Grilled Eggplant and Arugula Caprese + 5 Ways to Upgrade Your Sandwich

Juicy tomatoes, creamy fresh mozzarella, spicy arugula, fresh basil, and meaty grilled eggplant -- this sandwich packs more veggies and flavor into every bite. 


Where are my fellow sandwich lovers? I LOVE a good sandwich. Especially in the summer, sitting on our porch or at the beach. But I'm not talking a sad turkey and cheese on super thin sandwich bread. If I'm going to have a sandwich, it's going to be filled with different flavors, textures, and lots 'o veggies. Sandwiches get such a bad rep as being an "unhealthy" meal, but that couldn't be further from the truth. I think most of that stems from people's fear of carbs (or, more specifically, bread) these days. But many sandwiches also lack nutritious ingredients.  


First, let's clear up the carb confusion. Carbohydrates are part of a healthy diet. Our brains and muscles prefer glucose (the smallest form of carbohydrates) as fuel and our bodies will do anything it can to create glucose for our brain if we don't provide our bodies with enough carbs, including break down protein either from food or our own muscle. While all forms of carbohydrates can be part of a healthy diet, there are some that are going to provide you with more beneficial nutrients, and these are the ones you want to eat most of the time. They offer fiber, which keeps you full, plus a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients important to overall health. Nutrient-rich carbohydrates include whole grains, starchy vegetables, fruit, and beans/legumes. Technically all vegetables are carbohydrates, but the non-starchy vegetables like greens, peppers, cucumbers, etc. don't provide a significant amount unless you eat pounds and pounds of them! 


Ok, are we clear on carbs now? Good. This month's Recipe Redux is all about upgrading your sandwich and given that I currently am subsiding on salads, sandwiches, and anything I can make on the grill (we are in the thick of a kitchen renovation), this theme couldn't have been more perfect for me! Before we get to the recipe, let's talk about how to make the most out of your sandwich. 

  1. Choose a hearty bread that will fill you up. You want whole grains here. Choosing a whole grain bread can be very confusing these days. The simplest way to know is to ignore every claim that's on the front of the package and focus solely on the ingredients. The first ingredient should read "whole" ___ (fill in the blank: grain, wheat, rye, etc.). It could also say sprouted whole grain or something to that effect. If it says "enriched" or just wheat (without the "whole"), move on. Also, look for something with a shorter ingredient list. Many breads include excess preservatives, sugar, and other unnecessary ingredients. For those of you in the New England area, I've been digging Iggy's 7 grain bread or Wegmans' Sprouted grain bread lately. I prefer to go to the bakery section of the grocery store -- those breads are fresher, hold up better on all that I'm going to put on my sandwich, and just plain taste better! 
  2. Add lots of veggies. Think beyond lettuce and tomato and choose what is in season for the most flavor and nutrition. Today's eggplant caprese features grilled eggplant with thick slices of tomato and arugula. I'll add roasted red pepper, artichokes, grilled zucchini, matchstick carrots, beets, sweet potato, cucumbers...pretty much any veggie can go on a sandwich. Vegetables not only add a ton of beneficial nutrients, but they also add flavor and texture, making it a more satisfying meal. And don't forget to pile on the greens! I added spicy arugula from my garden to today's sandwich, but go with your favorite -- any green works! 
  3. Say goodbye to slimy, salty deli meats. The quality of your ingredients matter for both taste and nutrition! If I'm making a turkey sandwich, I'm using real turkey. I'll use wild caught canned salmon for salmon salad, or a really sharp cheddar (or other cheese) if I'm adding cheese. For the eggplant caprese, I chose locally made whole milk fresh mozzarella that is so creamy it melts in your mouth. While it may be a little more expensive than the processed version at the store, I know I'm fueling my body with quality ingredients, and typically don't need as much quantity to get the best flavor. 
  4. Flavor with fresh herbs. Basil is an obvious choice for this twist on a caprese, but fresh herbs can upgrade any sandwich! I like to add chives and dill to tuna or salmon salad, tarragon to chicken salad, or mint to Asian-style sandwiches. Grilling or roasting your vegetables with herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, and sage, can also boost the flavor or your sandwich.
  5. Finish with a condiment upgrade. Think beyond bright yellow mustard and mayonnaise. A drizzle of olive oil and balsamic glaze, like on today's caprese, can make your weekday sandwich taste restaurant quality! Try other flavors like mashed avocado, whole grain mustard like this one, pesto, tahini, hummus, or tzatziki. 

As for this grilled eggplant caprese, you're going to want to make this all summer long. I can't wait for August tomatoes when this will taste even better! 

What are your favorite ways to upgrade a sandwich?

Grilled Eggplant and Arugula Caprese

Meaty egpplant and spicy arugula pack even more flavor and nutrition into your traditional caperese sandwich. This will quickly become a summer favorite!

Makes: 1 sandwich

Prep time:

  • 1 eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Flakey sea salt
  • 2 slices whole grain or sprouted grain bread
  • 2-3 thick slices of tomato
  • About 2 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced thin
  • Handful of arugula
  • 3-4 fresh basil leaves
  • Balsamic glaze
  • A drizzle of high quality olive oil
  • Instructions:
    1. Brush sliced eggplant with a little olive oil and toss with salt. Grill over medium heat (about 400 degrees) for 10 minutes, flipping halfway through. If you don't have a grill, roast at 400F in the oven and follow the same directions.
    2. When eggplant is ready, layer eggplant, tomato, mozzarella, arugula, and basil on bottom slice of bread. Drizzle a little balsamic glaze and olive oil on top and then finish with top slice. Cut in half and enjoy!
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