted this version from a recipe in Eating Well magazine.

Low-fat Hummus Sandwich Spread

Makes about 2 cups

8 large cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

2 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

salt, pepper

low-sodium soy sauce

Place unpeeled garlic cloves on nonstick baking sheet. Lightly brush with oil. Roast at 425 degrees until skins are browned and interiors are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes. Let cool. Snip off ends of each clove using scissors and squeeze garlic into food processor bowl. Discard skins.

Add garbanzo beans, cumin, coriander, lemon juice and rind and tahini. Puree until very smooth. Stir in parsley. Transfer to container. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add salt, pepper and soy sauce to taste before serving.

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A HEALTHY LUNCH

Food safety tips from "The Penny Whistle Lunch Box Book" by Meredith Brokaw and Annie Gilbar (Fireside, $11):

* Make sure food is thoroughly cooked.

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