Breakfast is personal. Like your underwear. Which is sometimes really sexy and totally worth the attention of strangers, and other times, is really just for you, or totally non-existent. I love breakfast because it’s flexible and at its best, captures an elegant simplicity, plus it’s a meal that easily exemplifies someone’s cooking and eating philosophy.
This week, I brought together my friends, NK and Phoebe, of @theheartradio, to make signature breakfast sandwiches with me, at 2pm on a Saturday, the most appropriate time for an elaborate breakfast. I love the built-in package that any sandwich has to offer, and I wanted to see what qualities and twists they’d use to make it theirs. NK asked, somewhat apprehensively, if it was a contest and I said no, but you can make it one, in your own mind, if that’s more fun to you.
Silky Sandwich by Kamala
Custardy scrambled eggs w dashi
Parmesan cheese flakes
Strips of bacon
Quick pickled cucumbers
Mint, cilantro, dill, baby kale
Kamala: I wanted my breakfast sandwich to be savory and to feel luxurious. To me, luxury is a texture and that texture is tender, creamy, spreadable, unctuous, silky. Think uni, think carbonara, think salted caramel ice cream. That’s how I decided to soft scramble my eggs, with a splash of dashi for a hint of smoke and fishiness. I crisped thin-cut bacon on a baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees, and I laid out thin flakes of parmesan on the brioche bun before I smeared the egg on top of it.
But a sandwich for me is about contrast and balance. I got my bacon super crispy to give the sandwich a crunch, I pickled some cucumbers to give it a bite, and added fresh herbs and a bitterish green for a fresh planty taste and texture that’s the total opposite of luxury, maybe we call it laborious? It requires full chews.
Nothing bridges the gap between fatty luxury and crunchy chew like tomatoes because of the way the acid and sweetness light up when you add fat to it. But I really hate when a watery tomato leaks all over a perfectly good sandwich. And since it’s February, tomatoes need a little boost. So I decided to take out the water by cooking down the tomato with some onion and a touch of maple syrup and chilies, until it was a jammy spreadable texture that I put on the opposite bun from the eggs. I was pleased with the results! This was a breakfast sandwich, I would show to strangers.
Phoebe: If you ever have the pleasure of waking up in Kamala’s dyke kitchen (or showing up at 3pm for an impromptu breakfast sandwich party), you’ll likely experience a luxurious take on a basic that you’ll think about for days after. That’s how I felt about these soft scrambled eggs, that made up for all the dry, rubbery or inconsistently cooked scrambles that had nearly made me give up on the style entirely.
NK: I’m amazed by the attention to detail, the patience, the absolute perfection of these scrambled eggs. Restaurant quality food, restaurant quality presentation. Very luxurious.
How to make the eggs
The key to these eggs is low and slow with tons of whisking. That’s how they get this really soft, custardy texture that sits like a jiggly spread on your bun — right on top of the cheese flakes, if you know what’s best for you. I use two eggs on one sandwich.
Pat of butter
1 tablespoon of dashi
Dashi is a stock that’s salty, smoky and lightly fishy. Yours can be homemade from kombu and bonito flakes, this powdered version above or I like to use the bottled version from the Japanese grocery store.
First, break your eggs in a bowl, add the dashi, and then whisk them for a while — until they’re beyond incorporated, so the yellow starts to get lighter and there are lots of air bubbles hanging around.
Heat butter in a frying pan on your smallest burner at the lowest heat setting. Then pour eggs into the pan, the butter doesn’t have to be melted.
Start whisking the liquid around and don’t stop! Eventually you’ll start to get these little curds that form, and that’s great, keep whisking. You’ll notice the eggs start to thicken and stick to the pan, and you know they’re done, when you can leave a little whisk mark in them and it stays. Depending on what texture, looser or tighter, you like, you can decide when they’re done.
I think a rubber spatula is the best way to gather them up and put them on a bun.
How to make the tomato-onion jam
1-2 tomatoes diced, or 10 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
¼ of a red onion
1 teaspoon of red chili flakes
1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or sugar or honey)
A big splash of Worcestershire sauce
A big pinch of salt or two
In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil and when it’s hot add the onion. Swish that all around in there so it gets pretty browned, you want this to have a little sweetness to it, so don’t be afraid to take it far.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the pot with the salt, and let them cook down until the water has mostly evaporated and you’re getting a thicker, jammy kind of texture.
Then mix in your Worcestershire sauce and sweetener, and keep cooking until everything looks like you can spread it on a bun without making it soggy. Nobody likes a soggy bottom.
How to make the pickles
Pickles are not finicky, so I leave you to make them truly however you want. I like to use a rice wine vinegar because I think it’s a softer vinegar, the acid isn’t quite so stringent, and I like the flavor, but red wine, white, apple cider, they all work. You can add herbs, spices, onion, garlic or chilies, if you want more flavor. I’ve put carrots, radishes, turnips, peppers and even strawberries into this brine before, so go wild, puckerbabies.
Rice wine vinegar
Cucumbers cut into thin pieces, but not so paper thin they lose all their crunch, just thin-ish
In a jar or container mix 2 parts vinegar to 1 part water, a dash of soy sauce, a sprinkle of sugar and couple big pinches of salt. Shake or stir it so it’s all combined, and then taste it. It should be not too sweet or too acidic, and salty enough to impart some flavor on your pickle of choice.
Add your cucumbers and let them sit for at least 20 min and up to a week, though to be honest, I always eat them all before the week is up.
How to make the bacon
Let me just put out there that the way you make bacon is probably fine. But I used to make brunch often with a chef friend of mine, Marlee Belmonte, who showed me this technique for doing bacon in the oven, and it’s perfect for all the faggy princesses who don’t love standing over a scary, grease spitting pan.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees
Line a baking sheet with a silpat or parchment paper
Line up your strips of bacon, I sometimes even overlap them
Pop them in the oven for 15-20 min, depending on thickness and your preferred crisp
A Dyke Sandwich Should Always Include a Spicy Splash of Anti-Zionism by Phoebe
Ideally a hard crusted bread like ciabatta, we made do with a toasted bun & english muffin
Zhoug, a very spicy Yemeni green sauce
Pickled red onions
I’ve got to be honest. My experience of Breakfast as an Event is colored by my Midwestern suburban youth spent pretending to join in on the excitement at the idea of pancakes, waffles and french toast the morning after a sleepover, and then trying to avoid being seen not eating them. I don’t enjoy sweet things in the morning, so it’s taken me a while to cultivate an enthusiasm for the meal. The one consistent positive breakfast event in my life was the Jewish deli breakfast spreads my Grandma assembled every time we went to visit her. Bagels, lox, cream cheese, occasionally smoked trout or herring, tomatoes, red onions, capers, Havarti cheese, fruit, etc.
Before I totally unlearned my religious school Israeli white nationalist militarist brainwashing and became a staunch Anti-Zionist, I went to Israel with my family and had a taste of their breakfasts, which are large spreads that consistently involved smoked fish, cheeses and labnehs, tahini, so much fresh fruit and vegetables, and delicious breads. I try to live a condiment-forward life, and one of my favorites is zhoug, a very spicy and delicious green sauce which I originally encountered through Israeli food but later found out, like lots of delicacies that are being thrown under the umbrella of Israeli food, comes from an Arab country.
I read recently that one of the reasons Yemeni food is popular in Israel is because of a secret evacuation of the entire Yemenite Jewish community to Israel in 1949 called Operation Magic Carpet. So this sandwich honors both these breakfast traditions: the smoked salmon, pickled red onions & dill nod to my ancestral Jewish deli cravings and the tahini, zhoug, feta & cucumber represent the SWANA flavors that deserve to be properly identified in a time when “Israeli” restaurants are popular tools of gentrification. Breakfast, in my opinion, should go there.
Kamala: Nobody does raw like Phoebe. She doesn’t need heat to produce a mesmerizing meal. This sandwich, like most of her creations, feels like she spun up something magical out of nothing. The sandwich design involves great attention to the textures at play and an aggressive Aries punch of herbs and garlic. It’s a breakfast sandwich that begins as confrontational and melts as you get to know it better, leaving you, at the end, dripping in sauces.
NK: Kamala, I love that you’re naming that this sandwich is confrontational (it’s very Phoebe in that way). The flavors are unexpected, strange, memorable. This sandwich succeeds in upending midwestern (and southern) sweet breakfast hegemony. A solidarity sandwich.
How to make the tahini sauce
Tahini (for the uninitiated, a paste made from sesame seeds)
Lemon (for squeezing out the juice)
Smoked paprika (to garnish)
I don’t really measure the ingredients for this, I just get a bowl and mix and taste until I’m satisfied. If I’m cooking for one dyke, I’ll only use a couple spoonfuls of tahini, but sometimes I’ll use more like a cup if I’m making it for a group dinner. That’s the main ingredient, the tahini, and then you’ll want to squeeze some fresh lemon juice in there, too. Half a lemon for a smaller portion, a lemon or two if you’re making more. Adding a couple splashes of water helps with the consistency, which you want to be like a creamy dressing. I like mine to be thick enough to spread on nice bread or dip cut vegetables into. If you’re fancy and have a food processor, mix it in there, good for you! Sprinkle in some salt and a clove or two of garlic minced tiny. I like to top it with some smoked paprika.
How to make the zhoug
Jalapeños (the ones at Kamala’s house were PICKLED, mine are usually REGULAR)
One bunch of cilantro
This sauce is also best made in a food processor, but I make a choppy version on a cutting board. It’s pretty simple, and I just use my intuition for amounts, but I did find an “authentic” and politically conscious looking recipe on this Communist food blog if you want to be more precise.
Quick & Dirty B(reakfast)BLT by NK
Thick cut bacon, baked
I can’t believe I’m saying this in a public forum, but people who know me already know I have a complicated relationship with food. I don’t like thinking about it. Most days I wish I could just eat a pill and be fully nourished. I love when people cook for me, but cooking is a chore to me, I dread it, I hate it, food doesn’t inspire me or make me feel creative — I feel like both of you approach food with the same sense of taste and artfulness that you approach your artistic lives, or your clothing. I’m like a toddler who doesn’t want to eat and also the desperate mother holding the spoon. Like, JUST EAT SOMETHING! Oh damn, maybe I should call this the Mommy Issues BLT.
Anyway, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I can eat it anytime and often do. I think I was channeling my childhood in the South — biscuit sandwiches my dad used to make me, greasy spoon diners, it’s kind of like an egg McMuffin but not. Also our friend Ari Mejia made this for us recently and I loved it and I think about it all the time. I “don’t care about food” but I do sometimes long for a meal I once ate, and the time and place in which I ate it…
I call this Quick & Dirty because it’s supposed to be easy, fast, simple, unpretentious, reliable, spicy, and have all the textures (that I care about): soft (egg), crunchy (bacon), toasty (muffin), wet (tomato, chipotle, avocado), spicy (I understand this is not technically a texture..but also it kind of is?). I was forced to “cook” because the grocery store I went to didn’t have a pre-mixed chipotle mayo. Tragic.
For the egg, choose your own adventure, change it up. I would also enjoy this w a cheesy scrambled egg, but today I was in the mood for fried, a little runny. And this is California, so avocado is always an option and encouraged.
Kamala: NK keeps it simple and classic, but good. There have been times in our lives when we weren’t sure what NK ate. We’d seen bags of grapes, we’d seen bowls of avocados, but it was unclear how they came together. Finally, one day during a residency, I saw her make an egg and a grilled cheese, and I understood that breakfast is the meal that she did best. It was highly amusing watching her shank these chipotles like they were sworn enemies, and mash them into mayo. And it was, I venture, more delicious than a premade chipotle mayo, which would have been made with only the thin rage of industrial machinery.
How to make the chipotle mayo (if you must)
1 can of chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
1 jar of mayo
I bought a can of chipotle chiles, chopped up a few of them, then mashed them up in a bowl with an indeterminate quantity of mayo and a fork. One could use a food processor, but I liked that it was a chunky spread. More texture!