Vegetarian food in Portugal was, honestly, a bit of a struggle. Fish is super popular and there just weren’t a whole lot of options, especially if we wanted something traditionally Portuguese (instead of, say, spaghetti). Food is big part of our experience when traveling with kids, though, and we wanted to experience the Portuguese food culture and wanted to know what food to eat in Portugal.
Then before we visited Porto, Portugal, I heard about something called a francesinha. I wasn’t entirely sure how to pronounce it (fran-zeh-zeen-ya) but from everything I read about it, it sounded epic. Essentially, it’s this monstrosity of a sandwich layered with multiple kinds of meat and cheese and a fried egg and gravy and French fries. Essentially, a heart attack on a plate. 😉
I wasn’t sure vegetarian versions existed, but it turns out a number of restaurants have them. The place we visited was the beloved spot of our delightful lunch waiter who said he eats there multiple times a week.
Dan (the only omnivore in the family, and only on rare occasions) tried the original and said while it was, indeed, intense and way too big for one person to finish, it was delicious. The vegetarian version, with mushrooms and eggplant, also didn’t disappoint, so I riffed off of that to create this recipe.
We also don’t drink alcohol, and I’m hesitant to use it in a recipe for kids if I’m not certain it’s cooked off. So I subbed the typical beer in the sauce for our favorite intense root beer. We loved that, but feel free to use regular beer or more stock if you prefer or have it on hand.
Hope this easy recipe brings some of the spirit of Portugal into your home!
Vegetarian Francesinha Recipe
Adapted liberally from here
1/4 cup milk
1 T cornstarch
1 T butter
2 T tomato paste
1 cup stock (I used vegetarian)
6 oz good root beer (optional; you can also use regular beer or stock)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper to taste
1 bunch asparagus
2 T olive oil, divided
2 large portobello mushroom caps
1 medium zucchini
8 large slices good bread (we did smaller slices from a French loaf and had 8 sandwiches…which was more than enough because these things are FILLING)
8oz smoked mozzarella
8 oz smoked gouda (can sub cheddar or gruyere)
- Make sauce. Slowly whisk milk into cornstarch in small bowl, trying to avoid lumps.
- Heat 1 T butter and tomato paste in medium pot over medium heat. Add stock, root beer, red pepper, and salt & pepper. Once incorporated, pour in milk & cornstarch mixture. Let cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Lay asparagus on large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and salt & pepper. Rub around with your hands and arrange in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake for 6-7 minutes until asparagus is firm tender and bright green.
- Slice mushroom caps in lengthwise strips. Heat 1 T oil in pan over medium heat. Cook mushrooms until they’ve released their liquid and are starting to brown. Remove from pan.
- Slice zucchini in thin lengthwise strips.
- Thinly slice cheeses.
- Lower oven to 350F.
- Assemble sandwiches: on large baking sheet (can use the same sheet you used for the asparagus), lay out half the bread slices. Lay one slice of cheese on each and top with slices of zucchini, mushrooms, and asparagus (I cut mine in half to fit). Top with another slice of cheese, a slice of bread, and more cheese on top. Place in oven until cheese is slightly melted, about 5-7 minutes.
- While sandwiches are heating, fry eggs in same pan you used for the mushrooms.
- Reheat sauce until very hot.
- TO SERVE: Place one sandwich on a plate Place an egg on top. Pour hot sauce over the entire sandwich until it pools a bit on the sides. The hot sauce will melt the cheese a bit more. Surround with French fries.