14 Vegetables To Load Your Sandwich With Instead Of Meat

Sandwich with vegetable toppings
Sandwich with vegetable toppings - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

When folks decide to reduce or cut out meat from their diet they often think it's time to retire their grill, give up on potlucks, and say adios to sandwiches. Luckily, there's no need to take such drastic action. You can thrive on grilled plants, learn to love meat-free potluck dishes, and create a killer vegetarian sandwich. Since meat is typically the main character of a sandwich, first you need to change your perspective. Few people sit around eating rolled-up ham (no judgment if you do), because much of the excitement revolves around quality sandwich bread, toppings, sauces, and spreads. Go ahead and make your favorites, sans meat, or choose some of our top vegetables to give your sandwich substance instead of meat.

When selecting veggies, consider both flavor and texture. If you're looking for a meat replacement, think of the umami notes and chewy mouthfeel found in mushrooms or eggplant. Umami flavors can also be added with marinades and seasonings. While a meat replacement sounds intriguing to some, others prefer an out-of-the-box option. Almost any vegetable can steal the show if prepared right. When you're standing in front of the refrigerator pondering what the heck even goes into a vegan or vegetarian sandwich, grab from our list of primo sandwich vegetables.

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Miso Eggplant

Eggplant sandwich with sauce
Eggplant sandwich with sauce - Magdanatka/Shutterstock

Eggplant is one of those vegetables that people either hate or love. That being said, those who dislike it may feel this way because they've only had it badly prepared. Eggplant has bitter undertones that often need to sweat out and be blotted away. You can draw the moisture out using salt which also reduces the bitter edge. The second gripe we often hear is about texture. Luckily, eggplant can be prepared in endless ways, giving it a variety of textures. If you hate mushy eggplant then try breading it and frying it. Let's be honest, most of us would eat a shoe if it were coated and deep-fried. And there are other ways to cook egglant, too.

Eggplant can be described as meaty, and if prepared properly can have a tender yet chewy texture, like meat. Consider marinating it in a miso garlic sauce and then grilling it at a high heat to char the outside without letting the inside get too mushy. Leave the skins on and load up on the sauce. If miso isn't your thing, select an idea from one of 23 easy eggplant recipes for any night of the week, or go with our complete sandwich recipe of a ratatouille-style eggplant panini with herb aioli. Use ¼ to ½ inch slices of eggplant, and ensure it's cooked beyond the rubbery stage. Then load up with flavorful Mediterranean ingredients like pesto or tapenade, mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, and basil.

Cooked Mushrooms

Avocado mushroom open sandwich
Avocado mushroom open sandwich - sweet marshmallow/Shutterstock

A classic vegetarian meat replacement is roasted mushrooms. Not only can they take on the appearance of meat, but mushrooms are chewy in texture and are filled with rich umami undertones. You really can't go wrong swapping mushrooms for meat in a classic sandwich like a Reuben, hamburger, or French onion dip sandwich. However, choosing the right variety of mushroom will ultimately set the tone for the dish. Grilled portobello mushrooms with a little olive oil and tamari can take on a burger patty any day, while shredded king oyster mushrooms make the ultimate vegan version of pulled pork.

When in doubt with mushrooms, use a splash of red wine, a drizzle of olive oil, and a whisper of tamari or soy sauce and cook those bad boys down. Avoid stirring them frequently, instead allowing them to brown and become slightly crispy. There are endless varieties, but shiitake is a great option for the ultimate chewy and meaty mushroom with stronger umami flavors and a more rubbery structure. Mushrooms pair incredibly with barbecue sauce so feel free to include them in your next cookout as a healthy replacement for grilled meats on your sandwiches.

Grilled Zucchini

Zucchini open faced sandwich
Zucchini open faced sandwich - Luchezar/Getty Images

Both raw and grilled zucchini taste delicious on meat-based and vegetarian sandwiches. When added raw, it has a subtle crunch and fresh flavor. We recommend grilling it with a little soy sauce and olive oil to add umami undertones. In combination with the smokiness from the grill, you are left with a savory and tender sandwich centerpiece that pairs well with almost any other vegetable out there.

Because zucchini has a subtle flavor, it can be sauced to your liking. Try grilled zucchini with caper sauce to replace white meat or fish on a sandwich. Or use it to elevate your grilled cheese sandwich. Layer with marinated vegetables and hummus, or use it in a wrap with Italian dressing. Smaller zucchini picked at peak ripeness tend to have more flavor. So, although that massive harvest your neighbor brought over might seem impressive, remember that great things come in small packages. Don't bother peeling zucchini, simply slice it from tip to base in ¼ to ½ inch strips. Be sure your grill is preheated so that the zucchini doesn't stick and fall apart. Grill it ever so slightly so it does not become overcooked and mushy.

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Tomato cheese and basil sandwich
Tomato cheese and basil sandwich - Bhofack2/Getty Images

When you don't want beef, try beefsteak tomatoes instead! These meaty veggies are best enjoyed vine-ripened and fresh. If grown right, they can be enjoyed on their own, or sprinkled with a hint of salt to bring out their flavor even more. They have a natural umami undertone, with slightly sweet and acidic flavors. Tomato sandwiches are a classic, like the famous southern tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, or the Mediterranean combination of tomato, basil pesto, and burrata or mozzarella on a baguette. It's the sandwich version of a caprese salad.

Because beefsteak tomatoes are incredibly juicy, avoid soggy tomato sandwiches by toasting the bread first. Use creamy sauces and toppings, and then add fresh herbs and vegetables. Tomatoes can be slippery so don't stack them with other slippery vegetables like zucchini or sliced beets. They should grip your sandwich bread well, and when in doubt add a layer of sprouts or arugula to keep things in place. Tomato sandwiches are best enjoyed shortly after they are prepared.

Crispy Potatoes

Vada pav Indian sandwich
Vada pav Indian sandwich - Image bug/Shutterstock

Potatoes are often the side kicks, standing in the shadow of sandwiches in either chip or fry form. Let them take center stage and become the main ingredient in your new favorite sandwich. Choose any variety ranging from Yukon gold to sweet potatoes, slice them into thick rings, and pan fry, roast, or deep fry them. The goal is to get a tender and creamy interior while the outside crisps up. Potatoes are mild and sweet, so layer them with flavor-packed veggies like mushrooms, tomatoes, beets, onions, and arugula. To make your life easier, consider using hashbrowns instead.

If you're feeling adventurous, let's take a trip to Mumbai and try the vada pav potato sandwich. It's hard to say no to fried potatoes, so imagine this: A fluffy fried potato loaded onto a crispy white bun, thick with Indian spicy spreads and chutneys. The potato patties are usually made from mashed potato mixed with aromatic peppers and spices, dipped in chickpea batter, and finally plunged into the deep fryer. The vada pav potato sandwich certainly gives meat sandwiches a run for their money.

Shredded Jackfruit

Jackfruit vegan pulled pork
Jackfruit vegan pulled pork - Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

When thinking about meat sandwiches it's easy for the mind to go right to lunch meats, but there are plenty of other options like roasted chicken, shaved skirt steak, and then ever-so-savory pulled pork. If you've been missing pulled pork lately then take notes. There is a magical fruit called jackfruit that takes on the texture of pulled pork and can be spiced accordingly. Fresh jackfruit is massive and difficult to handle and prepare, but can often be found pre-cut in the canned food section of the grocery store.

Shred the meat of the jackfruit as you would with cooked pork, rub it with spices, and douse it with your favorite barbecue sauce. Broil it in the oven until the end bits get crispy and chewy, and use it to make the most epic jackfruit barbecue sandwich recipe ever. Don't forget to toast those oiled buns and load them up with your favorite plant-based spicy coleslaw.

Roasted Red Pepper

roasted pepper and caper open sandwich
roasted pepper and caper open sandwich - pbd Studio/Shutterstock

Roasted red peppers often make an appearance on sandwiches because they are smoky, sweet, bright, and aesthetically pleasing. They add a tender and chewy layer of moisture that will balance any dry or toasted bread. In addition, red pepper tastes great with mild vegetables like zucchini but holds up nicely to intense flavors like pesto or garlic. You can roast your own red peppers over an open flame or in the oven on high heat, or consider buying them jarred for quick sandwich assembly. A jar of whole roasted red peppers is a useful item to have on hand.

Because red peppers are so sweet, consider using a vinegar-based dressing on your sandwich to create a balanced mouthfeel. Include some raw veggies like grated carrots or sweet onion to add crunch, as roasted red peppers are often rather soft. Both strong cheeses like gorgonzola and milder ones like mozzarella complement the vegetable. And you could combine roasted squash with your peppers for a tasty take on a wrap. Luckily, you can enjoy a roasted red pepper sandwich both hot or cold, dealer's choice.

Artichoke Hearts

Artichoke heart panini sandwich
Artichoke heart panini sandwich - Pamelajoemcfarlane/Getty Images

Artichoke hearts can be found jarred and marinated, which is handy because they are a challenge to get to if you buy whole artichokes to steam. They are extremely buttery, with a subtle meaty flavor that is also slightly sweet. Jarred artichoke hearts can be mildly rubbery, which can add a nice chewy texture to a sandwich. Deep fry them and artichoke hearts can even add crunch to a sandwich. All of those tender layers hold sauces well, so choose one that is flavorful to complement and not overwhelm the vegetable. You can even select a thinner vinaigrette or dressing that will get soaked right up in that layer-rich heart.

Typically, artichoke hearts are found in paninis and wraps so that the concave-shaped hearts stay in place. Throw in other Mediterranean vegetables and toppings like olives, arugula, and feta, with a vinaigrette for a chilled wrap, or press it between two slices of whole-grain bread with goat cheese and spinach. Artichokes are underrated both within and outside of the sandwich world, so it's worth giving the forgotten vegetable the spotlight.

Mashed Chickpeas

Chickpea salad sandwich
Chickpea salad sandwich - Magdanatka/Shutterstock

If you are looking for a plant-based alternative to tuna or chicken salad sandwiches then let us introduce you to the next best thing: The chickpea. Chickpeas can be used in many capacities, especially when replacing meat. In fact, chickpea salad sandwiches are quite popular in the vegan community, and the reason is that they are beyond delicious. There's a bonus, too: They are packed with protein and fiber to keep you full and feeling fabulous.

Now, you can't just mash a bunch of chickpeas and expect fireworks. There are ways to improve and dress up your vegan chicken salad. First, you'll need to make a mayonnaise or plant-based mayonnaise-based sauce with mustard, vinegar, a sweetener, and whatever else you used to add to your chicken salad dressing. Load it with garlic powder, paprika, salt, and pepper, and stir it into your mashed chickpeas. Next, mince some crunchy ingredients like sweet onion, dill pickles, chives, and celery. Splash in a little acid like apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. Stir it all together, smush it between a few slices of quality bread topped with lettuce and tomato, and enjoy.

Sliced Avocado

person  making avocado sandwich
person making avocado sandwich - Rouzes/Getty Images

It's a given that just about everyone and their brother loves avocado toast. And if you really think about it, that's just an open-faced avocado sandwich, so it makes sense that you could use fatty, creamy avocado as the main ingredient in your sandwich. Whether you add it mashed or sliced, it carries both flavor and texture to dazzle.

Avocados do well in wraps because they are slippery. Wraps tend to hold them in place, but you can also get creative with textured and dryer ingredients like sprouts, grated carrots, and shredded lettuce to keep your sandwich from sliding apart. Be sure to choose a ripe avocado, and layer it on thick, avoiding placing those slices next to other slippery and water-dense vegetables like tomatoes. Avocados can be heated, but taste incredible raw on sandwiches with garden fresh vegetables. If you aren't sure where to start, try our loaded sproutsbr and avocado sandwich recipe.

Crunchy Broccoli

Grilled cheese and broccoli sandwich
Grilled cheese and broccoli sandwich - pbd Studio/Shutterstock

Broccoli rarely makes its way into sandwiches, but we think that's a crying shame. Broccoli has a wonderful chewy crunch, along with all of those delicate florets that hold onto sauce beautifully. First-time broccoli-sandwich goers should consider making a broccoli-based Reuben by simply replacing the corned beef with broccoli. Break the head of broccoli into large florets, then slice them into cross sections about ¼ inch thick. Roast them or pan fry them until they become bright green, but retain some structure and crunch. Seriously, roasted broccoli will give your sandwich that flavorful upgrade it's been waiting for.

For a more experimental cook, consider using broccoli in place of a burger patty, sliced ham, salami, or even a bratwurst. Alternatively, start from scratch and drop the concept of replacing meat and load your broccoli sandwich up with dairy or plant-based cheeses, caramelized onion, and plenty of sauce. Once you've hopped on the broccoli sandwich train there is no turning back.

Cauliflower Steak

Roasted cauliflower steak
Roasted cauliflower steak - Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock

Remember when cauliflower took over the culinary scene and was replacing everything from rice to steak? Well, we are fully on board with the trend and love to see such a delicious vegetable in the limelight. Adding cauliflower to your sandwich could be as simple as tossing your favorite cauliflower steak recipe between two buns with some lettuce, tomato, and sauce. However, because of its mild flavor that can almost mimic white meat or fish, it's worth incorporating it into typically meat-based recipes as a fiber and vitamin-rich alternative.

In fact, cauliflower steaks are so popular that Chick-fil-A has been testing a new fried cauliflower steak sandwich that's bound to catch the attention of their regulars and attract a new crowd. If you're a fan of the popular chain, consider coating and frying a cauliflower steak and making your own classic chicken-style sandwich at home. If you've never attempted to make your own cauliflower steak, know that the hardest part is learning how to slice the cauliflower head to make the perfect steak. The rest is all about seasoning it to perfection. You could use a chili lime rub, a lemon pepper rub, a barbecue sauce, or make your own flavoring. The options are endless.

Fresh Cucumber

Vegetarian cucumber sandwich
Vegetarian cucumber sandwich - Jmichl/Getty Images

If your childhood tea time was accompanied by cucumber and cream cheese crustless sandwiches then you already know what's good. Fresh cucumber makes for an incredible sandwich topping because it's fragrant, crisp, and sweet, and pairs incredibly well with many sauces and spreads. Consider using a spreadable cheese like cream cheese or goat cheese, or try hummus with lemon and dill. Fresh herbs and cracked black pepper also accompany the vegetable in a beautiful way. These whimsical and refreshing cucumber sandwiches are perfect for a picnic on a hot day, or even just a packed lunch during the week.

Alternatively, use raw cucumber to bring variety to a dense, hot, and meaty sandwich like one loaded with marinated and grilled mushrooms or eggplant. Peel and slice fresh cucumber into disks, or use a vegetable peeler to make long crunchy ribbons. Whichever way you slice it, cucumber is a great way to vary the temperature, texture, and flavor in a sandwich and take it from basic to extraordinary. Keep in mind that cucumbers are water-dense and slippery so they should not be stacked next to tomatoes or avocado because they may slip apart when you attempt to take a bite. The order in which you stack your sandwich is always important.

Cooked Lentils

Two lentil sloppy Joes
Two lentil sloppy Joes - KailaRae/Shutterstock

Sloppy Joes are one of those sandwiches that people either hate or love, and we align with the latter. They are sweet, savory, umami-rich, chewy, and well... sloppy. Consider making your next sloppy Joe with protein-rich lentils instead of beef. Simply pre-cook your lentils until they are tender, then strain any excess water, and use them like cooked ground beef. Use classic additions like cooked onion and green pepper, along with the famous sloppy Joe sauce. Don't forget to spice it up heavily, and add a little extra salt. A splash of tamari and a pinch of smoked paprika can help create a meaty flavor for your lentils.

For an even easier twist on the speedy classic, try an instant pot lentil sloppy joes recipe so you can set and forget it until it's time to eat. Be sure to cook most of the moisture out of the mix, and then press it between two toasted buns. Feel free to get creative with toppings like sliced dill pickles, mashed avocado, or coleslaw. Because lentils are hearty, this sandwich will stick to your ribs and leave you too full for dessert, so plan accordingly. Sloppy Joes, as you may know, are best enjoyed freshly prepared as the sauces tend to soak into the bun. Although it may not be a great picnic option, lentil sloppy Joes could become your family's new go-to weeknight dinner.

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