Guadalajara in Mexico is probably better known for Mariachi music. However it is also the birth place of a signature sandwich called the Torta Ahogado. The Torta Ahogado or “drowned sandwich”. This sandwich was originally a working man’s lunch and sold on street corners.
The story goes that one Luis De La Torre was an ordinary torta vendor in Guadalajara in the early 1900s. One day, one of his customers asked for a little more of spicy salsa on his torta. De La Torre, by mistake, dropped the customer’s whole sandwich in the salsa container. The customer supposedly said, “You drowned it!” but ate it anyways, and the Torta Ahogada was born.
The Torta Ahogada is traditionally made with a crusty salted bread called Birote Salados. You might remember seeing my post on it from last month. The Drunken Sandwich can be made with a Bollilo or French Baguette, but it does take a Birote to stand up to the dunking in the sauce. Each Torta Ahogado needs about a cup of sauce!
There are rules to follow to make an authentic Torta Ahogado. I think that my going vegetarian with it has pretty much thrown them all out of the window! The meat in the sandwich must be pork. While you will find refried beans in a lot Tortas Ahogados, they’re not part of an authentic sandwich. Refried beans are not fried-again-beans, which is a misconception many people have. They’re a cooked and mashed dish of Pinto or black beans. Refried is a corruption of “refritos” means “well fried”. There must also be two sauces for drowning the sandwich – one a fiery sauce made with small “chile de arbol de yahualica”, vinegar, garlic and spices. The other is a milder sweetish tomato and chilli sauce.
However, you can find all kinds of variations to this sandwich in Gualadajara itself. So my Vegetarian Torta Ahogado definitely makes the cut, in my books. Using whatever I had on hand meant my sandwiches were a big departure from the usual. I usually try to stay true to a recipe as much as possible, especially the first time, but adjust it to taste and availability of ingredients.
I didn’t have refried beans on hand so I used a thick brown chickpea curry left over from the previous day. You can use Chitra Rajma or the light coloured speckled Rajma, or black beans instead of Pinto beans. I added more protein to my Vegetarian Torta Ahogado with batter fried paneer wedges. Then I cut a 200 gm piece of paneer into 4 wedges, then dipped them into a flour-corn-starch batter seasoned with salt, cumin and dried mixed herbs. I deep-fried them till crisp.
I also made just one sauce which was a somewhat spicy tomato based sauce similar to my Marinara Sauce. This sandwich really does need a salsa or sauce that is on the spicier side. How spicy you go is entirely up to you. If you don’t have chiles de arbol you can use whatever chilies or sauce you prefer. The chilies are cooked till tender in water, then pureed with a little of the water, salt, vinegar and garlic to make the Chile Sauce. You can find any number of recipes for this on the net.
If you see my images here, you will find my Tortas haven’t been drowned in sauce. That is because I personally don’t like sauce all over my sandwiches. Let me assure you that it takes a bucket load of sauce to drown the Birote bread rolls. In fact, the bread is a bit dense and needs all the sauce it can get. I just used a lot of it inside my sandwich. A bit of advice – Keep a lot of napkins on the side because eating this Torta can get messy. You will need them!
Vegetarian Torta Ahogado
- 4 Birotes Salados or 6-inch long baguettes
- 1 1/2 cups refried beans
- 4 pieces batter fried paneer wedges 200 gm
- 2 ripe avocados cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 2 medium red onions thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 cup finely shredded cabbage
- 1 cup fresh coriander leaves and tender stems chopped
- 4 cups spicy tomato sauce
- 3 limes cut into wedges
- Cut the Birote in half lengthwise and lightly toast them on the inside. I buttered my Birote halves but it is not necessary.
- Then assemble the sandwiches. Start with a layer of refried beans, then sliced avocado, paneer fritters, sliced onions and shredded cabbage. Top with a little sauce and chopped coriander. Close the sandwich. Serve on a deep plate with lots of sauce on the sandwich and squeeze of lime juice.