From nursery school through the start of second grade, I grew up in Arlington, Massachusetts, just outside Cambridge, where my dad was a biochemist at Harvard University, the first in the family to get an advanced degree. My dad discovered the local sub shops first. Unfortunately, these shops no longer exist, having been displaced by chains like Subways. That’s unfortunate because they had real fresh bread: warm, slightly crispy on the top and fluffy in the center, nothing at all like the Wonder bread baked at Subways. All the possible additions were already chopped fine and you picked out which ones you wanted, just like they do today, only they slice today instead of finely chop. This chopped-up salsa sauce of pickle, onion, hot peppers, and tomato was fully mixed in a bowl before being added to your sub. Oregano flakes and coarse black pepper were a big part of the taste. These shops were located all up and down Massachusetts Avenue in the 1950s, all run by some ethnic group, perhaps Middle Eastern? They created the perfect sub sandwich and my family has been making replicas of them ever since, even though we departed the area when I was around 7 years old, never to return except for brief visits. But my family never took a road trip without my mom making a huge stash of Boston subs for the car, a tradition that continues today with my own kids.
In fact, in my glory days as a rock star, whenever my band (The Soul Assassins) would go on the road, I’d prepare a stash of these, just like my mom taught me. Abbey, one of the Assassinettes, was the first true vegan I met and she was very, very picky about what she ate. I’d already gone vegetarian myself, but just for Abbey I engineered a vegan version and discovered to my surprise it tasted just as good, if not better, than the animal alternative. Abbey had the whitest skin I ever saw, and never went to the beach in her life as far as I know. She loved my vegan Boston subs though, and she’d look forward to our road trips just knowing she was going to get to eat a few along the way. We had no idea at the time she’d become the first in our tribe to pass on to the other dimensions, a victim of a careless doctor not detecting breast cancer for years until it was too late. She refused chemo, preferring to die with dignity. Since Abbey was born and raised in Boston, it seems only appropriate to name this recipe after her.
Any long roll or baguette will work, although the better the bread, the better this sandwich is going to be. Do not get hard crust bread as the softer versions work far better. Cut one side open and scoop out some bread from the top to make room for the salsa.
Line one side with vegan cold cuts and cheese slices. I prefer the Baked Ham Style and Bologna Style from Lifeline, available at most supermarkets. Galaxy Traditional Foods makes rice-based veggie cheese slices in swiss and cheddar, although I prefer the swiss for this sandwich. Avoid soy whenever possible, it’s heavily GMO’d.
Dice large dill pickle, small onion, ripe tomato (or four to five mini tomatoes). Add chopped marinated hot pepper ring to taste. Mix with dash of olive oil, salt and loads of oregano flakes and coarse black pepper. If you can, let this marinate for a few hours or even overnight in the fridge.
Alternate cheese and cold cuts, at least two layers of cold cut and two of cheese (although you can go Dagwood-style and pile even higher). Spoon the oregano salsa sauce on top, close the sandwich and cut into thirds.
I usually slide the completed sandwiches back into the long paper bag the bread came in, and twist the end closed. If refrigerated, these sandwiches keep for an amazing amount of time and often taste better as time goes on.
Now check out the real Abbey rocking with the Soul Assassins: