In our cooking series Quickies, we invite chefs, bartenders, and other personalities in the world of food and drink who are serious hustlers to share their tips and tricks for preparing quick, creative after-work meals. Every dish featured in Quickies takes under 30 minutes to make, but without sacrificing any deliciousness—these are tried-and-tested recipes for the super-busy who also happen to have impeccable taste.
Meriel Armitage is hella busy. As the co-founder of vegan taqueria Club Mexicana, she spends her days overseeing two street food outposts and prepping for service at Pamela—the East London bar currently playing host to her vegan Mexican pop-up. By night, Armitage is on the pass, making Baja-style "to-fish" tacos to order and dishing out jackfruit quesadilla to hungry Londoners who want their Mexican food without a side of murder.
"It's crazy—vegans will travel for good food, especially if they live in an area that doesn't cater so much for them. It's a 'build it and they will come'-type thing and we've been packed out," laughs Armitage. "So, when I get home it's usually quite late and there aren't any shops open. My post-work speciality is building a great sandwich out of whatever I've got in the fridge."
I've come to Pamela's kitchen hoping that Armitage has a moment in her busy schedule to show me one of her favourite fillings. Happily, she tells me the recipe is super speedy to make—we'll go from start to sandwich in 20 minutes.
So, what exactly will Armitage be putting into her all-killer, no-filler sandwich?
"I'm making a BLT."
Noting my raised eyebrows at the blasphemy of bacon in the vegan kitchen, Armitage adds: "Well, we'll be using tempeh [fermented cooked soybeans] instead of bacon."
"I pretty much always have some lettuce, tomato, avocado, and bread in the house and tempeh is a vegan staple which can be kept in the freezer. For me, the sandwich hits all the things I immediately want when I get home. You've got nice bread, the fat of the mayo and avocado, and the sticky, smoky, crispy tempeh."
She removes the block of tempeh from its packaging and gives me a piece to taste, uncooked. It's firm and chewy with a slightly earthy flavour—not at all fitting the profile of crispy bacon. As Armitage begins by thinly slicing the tempeh, she assures me that the end result will be wildly different.
"Unlike other meat alternatives like tofu, tempeh holds together well when fried and has a nice chewy texture," she explains. "And because it's fermented, it has its own distinct, funky flavour which is enhanced when you add other flavours to it."
The tempeh is fried in vegetable oil before other all-important ingredients are added to help hit the salty, smoky notes. In goes soy sauce and liquid smoke, and the tempeh is left for a few more minutes to properly crisp up.
Meanwhile, Armitage chops the VBLT's other vital elements—tomatoes and lettuce—as well as avocado.
"I also put chili mayo in the sandwich," she says, spooning out "veganaise" and mixing in chipotle hot sauce. "Obviously, I particularly like chipotle because Club Mexicana serves Mexican food, but you can just use plain mayo or chuck in any kind of salsa or your favourite chili sauce."
Tempeh pleasingly smoky and charred, veg chopped, and chili mayo prepped, it's sandwich assembly time.
"You can use any bread. Pita bread works really well because it's crispy, really quick, and you can stuff loads in there. Today I'm using Turkish pide bread but you can use chunky sourdough, or even a burger bun—you can't really go wrong," says Armitage.
She adds: "I basically wouldn't put it in something really wholesome and full of nuts and seeds. The healthiest I'd go is wholemeal pitta bread!"
"Oh, and go crazy with the mayo. You can't ever have too much mayo."
A generous smothering of mayo goes onto the pide before it's loaded with lettuce, avo, tomato, and fried tempeh. I take a large bite. Armitage was right about that formerly flavourless tempeh—it has been transformed into something deliciously salty, chewy, and yeah, kinda like bacon.
RECIPE: Vegan BLT
"It's the kind of sandwich that works in almost every situation. You can have it when you're hungover, in need of a snack, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner," she says. "It feels like a really indulgent and naughty thing to eat but it's actually pretty good for you."
Just as well, because I've almost finished the whole thing.