What we love about tortas—traditional Mexican sandwiches layered in split rolls—is the element of surprise. No matter how many tortas we eat, if you grew up with baloney on white bread and PB&J’s there’s always a thrill in finding a layer of refried beans, crumbled queso fresco, or salsa in a sandwich. In this vegetarian version, we’ve included zucchini, salted to remove some of its moisture, coated in panko breadcrumbs, and fried—the best surprise ever.
What to buy: Traditional tortas are made with either crusty rolls called bolillos or softer buns called teleras, available in markets with a good selection of Latin American foods. We’ve found that brioche or soft sandwich buns make fine substitutes.
- 2 medium zucchini, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- Canola oil, for frying
- 1 cup good-quality refried black beans
- 1/2 cup of your favorite roasted tomato salsa
- 4 Mexican torta rolls or bolillo rolls, split and toasted
- 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
- 1/4 cup pickled jalapeño slices (or more to taste), drained
- Handful of fresh cilantro leaves, torn
- 2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
- 1 large avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
- Season the zucchini all over with salt, then lay on paper towels in a single layer and cover with another paper towel. Set aside for about 15 minutes. Place the flour in a flat shallow bowl, the egg in another bowl, and the panko in a third bowl. Heat about 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan to 375°F.
- Press on the zucchini to remove as much liquid as possible. Dust the zucchini slices with the flour, then coat with the egg, allowing any excess to drip off. Transfer to the bowl of breadcrumbs and toss to coat, pressing on the crumbs so they adhere firmly to the zucchini. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat until all the zucchini is coated.
- Add a single layer of zucchini to the hot oil and fry, turning once or twice, until golden brown and crisp on both sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate. Repeat until all the zucchini is fried. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, stir together the refried beans and 1/4 cup of the salsa. Stir until warm.
- To assemble the sandwiches, spread the bean mixture evenly over the bottom halves of the rolls. Sprinkle with the cheese, then top with the fried zucchini, pickled jalapeños, a little more salsa, some cilantro, and the shredded lettuce. Spread the avocado slices evenly on the top half of the rolls. Close the sandwiches, pressing down to compress them.
- Serve as-is or toast the sandwiches in a panini press or a hot oven for a few minutes if you like.