Finding sandwich bliss
Tiny, quirky Brooklyn shop exports big flavor in 'Saltie' cookbook
Clean slate: The recipe here is Saltie's take on a "re-imagined falafel." First try the hummus recipe -- it includes red miso paste for a rich umami taste -- and then tackle the whole sandwich. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
Saltie is not the typical sandwich shop, and owner Caroline Fidanza's new cookbook, "Saltie," is also far from typical. The book is full of first-person personal stories about the restaurant's three female partners and their individual contributions to Saltie's quirky and cute aesthetic. And "Saltie" is about more than just sandwiches. There are breads. Soups. Salads. And sweets, including chocolate "mouse" (their intentional misspelling, giving in to years of typos) from "an actual French person" made with honey and brandy. When Fidanza returned the beloved mousse to the menu after a long respite, a regular customer said, "I didn't want to say anything, but man that was hard."
Saltie's Williamsburg regulars and co-workers feature prominently in photographs throughout the book; all are treated with the same straightforward style. A cookie called the Chocolate Nudge is inspired by one of their nudgiest customers and by the fudgy way they "pester the mouth." Said Fidanza in a recent phone interview, "Part of the fun of this whole thing is having customers you care about and taking care of them."
Fidanza and her partners, Rebecca Collerton and Elizabeth Schula, are Brooklyn culinary pioneers. "We've been feeding Williamsburg since 1998," she says of their time in the groundbreaking kitchens of Diner and Marlow & Sons. The three came together to create Saltie in 2009, and named their tiny sandwich shop in part for a scary saltwater crocodile and in part for the ships that pass through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Port Duluth each spring. And perhaps, says Fidanza, in part for their slightly salty attitude. And maybe a little bit for the coarse salt strewn on their signature focaccia. Regardless, Saltie reflects a vaguely nautical theme and is run like a tight ship.
The book includes novel techniques (Fidanza swears by piercing an egg with a thumbtack before hard-cooking) and hip recipes (like an array of lassis, Indian fruit drinks made with homemade yogurt) presented in a no-nonsense way. You may, like I did, find yourself making sauerkraut and pickled eggs without a second thought, because Fidanza says so. Sauerkraut, says Fidanza, "generally behaves and tastes just as you would hope." What more could you ask from a recipe?
And truly what more could you ask from a sandwich? The following excerpts from Fidanza's book illustrate the forthright attitude that makes Saltie's recipes at once so approachable and inspiring.
On Saltie sandwiches: "…they are not just sandwiches but in fact complete little meals on bread. Culinary Microcosms. Staged experiences. Dioramas."
On mayonnaise: "It is what drives the sandwich, makes it palatable, loosens it up. Mayonnaise is the most luxurious of dressings."
On homemade yogurt: "…we don't make our own yogurt just for reasons of economy or environmental conscience. It's exciting to make yogurt. The simple process of turning milk into yogurt overnight is a thrill."
On pickles: "I am quite certain that no matter what we may do hereafter, pickles will come with us."
Saltie is a restaurant and a book for sandwich lovers, for kitchen hipsters, and for admirers of eggs and pickles and deceptively simple food.
The recipe here is Saltie's take on a "re-imagined falafel." First try the hummus recipe — it includes red miso paste for a bright, rich umami taste — and then tackle the whole sandwich. You may just want to cook the whole book. Or travel to Williamsburg and have Fidanza and company make it all for you.
Prep: 45 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 1 sandwich
Note: From "Saltie," by Caroline Fidanza. Use red quinoa, if possible, for best flavor. Fidanza calls for homemade naan for this sandwich; you can sub with purchased naan (6-7 inches in diameter) or another flatbread. Her directions are for one sandwich, but there are enough filling ingredients here to make four.
1 teaspoon each: coriander seeds, cumin seeds
4 cloves garlic
2 cups cooked, drained chickpeas (or canned)
2 tablespoons tahini
2 teaspoons red miso, optional
1/4 cup each: fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 piece warm naan
2 to 3 tablespoons yogurt sauce, see recipe below
Sauerkraut and/or other pickles for topping
2 tablespoons shredded raw carrots or chiffonade of greens
1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh mint, cilantro and/or dill
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1. For the hummus, toast the coriander and cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Grind with a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a food processor; add the garlic, chickpeas, tahini and miso if using. Process until well blended. Add the lemon juice, olive oil and sea salt; process until smooth. Taste for seasonings.
2. For the quinoa, rinse in a fine-mesh sieve to remove the bitterness. Transfer to a saucepan; add the water and salt. Heat to a boil over high heat. Cover; reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until all of the water has been absorbed, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat; allow to rest to steam and cool.
3. Place the naan on a plate; spread the center with 1/4 cup hummus, leaving an inch around the edge without hummus. Place 1/4 cup quinoa on top of the hummus; spread evenly across naan, stopping just short of the edges of the hummus. Drizzle with yogurt sauce; top with sauerkraut or other pickle, carrots, herbs and sesame seeds. Fold the naan in half and eat it like a big taco.
Nutrition information: Per serving: 758 calories, 29 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 2 mg cholesterol, 101 g carbohydrates, 25 g protein, 1,354 mg sodium, 15 g fiber.
Yogurt sauce: Whisk 1 cup plain yogurt, 3 thinly sliced green onions, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill together in a bowl. Whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and a splash of white wine vinegar.