The Cuban, also known as a Cubano, is a simple but delicious deli sandwich from Southern Florida that began as a quick and affordable lunch option but has become a culturally iconic dish.
This flavorful, sweet, and savory sandwich originated in the 1960s as a fast and fulfilling way for the local cafes to feed the busy Cuban cigar industry workers. The traditional Cuban sandwich begins with slices of soft Cuban bread, smeared with spicy yellow mustard, topped with layers of roasted pork roast, sliced ham, Swiss cheese, and dill pickles, and pressed in together on a hot grill.
The Cubano was invented as a meal to be eaten on the go, so these sandwiches work great when prepared ahead of time. Cubans are usually wrapped in foil right after they are pressed, and this keeps the insides warm while the toasted bread helps to prevent the sandwich from getting soggy. Store preassembled wrapped sandwiches in the fridge when ready. Then, reheat them by either toasting them in the oven or giving them a quick repress.
It All Starts With The Cuban Bread
The use of Cuban bread is a significant element of this sandwich's signature name and taste. It has a soft, chewy texture with a flaky crust similar to Italian bread but with a slightly sweet taste that adds an extra layer of flavor to the Cuban sandwich. Typically, you can find Cuban bread in your local Hispanic or specialty bakery; however, if you cannot find a vegan-friendly version, you can substitute any soft, hoagie-style bread. It's similar in shape to Italian bread, except that it has a crisper crust like a French baguette.
A Cuban Sandwich, But Make it Vegan
While at the heart of this sandwich is the roasted pork and sliced ham, this vegan Cuban Sandwich recipe creates the same stunning flavors without the addition of animal protein. Instead, this vegan version uses BBQ-flavored jackfruit, vegan ham slices, and vegan Swiss cheese stacked between sweet Cuban bread. When all the flavors come together, it's almost impossible to tell this vegan sandwich from the Cuban classic which uses roast pork marinated in a garlicky, citrusy, bbq mojo seasoning. Jackfruit makes the perfect plant-based replacement for pork for this recipe since it absorbs all the delicious flavors and shreds just like the original. You can also make this sandwich with BBQ-flavored plant-based pulled protein, plant-based chorizo, or slices of seitan ham.
Before serving, Cuban sandwiches are heated on a panini press to melt all the layers and flavors together. Suppose you don't happen to have a panini press at home. In that case, you can recreate the same effect by using a burger press or placing your assembled sandwich in a large cast-iron pan and then placing another heavy pan on top and using that to press the sandwich together.
Most deli sandwiches need to be served with something on the side to feel like a full meal but the Cubano is hearty enough to stand on its own. However, you can't go wrong with a handful of chips and a few extra pickles on the side. This sandwich goes great with a tomato vinaigrette salad or fresh sweet potato fries for some added veggies.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the jackfruit to the pan and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, season the jackfruit with salt, cumin, and dried oregano, and add BBQ sauce and lime juice. Stir together and let them simmer, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove pan from heat and use a fork to flake jackfruit into small pieces. Set aside.
On each slice of bread, add a spread of mustard. Then layer one slice of bread with swiss cheese, jackfruit, ham and pickles. Close sandwiches and add a light coat of oil or vegan butter to the outside of the bread.
Grill the sandwich on a panini press or in a skillet, for about 5 minutes, or until outside of the bun is golden brown, and cheese is melted, flipping once. Slice and serve with chips.
If making sandwiches ahead, wrap them in foil and store them in the refrigerator. When ready to enjoy, reheat them with the same steps as above.