Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Veganization: Shrooben at Plan B

A well-made sandwich can be a bit of a balancing act, a vegetarian sandwich perhaps more of a challenge. A person with sandwich crafting skill understands that you need to pair mild flavors with bold condiments, soft textures with crispiness or crunchiness, lest you end up with a sandwich that is either monotonous or competing with itself. I think this may present a quandary in my quest to find vegetarian reubens and veganize them, in that a really good vegetarian sandwich, where the combination has been carefully considered and tested, is automatically going to be somewhat lacking in a vegan version, unless you can replace those non-vegan elements somehow. This was basically what the friendly bartender told me when I walked into Plan B and told him I wanted the Shrooben (a mushroom and onion reuben, complete with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Islands) but I needed it vegan.

"The vegan Shrooben," he emphasized, "is boring."

However, he appreciated my mandate and offered to grill the bread with some herbs and olive oil to make the sandwich less dry and increase the flavor. He also told me that the caramelized onions would help. I didn't tell him that I'd ordered the Shrooben before, vegan, and found it fairly tasty. But I have to admit, upon careful consideration, I conclude that he was on the right track.

B. ordered the Shrooben with no omissions or substitutions. We both got the side salad instead of fries, with vinaigrette (the obvious vegan option). I have to admit, I was looking forward to the salad as much as the sandwich. I remembered it from my last visit. It's pretty hearty for a side salad, not just a tiny pile of leaves tucked in the corner as an afterthought, but a small bowl of spinach, baby greens, black olives, mushrooms, sunflower seeds and chopped tomato and bell pepper. This and the sandwich is a pretty good deal at 7 bucks.

B. was very pleased with his non-vegan Shrooben, and I was quite happy with my choice as well. Marbled rye piled generously with sauerkraut, and onions and mushrooms straight from the grill. The sandwich was the perfect temperature all the way through, and the bread was nice and crunchy. It held together perfectly on my end, though I didn't have any sauce to contend with. A few bites in, I had to admit, it was a tiny bit bland. I'm a big 'shroom fan, but I couldn't help but notice that the mushrooms appeared to be cooked without any additional seasoning. This is where I started to see the bartender's point. On the non-vegan Shrooben, seasoning the mushrooms probably wouldn't contribute much, and might even be overdoing it, because the point of the dressing and the sharp cheese is the heavy flavors they impart. A toasty, juicy sandwich of simple mushrooms, onions and sauerkraut is great in my book, but there was potential for something more interesting. Probably next time, and there probably will be a next time, I'll ask for some mustard on the side (which, incidentally, could very well have been what I did last time I had the same sandwich). At least until Plan B comes up with a vegan Thousand Islands.

Plan B is dark and pleasant, without being too cozy, has a pretty good booze selection, and a pretty extensive, inventive and reasonably priced food menu. (I think their happy hour is late night with a limited menu). There are at least two expressedly vegan options on the menu -- a BBQ tempeh sandwich I hope to try someday, and a vegan chili dog. The bartender said they are planning to expand the menu, to include more vegan options as well as more choices for those who eat meat and dairy.

I give the veganized Shrooben a 3.5 out of 5, but not because it wasn't crafted with skill and care.

Plan B
SE 8th and Main
Shrooben: $7. To make it vegan, ask for no cheese, no dressing. Request mustard. Comes with side salad or fries. And little pickles! This is a bar (with a spacious back patio, by the way), and smoke-free inside. Go for dinner and a pint, you probably won't be disappointed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Not really groovin' (or a TRUEBEN)

Earlier this week we were a bit too busy to hit up a restaurant and test another reuben for the blog, so we thought we'd compromise and pick up the Groovin' Reuben I posted about just a little while ago, and pair it with some home made sides. I went to People's to snag one, and gave the ingredients a read again (this is also because I'm giving up refined sugar for Lent--don't ask), and I saw, to my dismay, that the Groovin' Reuben is not technically vegan, by most vegan standards.

The bread they use contains honey.

How annoying! I know some vegans eat honey, but I also know some vegans scan ingredient labels for a certain red food coloring made from ground up beetle wings, so I didn't feel that I could review this sandwich and really call it vegan. If any of you more lenient vegans (or omnis, for that matter) want to give it a try and leave me a post with your verdict, I'd welcome it, and I saw today that People's currently has a few half-off. They are also available at the Alberta Co-op, if you live in NE.

Meanwhile, maybe I'll write a disappointed note to Holy Cow. I wanted to review your sandwich, I really did.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Abiqua Farm Bakery

In my last post, I mentioned that we used the Caraway Rye from the New Seasons Market bakery when making the VWAV Tempeh Reuben, and that I would have liked a darker, more flavorful bread. I would like to someday make a reuben using Dave's Killer Bread, he makes a Rockin' Rye, but apparently I'll have to go by his bakery store because none of the grocery stores seem to carry it. Maybe it doesn't sell as well as his other varieties. Anyway, I was excited to see that New Seasons carries another locally baked (somewhat--in Silverton, OR) vegan rye bread, and this one apparently as dark and dense as all get out.

Abiqua Farm Bakery doesn't have a website, but I'll let you know how their rye is the next time we whip up some vegan reubens in the kitchen.

If you have any tips for locally-made vegan rye or caraway breads, leave 'em in the comments!

Friday, February 1, 2008

In the Kitchen: Tempeh Reuben from Vegan With a Vengeance

I've owned the cookbook "Vegan with a Vengeance" for awhile, and I don't know how I didn't get around to trying this recipe until now. Maybe it was because of the number of ingredients, or the fact that many of them are sort of "specialty" items that you can't really substitute with whatever you have at home. More likely it just never occurred to me I should use a recipe for a sandwich. I own many vegan cookbooks, and I love to "try out" new recipes, but I'm horrible in that I rarely actually follow the recipe to the letter. Even if I use all the ingredients called for, I often don't measure appropriately (unless baking), especially for something like a marinade, which this recipe requires. However, I decided that this blog would be a good excuse to end my silly ways---Because how can you really test a recipe if you don't even follow it appropriately?

Well, I can say I'm a convert, both to following recipes as written, and to the VWAV Tempeh Reuben.

I don't want to post the recipe online, at least not just yet, because I feel guilty posting recipes that have only yet been published in books. But I can tell you that the recipe calls for marinating tempeh and then cooking it on a grill pan (We had to use a skillet, lacking a grill pan. I imagine it might work well on a Foreman grill, if you have one). There's no cheese analog, but there is avocado, which seemed unusual to me, but who doesn't like avocado? There's also a vegan dressing that involves vegan mayo, ketchup, lemon juice, capers and other good stuff. Above is a picture of everything that was used in this recipe. That's white wine, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce (though the recipe called for Bragg's or tamari) in the back. We used New Seasons Caraway Rye, because I got it at a steal, I normally prefer something darker, and Isa suggests pumpernickel. The Turtle Island tempeh was also on sale at New Seasons, and was just the right amount for two people, though I should have sliced it into thinner slabs. As you can see, it made quite a tall sandwich, and it probably would have marinated better in smaller pieces.

So how was it? I have to say I was impressed. Especially with the underwhelming Vita Cafe reuben as a basis for comparison. The list of ingredients for the sandwich topping and dressing seems like overkill at first (Capers? Dill pickles? Avocado, and sauerkraut?) but the flavors and textures combine wonderfully. "Mouth-feel," along with the use of "plate" as a verb, is something you will never see on this food blog, but I will say that the dill pickle slices gave the sandwich a nice crunch, a good contrast to the tempeh and creamy dressing. The fact that you grill the bread in a skillet before constructing the sandwich doesn't hurt the texture, either.

Over all, I found nothing to dislike about this sandwich, aside from the fact it was a little messy to eat. But that was probably mostly my fault. Our dressing turned out a little watery because my jar of Veganaise was almost exhausted and so what was in the jar was a bit runny, and slicing the tempeh thinner would have resulted in a more effective and flavorful marinating as well as a easier sandwich to hold. But the bottom line is, this sandwich is full of delicious fats and variety of salty garnishes -- and what else do you need in a reuben?

B. and I both give it 4 out of 5.