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I looked through my kitchen window and could feel the chill. My husband was plugging away on his laptop in the office room. I peeked in and asked, “Shall we go out to lunch?” He jumped at the offer. We debated where to go. Where could we get a nice, toasty sandwich? We thought about a few fast, casual places we both knew, but none sounded quite right for a cold afternoon. Then my husband asked, “How about that chutney sandwich?” “Oh!” I said, “You mean the one with warm wheat bread, spread with spicy homemade tomato chutney, layered with pepper jack cheese, sautéed onions and bell peppers, and a layer of grilled chicken?”

And so we headed to the kitchen.

A little factoid on the origin of the sandwich. John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, a small town in England, was an avid gambler. His addiction to gambling gave him very little time to eat, so he would ask the waiter to just fix him some meat between two pieces of bread. Thus the “sandwich” was born.

As I was fixing our lunch, I remembered the vegetable sandwiches my mom would make for us back in India. She would smear two slices of bread with butter and add the sautéed vegetable of the day—spicy beans, hot chole (garbanzo beans), or potato, and toast it all on a skillet. It was awesome.

Are you ready for a hot sandwich? Pull out your Panini maker or sandwich maker from that “lost” corner shelf in your kitchen. You could use a skillet, too. You can use white, wheat, french, Dutch Crunch, focaccia, or any other bread.

Here is a selection of recipes for sandwiches and spreads so you can make your own special custom sandwich on a cold winter day.

Three Sassy Spreads

These three spreads serve multiple purposes. The spicy tomato can also be used in chapati rolls, quesadillas, and as a dip for pita chips. The pesto sauce is great with pasta, and the mint chutney can be used for bhel puri and other chaat preparations.

Spicy Tomato Chutney Spread

3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
a pinch of asafetida
1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomato
1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek powder (seeds roasted and powdered)
salt, to taste

Heat oil in a nonstick saucepan and add the mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add asafetida, cayenne pepper, turmeric, and tomatoes. Let simmer on medium heat for about 15 minutes; keep stirring until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the salt, brown sugar, and fenugreek powder, and let simmer for a few more minutes until the oil rises to the sides of the saucepan. Check seasoning and let it cool. Then keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. This spread is great for sandwiches, chapatti rolls, and quesadillas.

Mint Chutney
1 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
1 green chili
1 shallot
1 tablespoon lime juice
salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Grind all the ingredients together into a smooth paste and check seasoning. Keep in an airtight container.

Pesto Sauce
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place the pine nuts and garlic and pulse until the pine nuts are chopped fine. Add the basil leaves and pulse to blend. Now as you blend, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the basil mixture. Stop and scrape the sides and add the parmesan cheese. Blend again to a smooth paste. Place the sauce in an airtight container and drizzle some olive oil to avoid discoloration.
My personal favorite sandwich is a toasty focaccia smeared with pesto and layered with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced vine ripe tomatoes sprinkled with salt and fresh pepper, and fresh basil leaves.

The “Pesto Pizzazz”

2 slices of bread
Butter for spreading
1 tablespoon pesto sauce
2-4 fresh mozzarella slices
4 slices of vine ripe tomato
4 fresh basil leaves

Spread the two sides of bread with butter and add the pesto sauce on one side. Layer it with cheese, tomatoes, and basil, and place the other slice on top. Place the sandwich in a toaster oven until the bread is toasted and the cheese begins to melt.

The “Minty Masala”

2 slices of bread
Butter for spreading
1 tablespoon mint chutney
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Potato Mixture:
1 Russet potato, cooked and mashed
1/2 teaspoon chaat masala
cayenne pepper, to taste,
salt, to taste
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Mix the mashed potato with chaat masala, cayenne pepper, salt, and cilantro. Mix well, and use 1 tablespoon of this mixture for the sandwich.
Spread butter on one side each of both bread slices. Spread the mint chutney on one side. Spread the potato mixture on top. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese on the potato mixture. Place the other slice of bread on top of the cheese. Place the whole sandwich on a hot skillet and toast both sides, until the cheese begins to melt.

The “Too-Hot Tamaatar”

2 slices of bread
1 tablespoon spicy tomato chutney
1 slice pepper jack cheese

Mushroom Mixture:
1 teaspoon olive oil
5 Crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 small bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
1 clove garlic, chopped fine
2 tablespoons, red wine
salt, to taste

Heat oil in a pan, add garlic, mushrooms, and bell peppers, and add the wine and salt. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked and the wine is reduced. Set aside. Use a tablespoon of this mixture for the sandwich.
Butter the two slices of bread. Spread the spicy tomato chutney on one side. Layer it with the mushroom and bell pepper mixture. Top it with pepper jack cheese and the other bread slice. Place it on a skillet and toast the sandwich on both sides.

Kids Pockets

These sandwiches are a great hit with my two boys and my nephews who are all between two and 11 years old. The little triangular pockets are made with a sandwich press.

2 slices of bread
Butter for spreading
1 tablespoon sun dried tomato pesto (Trader Joe’s)
1 sliced square of cheddar cheese

Spread the two sides of bread with butter and add the sun dried tomato pesto to one side. Layer it with cheese, and place the other slice on top. Place the sandwich in a sandwich press until the bread is toasted and the cheese begins to melt.

Praba Iyer teaches custom cooking classes around the Bay Area. She was Associate Chef at Green’s Restaurant, San Francisco. She also blogs about cooking at