Why comfort foods like Portabella French Dip Sandwiches are so important right now
As I am writing this we are in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic. The world is changing on a daily basis and people are forced to stay home. Despite the chaos all around us, what I have discovered is that a lot of people are actually enjoying their time at home! They are rediscovering activities that bring them joy, such as exercising, playing games, doing art, playing music, and cooking! And now more than ever, we all need recipes that are warm and comforting and easy to make in our own homes. One of my personal favorite comfort food recipes is a vegan Portabella French Dip Sandwich.
Veganizing the French Dip Sandwich
Most of you are probably familiar with French Dip sandwiches. They were one of my favorite sandwiches as a kid and I would always order them if a restaurant had it on the menu. These sandwiches are so simple and hearty, and it always takes the dining experience up a notch if you can dip your food in some delicious broth or sauce!
Since I have been a vegetarian for over 30 years (and vegan for many of those), it has been a REALLY long time since I had the beef-based version of a French Dip sandwich! Several years back, my partner and I decided we we wanted to try making a vegetarian version of a French Dip. We decided that portabella mushrooms would be the ideal replacement for the beef, and a French Onion soup seemed like it would make a great dip, or “au jus”.
A good au jus is essential for French Dip
Au jus is actually defined as “the juice from cooked meat”. But since portabellas don’t create a whole lot of juice on their own, the French Onion soup seemed like a great option. Back then, I was a busy mom of two young boys (who are now much older), so I wanted to make the recipe as simple as possible.
Although it was difficult to find a ready-made French Onion soup, I did manage to find one from a brand called Pacific. I simply marinated portabellas and some sliced onion in the soup, then baked it. I put the finished product on some hearty rolls, added some Swiss cheese slices, and dug into some delicious sandwiches!
However, when I went vegan, I discovered that the one vegetarian French Onion soup on the market was not vegan! That meant I was going to have to start making my own au jus from scratch in order to make what had turned into one of my go-to dinner sandwiches!
Fortunately, it’s really not that hard to make a delicious, vegan au jus that is perfect for this Portabella French Dip sandwich! It does take a little bit of time to make, but the results are SOOOO worth it! Every time I bite into one of these sandwiches, I am taken back to some of my best childhood memories. They are so amazingly tasty and comforting, and I have to say, WAY better than when I made them with that other soup!
Getting the right ingredients
I understand that lately there have been a lot of items absent from store shelves. But there’s good news! I have found that the produce section is usually well stocked and there are plenty of portabellas and onions to be found. Bread might be a little trickier. A couple of weeks ago, the bread shelves were empty except for the in-house baked stuff. Fortunately, I found a big bag of my favorite ciabatta rolls. These are perfect for Portabella French Dip sandwiches!
You really need to have a nice sturdy roll for these, because all that delicious au jus soaks into the bread and can get wonderfully messy! If you can’t find ciabatta, try focaccia, baguettes, bolillo, or hoagie rolls with a crispy crust. Even a bagel would work!
As for the rest of the ingredients, you may have most of them at home already. If you find you don’t have something like Liquid Smoke, no worries! Try some smoked paprika, or a little more black pepper. Don’t have soy sauce? Just add an extra bullion cube or paste. Don’t have bullion cubes or veggie broth? Add some extra salt and dried herbs. No vegan butter? Use olive or grapeseed oil. Get creative!
I hope you find some comfort
I sincerely hope that this recipe for Portabella French Dip sandwiches brings you some comfort during some trying times. Maybe it will even become one of your go-to family recipes! My family has been enjoying these for years, and I am sure yours will too!
If you have a favorite comfort food recipe that you would like me to veganize for you, please let me know in the comments. I will do my best to come up with a delicious recipe to help you get through trying times and beyond!
Stay positive and let’s all help each other out!
Peace and Love,
Want more delicious, comforting recipes? Try one of these:
Vegan Portabella French Dip Sandwich
If you are craving some comfort food, this Vegan Portabella French Dip Sandwich is the perfect recipe! Deliciously caramelized onions and portabella mushrooms come together in this amazingly savory and satisfying plant based version of a French Dip sandwich. Like all good things in life, it is a little messy, so don't say I didn't warn you! Enjoy!
- 2-3 Tbsp vegan butter
- 1 large yellow onion
- 4-5 large portabella mushrooms
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce, tamari, or coconut aminos
- 1 Tbsp vegan worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 tsp liquid smoke (optional)
- 1/4 tsp thyme dried or fresh
- 1/4 tsp oregano dried or fresh
- 2-3 cups vegetable broth or water w/1.5 veggie bullion cubes
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 Ciabatta or other sturdy rolls (baguettes work nicely)
- 4 slices vegan Swiss cheese (provolone or jack are nice replacements)
- mustard (I prefer dijon or stoneground) optional
- nutritional yeast optional
Cut the onion in half and peel. Slice thinly.
Melt 1-2 Tbsp of the vegan butter on medium-low heat in a heavy bottom pan, such as cast iron.
Place the onions in the pan with the melted butter, stir together and partially cover with a lid to start the caramelization process. This is a quick method for caramelizing onions.
Check the onions every 5 minutes or so to stir. Repeat this process for about 20 minutes or until the onions are soft and nicely browned. You may add a little bit of salt to help the process and flavor the onions.
When the onions are done, place them in a bowl and set aside. You will use the same pan to cook the portabellas.
While the onions are cooking, you can wash and slice your portabella mushrooms. It is best to wash the mushrooms by simply wiping them with a damp dish towel or paper towel, or quickly rinse the tops with cool water.
I find that if the mushrooms are very large, you will need one per person. If they are smaller you may need a couple more.
If you want to remove the inner gills (not necessary but some people prefer it), remove the stem and scrape the gills out with the edge of a spoon.
Slice the mushrooms about a 1/2" thick. They will shrink a lot in the cooking process.
After the onions have cooked and been set aside, melt an additional 1 Tbsp of vegan butter in the pan and add the sliced mushrooms. Partially cover to allow them to caramelize, stirring every 5 minutes for 10-15 minutes. They will shrink quite a bit and brown very nicely.
Next, mince your garlic very finely.
Add some hot water to your veggie broth cubes or bullion if that is what you are using, and stir to dissolve. If you are using prepared veggie broth, skip this step.
Once the mushrooms are caramelized, add the minced garlic, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, oregano, and thyme. Stir well and then add the veggie broth. Simmer on low heat for about 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, add the caramelized onions. Simmer for another 10 minutes on low heat.
Add salt and pepper to taste. The veggie broth may be salty enough that you don't need extra salt, but black pepper is a nice addition.
Slice your rolls in half and lightly toast them. Spread the mustard on one half and sprinkle on some nutritional yeast, if desired.
Scoop some mushrooms and onions out of the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula in order to drain the juice. Place a generous amount on the bottom half of each roll.
Place a slice of vegan Swiss on top of each half with the mushrooms. Put back in a toaster oven or 400F oven for 2-3 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. It is best to do this directly on the oven rack if possible, because the bottom might have already soaked up some juice. If it seems too messy, you can place it on a hot baking sheet and bake for about 5 minutes.
While the sandwich is baking, pour the remaining juice (au jus) into small bowls. This is the dip for the French Dip.
Place the top half of the roll on the sandwich. Slice your sandwich in half if necessary in order to dip into the au jus. Enjoy!