These plant-based tortas ahogadas (drowned sandwiches) are filled with jackfruit carnitas and covered in a spicy arbol salsa. With so much flavor packed into each bite, you'll be licking the plate clean afterward!
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If you're a sandwich fan (who isn't?), this tortas ahogadas recipe needs to be on your list. They're messy, flavorful, and extremely fun to make and eat!
What are tortas ahogadas?
The Mexican state of Jalisco is renowned for creating tequila (named after a town there) and many other famous dishes — including tortas ahogadas!
These drowned sandwiches start off with a special type of salty bread called birote salado. Similar in shape to a bolillo, birote is usually made with sourdough and is crispy on the outside yet tender on the inside.
The rolls are typically filled with carnitas (made famous by Jalisco's neighboring state of Michoacan), onions, and sometimes refried beans or cheese.
Once the torta is complete, it's dunked in a spicy red salsa before being served. You can opt for media ahogada or bien ahogada, referring to half or fully drowned in sauce.
Typically, tortas ahogadas are served with sides like lime wedges, more onions, radishes, avocados, queso fresco, or queso cotija. It's a unique (and messy) eating experience full of rich, spicy, and tangy flavors!
Are tortas ahogadas vegan?
Traditionally, tortas ahogadas are not vegan-friendly. The most common filling is pork carnitas, which we've replaced with jackfruit carnitas to make this recipe 100% plant-based.
History of tortas ahogadas
More often than not, many great food origin stories involve some type of fortunate accident. The legend of the torta ahogada goes a little something like this:
Back in the 1900s in Guadalajara, there was a street vendor selling carnitas-based tortas. One day when he was preparing a torta for a customer, he accidentally dropped it into a container of salsa!
To the vendor's surprise, the customer ate it and raved about how delicious it was. At that moment, a new "drowned" sandwich was born. It caught on around the city and eventually became a sensational dish known all around the country.
It's best to serve this sandwich right away to prevent too much sogginess in the bun.
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
- Onion: Adding the perfect bite and sharpness, sliced red onions are served both inside and on the side of this torta. White onion adds flavor to the salsa.
- Lime: The red onions are marinated in tangy lime juice. Lime wedges are also commonly served on the side of tortas ahogadas.
- Mexican oregano, cumin: Mexican oregano adds a citrusy taste with notes of anise to both the salsa and red onions. Cumin is also in the salsa to create rich, earthy, and well-rounded flavors.
- Chiles de árbol: In terms of spicy peppers, we love arbols for their smoky and nutty flavors. Feel free to dial up or down the amount you add based on your preferences.
- Tomatoes: Making up the base of the salsa are Roma tomatoes. They are bright, acidic, and packed with lycopene — a beneficial antioxidant in heart and skin health.
- Garlic: What would salsa be without it! Any excuse for garlic and we're in.
- Salt, pepper: To bring out the other flavors of the recipe and add a little spice.
- Jackfruit carnitas: To replace pork carnitas, we used a carnitas recipe made with jackfruit instead. You won't believe how tender, chewy, and finger lickin' good they are!
- Bread rolls: Any French-style baguette or roll will work here. But, you don't want the bun to be too soft or it may disintegrate when the salsa goes on.
If you have questions about these plant-based tortas ahogadas, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: Prepare a batch of jackfruit carnitas. In the meantime, toss thinly sliced red onions in lime juice, Mexican oregano, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate.
Step 2: toast the arbol chiles in a skillet until fragrant, then rehydrate them in a pot of boiled water. Simmer the tomatoes and onion in a separate saucepan until soft.
Step 3: Drain and blend the tomatoes, onions, and chiles along with the garlic cloves, cumin, Mexican oregano, peppercorns, salt, and vegetable broth. Season the salsa in a little olive oil to deepen the flavors (add liquid as needed).
Step 4: Slice the bread lengthwise. Add jackfruit carnitas and marinated onions to one side. Close it up and cover with as much or as little salsa as you'd like.
We don't recommend storing the sandwich together, but here are some tips on how to store the ingredients separately so you can whip up a drowned sandwich in no time!
Jackfruit carnitas will last in the fridge for up to 4 days, while the arbol salsa will last for up to 1 week. We usually use glass containers to keep things extra fresh.
You can freeze the jackfruit carnitas for up to 3 months as long as they're stored in a freezer-safe container. The arbol salsa is also freezer-friendly and can be stored for up to 6 months.
When you're ready to make another torta ahogada, heat the salsa in a saucepan over low-medium for around 5-6 minutes. As for the carnitas, you can heat them in a pan over low-medium or in your oven set to 350 degrees F for 10-12 minutes.
💭 Tips & variations
We'd like to share some tips and variations we learned while experimenting with a plant-based version of tortas ahogadas:
- Choose the right bread. It's best to use a sturdy roll or bun so it doesn't crumble under the salsa. Birote is the typical variety used, but any French-style baguettes or rolls work best here.
- Prep in advance. To save time, prep the salsa and carnitas a day or two ahead. Better yet, make jackfruit carnitas tacos and use the leftovers for these tortas!
- Strain the salsa. If you don't have a high-speed blender, you may want to strain your salsa. Although optional, it will create a smoother consistency.
- Adjust the spice. The spiciness of this salsa is completely customizeable. 8-10 arbol chiles is a good starting point for a medium heat. If you like extra spice, work your way up to 15 or even 20. If you are sensitive to spice, half or omit them altogether.
- Add different garnishes. Try radishes, limes, onions, dairy-free cheeses, avocado, etc. Make it your own!
🍴 Tasting notes
Although messy, tortas ahogadas are one of the tastiest and most delicious Mexican sandwiches. This plant-based version is:
If you try this tortas ahogadas recipe, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
Plant-Based Tortas Ahogadas
- Chef knife & cutting board
- Mixing bowls
- ½ red onion, thinly sliced ($0.30)
- 3 tablespoons lime juice ($0.18)
- ½ teaspoon Mexican oregano ($0.02)
- A pinch of salt ($0.01)
- 8-10 chiles de árbol ($0.16)
- 6 Roma tomatoes ($0.96)
- ¼ white onion ($0.06)
- 3 cloves garlic ($0.12)
- ½ cup vegetable broth ($0.03)
- 1 teaspoon cumin ($0.01)
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano ($0.04)
- 5 whole peppercorns ($0.01)
- 1 teaspoon salt ($0.01)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.11)
- 4 French-style bread rolls ($0.70)
- ½ recipe jackfruit carnitas ($2.57)
- Add thinly sliced red onions to a bowl. Toss in lime juice, Mexican oregano, and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate.
- De-stem and seed arbol chiles, then toast them in a skillet over medium until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add to a pot of boiled water and let soften for 10-15 minutes.
- Bring tomatoes and onion to boil in a saucepan, then reduce to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until soft and tender. Drain and transfer to a blender along with drained chiles, garlic cloves, cumin, Mexican oregano, peppercorns, salt, and vegetable broth. Mix on high until smooth.
- Heat olive oil in the same saucepan, then transfer in the salsa and season over low-medium until it darkens in color, adding vegetable broth as needed.
- Cook time does not include preparation for jackfruit carnitas.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more flavor-packed sandwich recipes, check out our:
- Torta cubana for an uber "meaty" sandwich that will leave you full and satisfied.
- Pambazos for a chile-dipped sandwich loaded with chorizo, potatoes, lettuce, dairy-free cheese, and crema.
- Cemita poblana to try a popular Mexican sandwich turned plant-based with crispy mushroom milanese.
- Mulitas de carnitas for a loaded quesadilla "sandwich" filled with jackfruit carnitas, cheese, guacamole, and salsa. Don't forget a change of clothes!
- Enchiladas rojas for crispy rolled tortillas stuffed with jackfruit and covered in red salsa.
Yes! Tortas ahogadas are meant to be spicy. We would rate this recipe a 6/10 on a very subjective spice scale. If you prefer less heat, use fewer arbol chiles.
You do not have to strain the salsa (we rarely do). But if you don't have a high-speed blender, we recommend straining it for a silky smooth sauce.