A vegetarian cheesesteak!? I know, it sounds funny. How can it be vegetarian if there is still ‘steak’ in its name? Linguistics aside, what this sandwich is all about is capturing the essence of a cheesesteak. Sounds like I’m about to bust out a cheesesteak-flavored foam right? Not quite.
This recipe for vegetarian cheesesteak sandwiches uses various spices, portobello mushrooms, green peppers, and provolone cheese to pack in all the flavors that go well with a cheesesteak without adding all that crazy fatty meat. But that’s not all: it’s also a damn good mushroom and pepper sandwich! Even though this recipe is meant to be a tasty reminder what a cheesesteak could be, for those of you that have never eaten a real cheesesteak before, you’re still going to enjoy this sandwich.
A Word About Non- Vegetarian Cheesesteaks
I grew up outside of Philadelphia. I have easily eaten at least twice my bodyweight in authentic Philly cheesesteaks. Outside of the area, these meaty sandwiches are often bastardized and misunderstood. In our travels throughout the 48 contiguous states of the United States, I have tried nearly every “cheesesteak” or “Philadelphia-style steak sandwich” that crossed my path.
The biggest problem is the meat. In Philly, you use shaved beef that has been fried on a greasy griddle. Period. It’s fatty, it’s greasy, it’s smothered in Cheez-Whiz. It’s amazing and I still haven’t found anything quite it. Everywhere else, you’ll get chopped steak, ground beef, thin strips of steak, or even thick (like 1/2-inch thick) slices of grisly, over-charred, tri-tip steak. The bread is wrong. The cheese is wrong. The toppings are wrong.
Seriously, don’t ever order a cheesesteak if you’re on the Central Coast of California. They just don’t get it.
Anyway, I got sad. I couldn’t find the meat. All the butchers I talked to didn’t care to help me get the meat and Steak-ums are way too fatty. So I stopped trying. This recipe was born because I became desperate. I wanted anything that was even close to those hot greasy cheesy sandwiches of my youth. Finally, I came up with a vegetarian cheesesteak that easily sates all of those cravings.
The Bread is Everything
Short of living near a really good bread bakery or in the surrounding vicinity of Philadelphia, the right bread can be a challenge. I have found that any sub roll can be used, but it requires an extra preparation step and it only gets you close to the real thing.
What you want is a roll that is soft on the inside but also crisp slightly crunchy on the outside. French bread has a crust that’s too thick and chewy. This will cause all your vegetables to slide out when you eat it. Hot dog buns or untoasted sub/grinder/hoagie rolls are generally too soft and the whole sandwich will taste like mush. A quick toast in the oven though, will give the exterior a lovely crunch without causing the interior to get too chewy.
You’re also looking for the right size. You want a roll that is between 6 inches and 18 inches in length and about 2 to 3 inches in diameter. If you have a bread that is too wide, you’ll lose all the flavors of your vegetables. If you have a bread that is too narrow, your vegetables will fall all over the plate.
So I recommend a standard sub roll that has been toasted a little bit before you slice it open. It’s not hard to find a decent sub roll in the grocery store pretty much anywhere in the country. With that, here’s how a vegetarian cheesesteak is made!
- 4 medium portobello mushrooms sliced thin (or 1 lb button mushrooms sliced)
- 1 large green pepper sliced thin
- 1 medium jalapeño sliced thin
- 1/2 medium onion sliced thin
- 5 large pepperoncini peppers sliced, juices saved and set aside
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp garlic salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flake (optional)
- 8 slices provolone cheese
- 4 6-8" sandwich rolls
Prepare Bread (Optional)
- Heat an oven to 425℉.
- Place the uncut sandwich rolls on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. When you tap on the crust and it seems crisp but fragile, remove from oven.
Cook Vegetable Filling
- Squeeze the pepperoncini pepper juices into a small bowl. Slice the pepperoncini peppers into 1/4-inch rings and set aside.
- Thinly slice the rest of the vegetables—the onion, green pepper, jalapeño, and mushrooms. Set aside.
- Add oil to a large skillet and put over a medium heat.
- Add the onions to the oil and fry until just the edges of the onions turn brown.
- Add the bell peppers and jalapeño. Fry until all peppers begin to get soft.
- Add the mushrooms, the pepperoncini pepper juice, garlic salt, oregano, black pepper, and red pepper flake.
- Fry uncovered. Occasionally turn the vegetables until desired softness is reach. Remove from heat and mix in the sliced pepperoncini peppers.
- Slice the sandwich rolls and add a slice of provolone cheese to each roll. Add the pepper and mushroom mixture. Top with another slice of provolone cheese.
- Place sandwiches under a broiler until provolone cheese is melted. If you do not have a broiler, you can also bake it at 425℉ for about 5 minutes to get the same result.
- Serve hot.
Making Vegetarian Cheesesteaks In Your Tiny Kitchen
This recipe is actually surprising light on the dishes. You’ll use a knife, cutting board, a frying pan, and either tongs or a spatula to prepare the sandwiches. You will need access to either a broiler or an oven that can sustain 425℉. There are technically ways to make this meal without using an oven at all, but it requires an awkward two-handed super-hot melted cheese sandwich flip that is hard to master.
If you want to make these ahead of time, you can always cook up the vegetables and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Just heat up the veggies right before you’re about the make the sandwiches and you’re good to go. Baking the bread separately before you make the sandwiches is not required, but doing so usually brings the bread a little closer to something you might find in the Philadelphia area.
Refrigerator too small? Keeping a stock of portobello mushrooms in a tiny fridge is a space hog. If you’re more likely to keep button mushrooms on hand instead, you can substitute those for the portobello variety. They aren’t as “meaty” but they still work nicely.