It's not hard to find a vegetarian sandwich at most gastropubs in Los Angeles, but it's less common to come across a vegan version, unless someone on the team behind the menu advocates for it.
"When I was creating the lunch menu, I made the [picnic veggie] sandwich as vegetarian at first. We had talked about adding a tzatziki to it. I started thinking about how adding yogurt would make it vegetarian, not vegan," says Randy Montoya, chef de cuisine at City Tavern.
"There's not a lot of places you can go to that have vegan sandwich. Where you don't have to substitute something out for it," says Montoya.
Once Montoya decided to make the sandwich vegan, he asked for multi-grain vegan rolls from his vendor and decided to forgo a yogurt-based tzatziki for slow-roasted eggplant whipped with olive oil.
"I didn't want to go with veganaise or stuff like that. We were trying to figure out how to do something different, making it our own," he explains. "I don't care for it personally. It's almost like adding a synthetic ingredient. That's why I wanted to use vegetables and natural fat from the olive oil as a spread."
Montoya uses a similar approach with other vegetarian options on the menu. "I don't add animal fat to a lot of the vegetable sides. I've been doing this for a while, from when I was cooking for Suzanne [Tracht] in Long Beach," he says. "If somebody wants a vegetarian side, you're kind of tricking him by adding animal fat. A lot of vegans and vegetarians can get sick from it."
The chef is considering swapping out some of the vegetables in the sandwich to reflect the upcoming season. Check out the recipe below to make the version on menu now.
Picnic Veggie Sandwich
From: Randy Montoya
Serving: 4 sandwiches
Vegan Eggplant "Tzatziki":
(Makes Approx. 3 cups)
4 Japanese eggplants, halved
2 Tablespoons plus ¾ cups quality olive oil
2 sprigs thyme
1 bunch fresh dill
Salt and black pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425. Lightly score around the skin so that the pulp is easy to remove after roasting.
2. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, salt and pepper and lay eggplant, skin-down, on a sheet tray or roasting dish. Roast for 30 minutes until eggplant is soft.
3. Allow eggplant to cool a bit then scoop flesh into a blender or food processor. Slowly drizzle in the remaining olive oil until an emulsion is formed. Fold in dill, salt and pepper to taste.
Picnic Veggie Sandwich:
4 large carrots, peeled
2 English cucumbers
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, washed well and drained
½ cup olive oil, plus a little extra for sandwich
Salt and black pepper to taste
4 vegan sprouted grain rolls
1 cup eggplant "tzatziki"
16 leaves basil
2 small boxes, or about 8 ounces of alfalfa sprouts
2 avocados, sliced
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion soaked in a little red wine vinegar
1. Slice carrots and cucumbers into ¼ inch slices then stack to cut into matchsticks. Slice tomatoes into petals, removing the seeds. Cut into matchsticks as close a possible to the size and shape of the carrots and cucumber. Chop the leaves of the parsley.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the vegetables with the olive oil, making sure to coat well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
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3. Spread the sliced vegan bread with eggplant "tzatziki" and then layer the basil leaves. Mound a large handful of the vegetable mixture, top with sprouts, avocado and the quick pickled red onions. Drizzle a little more olive oil, salt and pepper if desired and finish with the top of the bread.