No matter what side you like to butter (or mustard) your bread, a new book about our state's sandwiches, "Minnesota Lunch," is sure to please.
Rich in facts and regional flavor, the collection from James Norton and the Heavy Table website team reflects the same insatiable curiosity and shoe-leather reporting as their online magazine.
In the torta chapter, Susan Pagani traces the rebirth of East Lake Street to the founding of El Mercado Central, "at the intersection of sandwich and taco." In a piece about sambusa, Lori Writer details its role in breaking the Somali Ramadan fast. How did the turkey sandwich earn State Fair status? Jill Lewis explains its beginnings in 1958. Norton, also the book's editor, peels back the etymology of "Hot Dago" to give it the respect it deserves. (I devoured this chapter, red sauce dribbling on my sleeve.)
"Sandwiches are an easy and accessible entry point into history and culture," Norton said recently. He and Becca Dilley, one of the book's photographers (and Norton's wife), are fascinated by these handheld meals. "Take the banh mì. It's an embodiment of French and Vietnamese
heritage. The components of French pâté, spicy Asian pork, aioli, fiery pickles are direct expressions of that country's story," he explained.
Researching the pasty, an Iron Range icon, Dilley found that in Pequot Lakes, a church's pasty suppers not only helped feed the congregants and church coffers, but nurtured community, as well. "Making the pasties gathered retired elders during the day to ready the ingredients and in the evening the younger members came to assemble them. The whole town showed up for the pasty suppers. These activities actually helped attract new members to the church because they were fun," she said in an interview.
Of all the ethnic sandwiches, the Scandinavian open-faced ones get the least respect. "I am surprised, because they're elegant, fresh, simple and offer a galaxy of options with assorted breads and interesting toppings," Norton said. "They're relatively healthy, but the ones we encountered seemed more like relics, maybe because they require a knife and fork." One Scandinavian told Norton that his grandfather arrived in Minnesota with a small duffel and a knife and fork in his pocket.
No matter its history, the sandwich is universal in its unpretentious appeal. "It's rarely about using an expensive, hard-to-find ingredient or applying a cooking technique that takes hours or even days to accomplish," Norton writes in the book's introduction. "It's about balance. It's about freshness. It's about editing: what you leave out is as crucial as what goes between the slices. Making a great sandwich is an art, not a science."
The sandwich is a restaurant meal you can make at home. Here's how.
Beth Dooley is a Minneapolis writer and cooking teacher.