By Joe Yonan
When Chetna Makan was growing up in central India, one sandwich showed up more often than any other in her and her classmates’ lunchboxes: dahi toast, a grilled number filled with cabbage, bell pepper and more, bound in yoghurt.
“Also, it’s so hot in India, it’s quite a cooling sandwich,” she said, adding that it gets its creaminess from yoghurt (dahi) rather than “mayo, which is completely unhealthy. You can add vegetables, and it’s just crunchiness you can taste.”
Makan has written several cookbooks since making it to the semi-finals of “The Great British Bake Off” in 2014 and winning a holiday version of the show in 2016, and the most recent is “Chetna’s Healthy Indian Vegetarian” (Mitchell Beazley, 2020). Her father turned vegetarian a few decades ago, her husband comes from a vegetarian family, and so the couple and their two children might have chicken a couple times a week, but “mostly eat veg”.
“People think vegetarian is boring, the same old beans, the same old cauliflower,” she said. “But it’s much, much more.”
These sandwiches prove her point, and also show that flavourful vegetarian cooking doesn’t need much effort, either. These sandwiches, a childhood staple in India, are simple to prepare yet make a stunningly delicious lunch, snack or party nibble. They don’t have to be eaten hot, but they are best the day they’re made.
Grilled Yoghurt Sandwiches (Serves 4)
1 cup finely chopped green cabbage
¾ cup grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 small green chilli (Thai, serrano or jalapeño), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup lightly packed fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
¾ cup plain Greek-style yoghurt
½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 slices white sandwich bread
4 teaspoons butter (preferably salted)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Tomato sauce or Indian chilli sauce, for serving (optional)
In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage, carrot, bell pepper, chilli and coriander. Stir in the yoghurt, salt and pepper until thoroughly combined. Taste, and season with more salt, if needed.
Place 4 slices of bread on your work surface and divide the yoghurt mixture evenly among them. Top the sandwiches with the remaining slices of bread.
Heat a medium frying pan or griddle over medium heat until hot. Add 1 teaspoon butter and ½ teaspoon mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a few seconds, then place two sandwiches in the pan (on the mustard seeds) and cook until golden and crispy on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn them over, add another 1 teaspoon of butter, and cook until golden on that side, 1 to 2 minutes.
Transfer the sandwiches (and any stray mustard seeds) to a plate and repeat with the remaining sandwiches. Serve them whole or cut into triangles, with tomato sauce or chilli sauce, if desired.