Sandwiches de Mezcla – Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

I realize that any foodie credibility I may have amassed in the last few months might go down the drain today. For the last week my cooking, if any, has been mundane and nothing I’ve made is particularly worthy of a blog post. During this creative/culinary dry spell have been working on my to-cook list for this holiday weekend, and this is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Lasagna Bolognese (already assembled and frozen)
  • Ensalada de Bacalao con Viandas (salted codfish/pollock salad with boiled root vegetables) – I’ll be documenting it for a future post!
  • Brownies (Best Brownies sans icing + 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips + 1/8 teaspoon cayenne)
  • Sandwiches de Mezcla
Sandwich Mezcla - Pimento Cheese

 

Back in the post on plantain soup, I did a mini-review on Wilo Benet’s Puerto Rico True Flavors, mentioning that he did embrace our strange love for processed foods by including a recipe for Sandwiches de Mezcla. Sandwiches de Mezcla translates to ‘mix’ sandwiches. What is the mix made of? Velveeta, Spam, and canned roasted red peppers… on white bread. Crusts are optional.

If one of Puerto Rico’s flagship chefs can get behind this treat, then I can shed my snobbery towards overly processed foods and make a batch of mezcla a couple of times a year. And begrudgingly enjoy it. (Sigh) I wasn’t always like this. As a kid, there was no birthday party or last day of school without a tray of sandwichitos. Back in my college days, I would get care packages from my Mom with mezcla and other treats. At that time, my former roommate was the one who turned up her nose at my ‘Velveeta/Spam concoction’. The rest of my friends would fight over it.

When I decided to make this post, I put on my cultural anthropologist hat/Google-Fu sash, and dug deep to learn or at least come up with a theory on how this combination came to be. I am sure that this is a local spin-off to pimento cheese, the cheese and pepper spread that’s popular in the Southern US (and the Phillipines!), but have always wondered… why add the ham/spam? My starting point was a battered copy of the1977 edition of Cocina Criolla, the Puerto Rican cooking bible penned by Mrs. Carmen Aboy de Valdejulli. My main criticism of this book is on how readily it embraced incorporating processed foods into the Puerto Rican way of cooking back in the fifties – nonetheless it is a classic and is embraced as such, warts and all. I leafed through the ‘Breads, Sandwiches, and Drinks’ section and found my first clue:

American Cheese and Roasted Red Peppers Sandwiches
Ingredients for 50 sandwiches: 1/2 pound of butter, 1/2 pound American cheese, 1 can roasted red peppers (pimientos morrones), 8 hard-boiled eggs, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, 2 tablespoons of mayo, and salt to taste. This egg salad was definitely not it.

My eyes moved to the previous page, just to see if I could find anything as fantastically retro as that recipe, and I found it.  The name was misleading – emparedados descubiertos (open-faced sandwiches)… half a pound of butter, four hard-boiled eggs, two cans of deviled ham, two jars of pimento cheese.  This is definitely closer.  I’m guessing the jarred pimento cheese was an earlier form of Cheez Whiz; ditto the deviled ham/Spam connection.

This is as much research as I’ve been able to put together for now.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with my slightly less evil version, swapping the Velveeta for some real cheese from the dairy case.

GF 360° Sandwiches de Mezcla

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 ounces cheddar cheese, cubed
  • 1 12 ounce can low-sodium Spam, cubed
  • 1 jarred roasted red pepper (reserve the liquid)

Depending on your food processor’s capacity, combine all the ingredients and take them for a spin, adding some of the red pepper liquid to achieve a smoother consistency.

To my fellow Doristas – I’ll see you next week for a double-whammy of Mustard Batons and Bistrot Paul Bert Pepper Steak, but I’ll check out your posts (although at a more leasurely pace).  Here’s to a happy weekend!

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Author:Adriana

Adriana is a financial analyst by day, avid home cook in the evenings, and food blogger and runner in the strange hours between those two. When not in the kitchen concocting meals and stories to pass around, she is out looking for the next great bite (or the ingredients to make it at home), checking what's new at the market, or planning a trip around great food and wine.

14 Responses to “Sandwiches de Mezcla – Pimento Cheese Sandwiches”

  1. dianalsantiago
    April 21, 2011 at 4:50 pm #

    There’s a secret code in every Puerto Rican that makes us vulnerable to sandwichitos de mezcla. Maybe we can find someone expert in conspiracy theories that could develop a plausible explanation (I’ll give you mine later). Thanks for introducing this item in your blog. It could be a pedestrian recipe with processed foods, but the flavor and aroma of the “mezcla” are synonymous with parties and celebration. Regarding your concern about the Puerto Rican cooking Bible (I’m glad you agree with that) intense use of processed food, please remember that the first edition of this book has almost 60 years. You have to transport through history to understand the circumstances. (End of WWII, Korea Conflict, Operation Bootstrap, Law 600, migration to urban areas). Federal Department of Agriculture developed programs to help housewives to develop “healthy and creative” menus with what was mostly available: canned, processed foods coming from USA. In the 90’s TV show “Desde Mi Pueblo”, Yoyo Boing interviewed dozens of the old ladies that participated in the “Servicio de Extensión Agrícola” program and narrated their experience. (My mother taped those interviews and recipes). Some of them were instructed to adapt foreign canned foods to the criollo palate (For example: I’ll give you jamonilla guisada. Who the hell thought that was a great idea?)I would love to keep on reading on your anthropological food journeys, and I’m willing to join you in the journey. ¡Saludos!

  2. yummychunklet
    April 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

    If you have a taste for it, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making this dish! Kudos to you!

  3. sgiansante
    April 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

    As a Puerto Rican, this is a staple of any party or family gathering for as long as I remember. I have been flirting with an idea to give this dish a little twist. I’ll let you know how it goes…

  4. Andrea ~ From the Bookshelf
    April 23, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    These look yum!I tagged you in my Easter post!

  5. Elaine
    April 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm #

    I think you have a much healthier version of Pimento cheese than I remember as a kid! Sometimes we need a break from all the cooking and baking we do and indulge our cravings. Great post, Adriana!

  6. Yuri
    April 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

    These look lovely! Never heard of sandwiches de mezcla before. How was your Semana Santa? 🙂

  7. Greg
    April 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm #

    Your foodie credentials are still intact. I live outside Little Rock and even the place my wife and I can only afford to go to a few times a year (http://www.capitalhotel.com/Ashleyswebsite/) uses pimento. Although, I think that’s only at lunch. Just don’t get me started on cheese dip! Nice post. Anyway, all sorts of chefs are using for lack of better word low brow ingredients, all over the country. Fruit loops, doritos, oreos. smores. Your’e very hip!

  8. Liz
    April 25, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    LOL, I love posts like this…what interesting sandwich options you’ve described 🙂 Not sure I’d ever make any of these, but I’d certainly take a bite…and after that, you never know…Looking forward to your double Dorista post next week!

  9. Adriana
    April 26, 2011 at 10:49 am #

    @Diana Lourdes – THANKS! You couldn’t have said more eloquently what I ‘sort of thought about’ behind the influence of processed foods in PR cookery.@Yuri – Semana Santa was fun. We stayed in on Friday, but enjoyed the beach the rest of the weekend. Work’s getting hectic, so I’m already missing my vacation ‘routine’.@Liz – There are plenty of ‘interesting’ recipes like the sandwiches I found in the cookbook. I might actually have to try quartering one of those if curiosity gets the best of me!

  10. August 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm #

    THIS WAS A GREAT POST..I have been telling my 17 yr old daughter for years about these sandwiches but was just reminicing never went as far to google, because silly me thought it was something my family in PR just knew..until this past weekend at a bridal party..SOMEONE brought a plate..and WOW..the memories..Well long live tradition..and best yet..my 17 yr old loves it (heart soaring)..THANK YOU THANK YOU

  11. August 19, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Another way to serve these finger sandwiches is to roll out a slice of the club bread with a rolling pin, spread the cheese mixture on it, and working with the long side, roll up the slice. Place on a plate or cookies sheet, seam side down, and cover with a damp paper towel (so they won’t dry out) and then with foil, or plastic wrap. Chill for about 2 hours. Cut into 1/2 inch slices when ready to serve. They will look like pinwheels. Bakeries in Puerto Rico will dye the bread pink, blue, or yellow and the sandwichitos look so pretty!

    • August 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

      I love the idea of rolling the sandwiches as pinwheels – that’s what my Mom does with asparagus sandwiches. I was never a fan of the colored bread, not even as a kid, but I have to admit it looks festive (but not like anything I’d like to eat). Funny story – I was at a baby shower where they were serving blue sandwichitos. The lady passing them around was all “they are blue just like (baby boy name)”. I turned to my husband and whispered (maybe a little too loudly) “our friends are having a smurf!”

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