Veggie-forward sub sandwich

Q: what do chickens grow on?
A: an eggplant.

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Read Time: 6 minutes

Say hello to an easy-to-make sandwich perfect for tomato and farmer’s market season. It’s a vegetarian—not vegan—sub sandwich with marinated and grilled eggplant, mozzarella, fresh tomato slices, and crunchy green lettuce tossed in a sweet and tangy dressing.

There’s no history to reveal for this sandwich, but there is certainly some inspiration for it. A well-known and loved Chicago sandwich spot called J.P. Graziano Grocery has a veggie sub that uses eggplant as the focal point in a sub with some other vegetables and soft creamy, fresh mozzarella cheese. This is how a couple of months ago I got the idea to make an eggplant-focused sub while looking at the J.P. Graziano menu when I was there waiting to pick up a couple of lunchtime sandwiches.

This sandwich was inspired by J.P. Graziano but by no means is this meant to be a copy of that sub. I’m just using the idea of eggplant. Let’s talk about the ingredients and then make them.

First, we’ll make my favorite super simple bread roll for sub sandwiches.

My favorite sub sandwich roll recipe

Over the past two years that I’ve been writing about sandwiches, I have used this particular sub sandwich roll recipe quite a few times. I’ve used it on cheesesteaks, fried shrimp po’boys, French bread style pizza sandwiches, a buffalo chicken cheesesteak, meatball subs, a roast beef and slaw sub, and even my walking taco sandwich. Seven different sandwiches sound like a lot but that’s out of 137 different sandwich blog posts, so I think we’re ok. At this point though, I’d simply say that I’ve made this roll recipe a time or two and thoroughly tested it out.

As I’ve said before (likely in the above blog post links) this recipe is a beginner-level baking recipe so if you want to jump in the pool and see if you can handle being an amateur baker, this is a great recipe to try.

Shaped rolls have been added to the silicone mold.
1 hour and 15 minutes later, this is what the shaped rolls look like. This is just prior to baking.

Over the past year, I have started using a silicone sub roll mold for shaping this version of sub sandwich rolls and it works great every time. It produces consistent results that end up looking and feeling like large bakery-produced rolls. The dough rises inside the molds, which forces each roll to rise upwards and have more structure and their shape will be very similar to its neighbor roll after the bake.

The same four rolls after baking.

Without a mold or special pan, it’s hard to get perfect-looking rolls each time. For baguettes or even a crusty French-style roll, you might not want to use this sort of silicone mold, but for a sub-shop style of soft bread roll, this is perfect. There’s a time and a place for a crunchy and well-built baguette and there’s also a time and a place for a soft, chewy deli sub-style roll.

Right now, we’re in soft and chewy sub roll land.

My usual recipe makes 3 rolls, but I dialed up the ingredients and process with my Bun Calculator.
I have adjusted this recipe to just bake one roll once. But I haven’t tried it again because it still takes the same amount of time and effort.

Extra nerdy stuff: this recipe makes three sub rolls but I knew I was going to need an extra roll so I loaded up the recipe in my Bun Calculator and set the target for 4 rolls instead of 3 and proceeded as usual. Not all my bread recipes are able to be calculated and adjusted like this though. About 14 recipes on the site are in there because they specifically use grams and don’t have any special toppings or extra steps required that might throw off the calculations.

Behind the scenes, the Bun Calculator is simply measuring the base number of rolls (in this case 3), and then it is using simple math to adjust the amount of grams required to make the number of rolls or buns you have selected. It is technically still in beta and probably will be forever because it’s hard for a single individual to test every recipe version, but it works well for me so far. Just don’t try to turn a 6-roll recipe into a 100-roll recipe or adjust a 12-roll recipe down into a 1-roll recipe and expect the yeast measurements to work perfectly.

Here’s my sub sandwich roll recipe that you should try if you’re even remotely interested in baking your own bread. It’s a friendly recipe for beginners and intermediate bakers alike.

3 hours
Sub sandwich rolls

This is a great recipe to use when you need a sub sandwich roll. These sub rolls are not too crusty with a soft interior and pleasant chew for a sub sandwich, cheese steak, or po-boy.

Get Recipe

Marinated and grilled eggplant

At this point in my life, I’ve only cooked eggplant two times. Both were for this blog post. That might not inspire confidence in my recipe, but since I was treating this grilled vegetable like it was meat, I used an almost exact version of the marinade that my mom used on flank steak when I was growing up. My wife and I have grilled with this marinade quite a few times and while it is great on steak, I’m here to report that it works equally as well on eggplant.

Eggplant is a dense vegetable that absorbs marinade well. This means you can marinade it and it will keep a lot of that flavor even after it’s removed from the grill.

I’ve seen a few people say that they think that eggplant texturally seems like steak. While I don’t personally think it’s exactly like steak or meat, I do really enjoy its texture and think it works great in a sandwich with other soft vegetables that are different from grilled eggplant.

First eggplant that this blog has ever seen.

I marinated this eggplant for somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour and then immediately grilled it on a grill pan on my stove. You can grill outdoors if you want but for me, it’s a lot easier to grill indoors since I’m also filming and photographing the process.

A grill pan full of marinated eggplant.

For a sandwich like this, the eggplant should be grilled in advance and can be added to this sandwich fully chilled from the refrigerator. That is what I did for each of the veggie subs that I made, and it made it so this was a reasonably quick weekday lunch (I work from home). I grilled all the eggplant on Sunday and then was able to quickly put together a sub in just a few minutes throughout the week.

Tomato slices

If you’re reading this when I publish it (early August), we’re right smack dab in the middle of summer tomato season so you should be able to acquire some ripe red slices for this sandwich. If you’re reading this outside of tomato season, I suggest that you read what I wrote about tomatoes and a good out-of-season replacement in my Clubs and Subs post.

Spoiler: the tip was for using a sun-dried tomato spread instead of tomatoes. In this case, just spread this on the top side of the sub roll and leave out the fresh tomato slices if you’re making a version of this sandwich in the winter.

Anyway, since you’re reading this now you should go buy some eggplant and the best tomato you can find and get to work. Stop reading and go!

This photo has nothing to do with this sandwich. It’s just an illustration of what tomato slices look like. You’re welcome.

Lettuce and dressing options

I usually avoid writing much about lettuce, but since this is a veggie sub so I should give it extra treatment.

For these veggie sub sandwiches, I used a couple of different lettuce options that were in my refrigerator at the time. Some of it was green leaf lettuce but I also blended in some shredded iceberg as well since I had it available and didn’t really have a use for it at the time. Basically, I just used what I had on hand and then I chopped it up into smaller pieces and packaged it to use on these sandwiches for a few days.

But you could use arugula or even a salad mix that you could buy at the store.

For a dressing, I created a simple recipe for a simple sweet and tangy dressing that you should toss the lettuce in before adding to the sandwich. For an even simpler option, you can just toss the lettuce in olive oil and vinegar with salt and pepper right before adding to the sub. I did this second option in the Instagram reel that I made for this sandwich.

My favorite veggie sub sandwich

Here’s a very short build slideshow of how to create this bad boy.

This is a flavor-packed vegetable-focused sandwich.
One vegetable sandwich in the hand is worth two in the vegetable bush.

Here’s the full recipe for my favorite veggie sub that you should make soon.

Grilled eggplant veggie sub view printable page for this recipe

A flavorful sandwich focused on the textures and tastes of several different vegetables. Creamy mozzarella pairs well with marinated and grilled eggplant, salted tomato slices and dressed crunchy lettuce to form a great sub sandwich.


Ingredients:

Marinated and grilled eggplant
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 12 cup olive oil
  • 13 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 Thai or Fresno peppers, thinly sliced (or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes)
Dressing
  • 14 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 12 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 12 teaspoon hot sauce
Sandwich assembly
  • 1 six-inch sub roll
  • mayonnaise (optional)
  • 4 slices of grilled eggplant (from above)
  • 2 or 3 fresh mozzarella slices (no more than 1/4-inch thick)
  • 2 to 3 slices of tomato
  • 14 to 12 cup shredded lettuce
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons dressing (from above)

Directions:

Marinated and grilled eggplant: slice eggplant into 1/4-inch half circles.

Lightly salt the eggplant slices and place them in a colander or on top of paper towels. This will help remove some of the moisture in the eggplant. Allow the slices to sit for 30 minutes.

While the eggplant is resting, combine olive oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, garlic, ginger, parsley, and sliced pepper or red pepper flakes in a medium-sized bowl and whisk to combine fully. This is your marinade. Once 30 minutes have passed and the eggplant has drained a little, add the slices to the marinade and allow everything to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour. 

Grill the eggplant slices for 3 to 4 minutes per side over a medium-high heat grill or grill pan. Remove the eggplant from the grill and store in the refrigerator for up to five days. 

Dressing: combine vegetable oil, sugar, vinegar, parsley, salt, pepper, and hot sauce in a jar with a lid. Cover with lid and shake to mix well. This will make more dressing than you need, but it works well on a salad and should keep in your refrigerator for a few weeks.

Sandwich assembly: slice your six-inch sub roll to get it ready for the ingredients. Add mayonnaise (if using) to the bottom roll. 

Top with slices of eggplant and then cover those with mozzarella. Add tomato slices and then lightly salt and pepper the tomatoes.

Toss shredded lettuce in a small bowl with 2 to 3 tablespoons of dressing and then cover the tomato slices with the dressed lettuce. At this point I usually will drizzle another tablespoon or 2 on the inside of the top sandwich roll as well, just to give the sandwich some extra moisture. 

Cover and close the whole sandwich with the top of the roll and serve.

This is not the most attractive sandwich from the side. It definitely looks much better in the cross-section view.
The eggplant texture doesn’t seem exactly like meat to me, but it does have a good texture against the other soft components of the sandwich.

Come back next week

Next week we’ll be making croissants!

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