Step into my time machine, I’m taking us back to 1999 when panini’s were the thing. At least the big thing in small-town Virginia. I had never heard of a panini before and all of a sudden, they were everywhere. Our local grocery store (RIP Ukrop’s) started selling them and soon enough, every sandwich shop was offering their grilled version.
I’m pretty sure I begged my mom for a caprese panini at least once a week back then. Hot buttered bread, gooey mozzerella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves all pressed together to create a sandwich that could be eaten without straining your jaw- what’s not to love?
I want us to go back there. To that time when we still loved panini’s (before Panara Bread ruined the idea for all of us). This sandwich doesn’t have the typical panini fillings but that’s a good thing. Step aside hunks of sad eggplant, we’ve got grilled mushrooms, caramelized zucchini and fresh lemon tofu. (❤️) Who needs cheese when you have my homemade lemon-basil mayo? It sticks to the bread and filling perfectly and — dare I say I prefer it over slices of mozzerella?
This might be the time I need to convince you to make this tofu because… it’s the best. You might have seen me make it on Plant-Based Juniors last week and the fact is, it’s one of my favorite ways to eat tofu right now.
Mainly because it’s so easy. Slice the tofu, marinade in olive oil, lemon juice and a little salt and bake. It’s summertime! We don’t have time to fuss too long in the kitchen.
If you want really, really flavorful tofu then bake it directly into the olive oil. It’s like poached tofu and it’s insanely delicious. Or, remove the tofu after marinating and bake.
Then, you layer that onto good bread (bread is key to a panini- I like sourdough for this) along with grilled vegetables (zucchini and mushroom are my choice, but anything works) and a good slathering of lemon mayo. My favorite dairy-free mayos include Chosen Foods, Just Mayo and Vegenaise.
Because we all gave away our panini machine’s circa 2005, you don’t need one for this. Place the sandwich on a greased grill pan, the top with a heavy pan- like a cast iron. The weight of the cast-iron pan will press the sandwich on one side, then flip and repeat. You can give away your panini pan but you cannot give away your grill pan.
That’s it! Slice, eat. It’s so good. (Also I would not blame you if you felt inspired to eat this alongside your favorite 90’s hits. It feels right to honor this sandwich that way.)
Vegan Italian Panini! This panini is SO good, the best sandwich for summer! Grilled mushrooms, zucchini with lemon tofu and lemon-basil mayo.
- 1 (14 ounce) package extra-firm tofu, drained and pressed
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, from the lemons you just squeezed
- 1 clove minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large zucchini
- 2 large portabello mushrooms
- 1/3 cup vegan mayo (I love Chosen Foods, Just Mayo and Vegannaise the best)
- ~1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
- 8 slices whole grain bread of choice (I love a sourdough for these)
- Drain and press the tofu to get as much water out as possible, then slice into slabs as pictured. You want them to be able to easily fit on the sandwich, so I usually slice in 1/2, then 1/2 again and then into quarter slabs.
- Place the tofu in a single layer in a rimmed baking sheet and whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic and salt. Pour over the tofu and shake to evenly cover, then marinate for at least 15 minutes. I think this tastes best when marinated for at least 30 minutes-1 hour- but I’ve also made it without marinating it at all. Do what you’ve got time for!
- When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Place the tofu on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping halfway through and until golden brown.
- While the tofu is baking, thinly slice the mushrooms and zucchini. I remove the stem from the portobellos, then thinly slice widthwise. For the zucchini, I remove the ends and thinly slice into long strips.
- Heat a grill pan over medium heat and lightly brush with oil. Place the veggies on the grill, lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper and grill until tender and slightly crispy. Remove the veggies.
- Whisk together the mayo, chopped basil, zest together.
- Assemble the sandwich! Spread the lemon basil mayo on all slices of bread. Place 1 slice of bread on the grill pan and top with a layer of tofu, zucchini and mushrooms. Place another slice of mayo’d bread on top (face down) and place a heavy object on top to press the sandwich down. (This is our version of a panini press.) I usually use my cast-iron pan and press down on it for a minute or so. Flip once golden, then do the same thing to the other side- pressing down until cooked and golden.
You may end up with more tofu and vegetables than you need, depending on how loaded you make these and how large your bread is. That’s OK! Leftovers are good.
Keywords: sandwich, vegan, lunch, healthy, tofu, zucchini