Foodies clamor, with good reason, to take a bite out of iconic New Orleans fare like fried oyster po’boys, glorious gumbo, andouille laden jambalaya, and rich crawfish etouffee.  Mardi Gras is the perfect excuse for everyone outside of Louisiana to indulge in these heavy dishes, but let’s face it…the big easy isn’t too easy on the waistline.  

Carnival fare traditionally serves as a last supper of sorts before the fasts of lent begin, but some folks would probably prefer to take a little bit of the fat out of Fat Tuesday.  In order to leave room for a slice King Cake,  a sugar doused beignet, or a serving of Bananas Foster try starting your Mardi Gras celebration with my vegetarian version of a New Orleans’ signature Muffaletta sandwich. 

Creole-Italian fare lives in the shadows of the more popular French influenced dishes of the region, but Italian immigrants settled in the Louisiana area in the late 1800’s and laid the foundation for the creation of the Muffaletta sandwich in the early 1900’s.

Traditionally, the monstrously large muffaletta sandwich is piled high with Italian deli meats including, salami, mortadella, and capicola; cheeses and home made olive salad round out the indulgent dish. 

In my lighter version the cheese and olives remain, but all of the meats have been replaced with a slew of colorful roasted fresh vegetables.  Use my mindful Muffaletta to cut a few calories without sacrificing that magical Mardi Gras flair!

Mel’s Mindful Mardi Gras Muffaletta Sandwiches (yields 6 sandwiches)

In lieu of using an array Italian meats in this classic New Orleans sandwich try substituting an assortment of fresh roasted veggies for a make ahead meatless meal!

  • 6 Portuguese Round Rolls 
  • 2 C Mixed olive salad (recipe follows)
  • 4 Fresh mozzarella balls, sliced into 3 rounds
  • 12 Thin slices sharp Provolone
  • 4 Red peppers, roasted, peeled, and cut into 2” squares
  • 1 Sm. Red onion, sliced into 6 rounds
  • 1 Sm. Eggplant, sliced into 12 rounds 
  • 1 Med. Zucchini, sliced ¼” thick
  • 1 Med. Yellow Squash, sliced” ¼” thick
  • Olive Oil
  • 2T Minced Garlic
  • Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Spinkle the eggplant with salt and allow to drain in a colander while you prep the rest of the vegetable.  Toss the onions with a little olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper and spread evenly on a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with the eggplant, zucchini and squash (adding 1T minced garlic to the zucchini and squash) and place each vegetable on it’s own parchment lined baking sheet.  Roast veggies in the oven until lightly colored and tender (about 10-20 minutes-some will finish faster than others).  Cool and set aside.

Cut the rolls in half horizontally and pull the middle out of the bread creating a hallow dome in the top and a shallow “plate” in the bottom.  Place ¼ C olive salad in the bottom of each roll and 2T olive salad in the top of each roll.  Fill each side of the bread with layers of roasted vegetables and cheese (the tops will hold more than the bottoms), but take care to avoid putting toppings on the outer rim of the bread.  When sides are filled sandwich the two sides together pressing down to create a sandwich that looks like a cohesive roll.  Wrap each sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.  

To serve, allow sandwiches to stand at room temperature for and hour, unwrap and slice each one in half with a bread knife.

Mixed Olive Salad:

  • 1 ½ C pitted mixed olives 
  • ½ C Gardinera with Cauliflower
  • 3 Garlic Cloves
  • 1/3 C Capers
  • ½ C Sliced celery
  • ½ C Parsley, minced
  • ¼ C Red wine vinegar
  • ½ C Olive Oil

Combine the olives, gardinera, garlic and capers in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarse and combined.  Transfer to a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients.  Season with salt and pepper. Use any left over salad as a bruschetta topping.

*Feel free to use a 10” Italian boule to create one large sandwich.  Hallow the bread, fill, wrap and refrigerate as directed.  Cut into sixths before serving.

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