Saturday, December 19, 2009

L.A. Vegan Reubens, aka the Reuben Wars

Long in the making, a war began brewing...and despite my slowness in coverage, it seems to be mounting. A controversy amongst our vegan friends to the South: Which is the best vegan reuben to be had in Los Angeles?

Flore, Follow Your Heart and Cafe Flourish are all oft-noted contenders...but in early November Quarrygirl posted a review of a new entrant, the Cafe Muse reuben.

She admitted it wasn't the best, but perhaps the best deal at under ten bucks. (Yeah, this is L.A.).

On December 2nd, Quarrygirl posted again. With yet another reuben. (Portland, you need to step it up). This picture kinda made me drool. She says it's the best, and looking at that crispy marble rye and a "meat" with red to rival the famed Chicago Diner's Radical Reuben, I believe her.

The thinly sliced "pastrami" reminds me of the Liquid Earth vegan reuben in Baltimore that B. and I sought out upon the recommendation of a television character. The fact is has the oft-praised Daiya cheese also bears mention. (Look for a future recipe post in which we try this mythical cheese, procured not too long ago from Food Fight--and check out this New York Times article on veganism in Long Island that refers to it.).

Meanwhile, Elderberries has entered the scene. While no contender, it clearly adds some variety and innovation.

As to whether this is really a "war" or not, I'm not so sure. I haven't heard much argument, and neither is there evidence of overt competition between the various providers of reubens. In fact, Portland probably still has more vegan reuben restaurants than L.A., I would wager. But we do seem to lack a drive to up the ante. I'm a big fan of the tempeh reuben, but maybe it's time to get a bit more creative.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Recipe: Jackfruit Corned Beef Reubens

Like most vegan bloggers, I've heard a great deal at this point about the wonders of jackfruit. A South Asian tree fruit, you can find it canned in Asian markets either sweet or in a brine. Some genius discovered that when cooked and pulled apart, the young jackfruit, canned in brine, bears an uncanny resemblance to carnitas or pulled pork. Prior to marinating and cooking, the flesh of the fruit is white and basically flavorless. When I first heard of jackfruit carnitas, I became interested in trying a slow-cooker jackfruit "corned beef," as while it doesn't exactly follow the same texture as carnitas or pulled pork, corned beef does have a somewhat fragmented, sinewy appearance in many cases. Properly colored and flavored, I thought jackfruit had potential, and with the many Asian markets in this neighborhood of Portland, finding the ingredients would be a cinch.

Corned Jackfruit Broth:

juice from 1 15 oz can of sliced beets (reserve beets for another use) (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons pickling spices (mixture can be purchased in bulk bins at New Seasons)
1 cup red wine or vinegar of choice (I used some extremely old red wine found in the cupboard)
4 tablespoons miso paste
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 20 oz can young green jackfruit in brine, drained
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced

Lay jackfruit pieces flat in crockpot. Mix all ingredients except onion in a bowl, dissolving miso. Pour over jackfruit pieces. Lay onion pieces on top. Set crockpot on low and cook for at least 6 hours. Remove the large triangles of jack fruit from the spices, onion and broth. Tear into smaller chunks as desired.

We created a reuben sauce by combining some noochy sauce I'd created earlier in the week (basically miso broth, nutritional yeast and mustard) with equal parts mustard, ketchup and minced pickle. Nothing fancy, we served it on simple dark rye, grilled on the stovetop, with some warmed grocery store kraut.

Both of us I think were a little trepidacious, and were pleasantly surprised at the result. Though it had been in the slow cooker for about 8 hours, the fruit was perfectly tender and not mushy at all. The texture was great; I didn't fully shred the jackfruit as I might have if I was making vegan pulled pork or carnitas, just broke it into smaller chunks, seeds included. I thought it certainly resembled the texture of chunks of meat, if not a bit more tender and juicy. The sandwich was messy in a good way, without being greasy, and was easier to handle than I expected. The jackfruit doesn't absorb the broth or brine, so you don't end up with bursts of liquid when you bite in, as you might expect. Just a soft yet firm mouthful that is not at all soggy or mushy.

In the future I would definitely tinker with the broth. It just wasn't nearly as flavorful as it could be. Perhaps more miso, or a cube of bullion would help. I would also reduce the pickling spices by half, but only because the cloves definitely overshadowed the other flavors. Consider replacing the red wine with apple cider vinegar, or another flavorful vinegar. Spices such as peppers and garlic would make it more interesting. I couldn't really taste the influence of the red wine or even the tablespoon of liquid smoke. I'm kicking myself for not thinking to include a bay leaf. The moral of the story is, don't be shy with the flavorings. Or perhaps combine the jackfruit with other flavorful components after slow cooking; for example, toss in a pan with mushrooms or caramelized onions (B.'s suggestion); the mild flavor of the jackfruit is an opportunity for other components to shine, while retaining a wonderful meaty texture. Using a bit of oil might give a crispy texture to the "meat" as well. I would also hesitate to use sliced onions in the slow cooker in the future, unless I made the pieces really big and easier to remove. It was a little of a hassle separating the jackfruit from the mess of pickling spices and onion.

Though it doesn't provide the protein of tempeh or tofu, jackfruit is an easy and versatile replacement for meat. Just serve with a bean-heavy salad if you want more legumes with your meal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Portland 100

Kinda couldn't resist. I'm bolding everything I have had. I'm technically supposed to cross anything out I would never try, but while there's certainly vegan foods I prefer over others, even though I'm not a huge fan of fake meats or cheeses or even tofu really, I've been known to eat them out, and there's virtually nothing vegan I won't try once.

Here's how it works:

1) Copy this list into your own blog, Facebook or website, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Post a comment here once you’ve finished and link your post back to this one.
5) Pass it on!

1. Fries with spicy tofu sauce at Dots

2. $1 Corndog from Hungry Tiger Too
3. Chick-o-Stick doughnut from Voodoo Doughnuts
4. Tiramisu from Portobello
5. Vegan Mulita from Gorditos or Gorditos II
6. Nanotear Ham and Cheeze sandwich from Tube
7. Milkshake from Sip
8. Gnocchi from Portobello
9. Caramel Nut Bar from Sweetpea Baking Co. (I don't think so, but the danishes rock me.)
10. Soft serve from Blossoming Lotus
11. Local cherry tomatoes from a farmers market
12. Dong Po Tofu from Bay Leaf
13. Jerked chickun from Assase Ital
14. A Big Big Lunch Special from an Indian cart
15. Soy latte made with Stumptown espresso
16. A crappy tofu scramble
17. Cornmeal pizza from Dove Vivi
18. Weeping Tiger sandwich from Bye & Bye
19. Bye & Bye or Floor Punch from Bye & Bye
20. A Bowl meal from a cart
21. Vegan nutella from Freddy's hazelnuts
22. Soy curls in bulk from Food Fight or Proper Eats
23. Buffalo wings from Vita
24. The weekday vegan pancakes from Laurelthirst
25. Maple vegan sausage waffle from Flavourspot
26. Drunken noodles with pepper steak from Thai Food Cafe
27. Macnocheeto from Homegrown Smoker
28. Veggie platter from an Ethiopian restaurant
29. Blackberries picked from a public place
30. Baba Ganouj from Ya Hala
31. Coconut Mashed Yams from Papa G’s
32. Butternut Squash Wontons from Hungry Tiger Too
33. Vegan slice from Bella Faccia
34. Apple pie from Whiffies
35. Chili dog from Zach’s Shack
36. Vegan poutine from Potato Champion
37. Missionary Chocolate Truffle
38. Apron Activists 4-Course Dinner
39. Hot Wok at New Seasons
40. Che Guevara Burrito from Laughing Planet
41. Bryan’s Bowl from Por Que No?
42. Pad Thai from Pad Thai Kitchen
43. Cupcake from a stand at Last Thursday
44. The Giant Pancake at Hungry Tiger Too
45. TLP from Red & Black Cafe
46. Cornmeal tempeh plate from Proper Eats
47. Tofu Po Boy at Palm State Gumbo
48. Maple Walnut Scone from Back to Eden
49. Vegan Mezza platter from a Lebanese restaurant
50. Crispy eggplant from Fujin
51. Lemongrass Tofu Sticks from Van Hanh
52. Tofu Salad Bun at Pho PDX
53. Cocktail made with local liquor
54. Biscuits and Gravy from Paradox
55. Smoky soy curls from Homegrown Smoker
56. Field Roast sausage
57. Secret Aardvark Hot Sauce
58. Toddbot's Triangles
59. Local microbrew
60. Hot Lips soda
61. Herb Crusted Tofu with Mushroom Marsala from The Farm Cafe
62. Had a picnic in Laurelhurst Park
63. Burrito from Shelley's Honkin Huge Burritos
64. Eggplant tibs from Bete Lukas
65. Tator Tots before noon or after midnight
66. Lone Ranger from Chaos Cafe
67. Sunday brunch at Sweetpea!
68. Tofu at a BBQ place (for example Derby Mustard Sauce Tofu at Russel Street BBQ)
69. Mint Fava Falafel at Nightlight Lounge
70. An unexciting hummus plate at a bar.
71. Vegan meatball sub from Aalto Lounge
72. Koi Fusion spicy tofu tacos
73. Veggie dog from the Vegi dog stand
74. Sesame chicken from a vegetarian Chinese restaurant
75. Bagel with Bacun Scallion cream cheese from Sweetpea
76. Vegan savoury crepe
77. Veggie kibbeh
78. Club Vegan at Backspace
79. Ice cream sundae from Back to Eden
80. Raw fudge from Blossoming Lotus
81. Tempeh reuben
82. Pause vegan burger
83. Vegan ribs
84. Something baked with local marionberries
85. Veggie bento box
86. Dave's Killer Bread
87. Higher Taste Buzzitos
88. Thai food that the server swears is vegan, but you taste fish sauce
89. Elephant ear from the Saturday Market
90. Dovetail sticky bun
91. Savory pie from Nicholas restaurant
92. Salad rolls from the Just Thai cart
93. Vegan torta from Gorditos II
94. Nutritional yeast on your popcorn at a movie theater
95. Vegan grilled cheese from The Grilled Cheese Grill
96. Pasilla burrito from El Nutri
97. Something from the vegetarian menu at Andina
98. Vegan Steak and Cheese from D.C. Vegetarian
99. Dragon Noodles at Red & Black Cafe
100. Falafel from Wolf & Bears

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Quick PDX Vegan Reuben News

I have a few more posts lined up, waiting for when I have time to fine-tune them, but I wanted to alert you all to that fact that, according to a photo text message from my former roommate, the Fuel Cafe in Portland recently served a Field Roast Reuben--only the second time I've heard of one being served in a restaurant, the first being that place in Seattle. However, it seems as though Grand Central has taken their tofuben (which I sadly never got to try my hand at veganizing) out of rotation as a winter seasonal special. All which makes me ask, what will be in store when I return to Portland for Christmas?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

TRUEBEN: Vegan Reuben at the Remedy Diner (Raleigh, NC)

Veggie Reuben. Marinated tempeh grilled on buttered rye topped with avocado, sauerkraut, thousand island dressing, dill pickles, and melted swiss. 8.95 Make vegan for 2.50 extra.

They were out of vegan cheese, so I got it sans cheese, and paid 1.25 extra for vegan dressing. I didn't mind they were out of cheese---in fact, prior to ordering I was wondering why it cost so much to veganize, and was contemplating asking for no cheese if that was the only change. I found it surprising that they bother having a vegan and a non-vegan dressing, and that they charge so much for a vegan one. B. and I are not big fans of vegan cheese anyway, so if we were in charge of the menu, we'd eliminate non-vegan dressing (can you really tell the difference?) and the vegan cheese option.

Still, this is North Carolina, and it is very nice to have a restaurant with such extensive vegan options, and one which makes veganization so easy and worry-free, even if it comes with a high price tag. The Reuben was already one of the most expensive sandwiches on the menu; for example, the Vegan Chicken Salad was only 7.50 and about the same amount of food.

As for the sandwich itself, I was neither disappointed nor impressed. It was a familiar, flavorful sandwich. The dressing was mostly Veganaise, somewhat creamy, and the avocado, as always, was welcome. Though the Remedy Diner will add a pickle spear on the side upon request, no extra charge, the Reuben actually has sliced dill pickles on it, in addition to the kraut, which I liked. The tempeh was marinated. Though not overly flavorful, it was sliced into smaller pieces, which B. and I have come to prefer over the uniform slab. The bread was a light caraway rye, extremely thin and crispy, but still servicable. All in all, it reminded me of many sandwiches I've had in Portland, albeit with a heftier price tag.

The Remedy Diner is a restaurant I may return to, or would if I lived in Raleigh, if not for the sandwiches and make-your-own salads, then for the beer on tap and the vegan key lime and coconut cream pies. But I would be much more enticed if they revised their pricing structure. $1.25 for a single slice of vegan cheese, and another $1.25 for egg-free dressing, when sandwiches that appear to be mostly cheese (like the Cheese Foccacia sandwich) are only $1.25 extra to veganize, doesn't seem to make much sense.

All in all, B. and I give this a solid 3. For a vegan visiting Raleigh, it's worth a try, and I must promote any establishment where a vegan can order with peace of mind (though this restaurant also has extensive, traditional "omni" diner food for your pastrami-loving friends). The location right in downtown is convenient for museum-going, people-watching or a night out. Plus, the atmosphere was kind of hip and the service was nice, and they have $1.50 cans of PBR. Hell, it was almost as if we were dining in Portland (except for the nice service, of course).

The Remedy Diner

137 E. Hargett St.
Raleigh, NC
Marinated tempeh reuben, with corn chips and house Pico de Gallo on the side.
Rating: 3

Monday, August 17, 2009

Back to School Reuben Round-Up

I'm back in North Carolina, with a fast internet connection and quite a backlog of vegan reuben news.

Let's start with the restaurant reviews. Fort Collins vegans are encouraged to check out Tasty Harmony, which, in addition to tempeh reubens, is bringing jackfruit Mexican-style food to the people.

A somewhat perplexingly named article ("Southwest" does not refer to an arid region of the United States, but maybe a neighborhood in the Twin Cities?), points Minnesotans and visitors towards some good vegetarian eats, including our ubiquitous friend, the tempeh reuben.

And yet another news item from Detroit. The Russell Street Deli doesn't have a TRUEBEN, but the article alone seems like a resource worth sharing.

If you're one of the lucky and have tried the Radical Reuben from the Chicago Diner, and are hankering to reproduce it at home, The Urban Housewife reveals the company behind their seitan, Upton Naturals.

In the blogs, aside from the attempted veganization of a vegetarian reuben in Tampa, Chicago and California get all the attention. Happy Herbivore joins the ranks of Radical Reuben samplers. Portland has a lot of vegan reubens, but Los Angeles has actual reuben wars! Meanwhile, Green LA Girl also opines about Chicago eats, and C'est La Vegan checks out Follow Your Heart. In case you were wondering, Sick of Lettuce confirms that the new Daiya cheese goes great on a reuben. Clearly, Portland Vegan Reubens needs to take some fact-finding missions to Chicago and L.A.

Finally, this article wins my heart for multiple reasons---not only does it reveal that a vegan reuben exists not all that far from where I currently live, but touts public transit as well! Oh, Indy. Good for so many reasons. Look for a review of the Remedy's TRUEBEN in the near future. Here's another review of the Remedy Diner, for good measure.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Veganization: Vegetarian Reuben at Cup and Saucer

Sometimes, you just have to take one for the team.

I enjoy the fact that this blog is very specific. And I have a goal that it be very comprehensive as well -- meaning that I not only review every vegan reuben in Portland, but do my best to veganize every vegetarian reuben in Portland. This goal sent me to such unlikely places as the Goose Hollow, where I ingested a very dry vegetable and sauerkraut sandwich. Obviously, you draw the line somewhere. I would never blog about a sandwich that was basically just sauerkraut on rye. But when you hear that a place like the Cup and Saucer offers a tofu reuben, this being an establishment that is pretty vegan-friendly and well-loved by many brunching stumptownie, you feel compelled to go forth and document. It makes me a little jealous of sites like Stumptown Vegans, who probably only feel compelled to go out and review vegan food that is potentially good. But I console myself by thinking that I am still doing a service for the vegans and vegetarians out there by investigating even the less promising possibilities.

But I was certainly not excited. You won't even hear B.'s take on this sandwich, as I didn't force him to sample it (he doesn't like tofu much to begin with). I heard about the reuben when I led the vegan pub crawl ride for Pedalpalooza about a year ago. Someone on the ride heard about this blog and told me about a really bad tofu reuben they'd had. "I think the tofu was like, steamed or something." I think my response was, "Nooo! Why did you tell me? Now I have to go eat it and review it." Back in Portland for perhaps the last time in awhile, I made it over to the Cup and Saucer's northeast location.

The vegetarian reuben is described as a vegetarian version of their classic reuben, with the meat replaced by tofu. I already knew the dressing was not vegan, so when the waitress said, "So you are basically getting a tofu and sauerkraut sandwich on toasted rye," I didn't bat an eye. To her credit, she was nice about it. Note that she clarified about buttering the bread or not -- something to keep in mind if you are ordering at hot sandwich at this joint. I was already eying the various hot sauces on the table as candidates to doctor this bland meal. I also asked for stoneground mustard on the side, and she brought me a whole squeeze bottle. The sandwich is $8.50, and I do respect that you can have soup, salad or fries on the side, though the soup of the day is not always vegan. I asked for sherry vinaigrette on my salad, expecting it to come out in a little cup so I could maybe drizzle a little on the sandwich and see if subbing a vegan dressing for the Thousand Islands might work -- unfortunately the salad came already dressed and the dressing was either really bland or of a small quantity, because I could barely taste it.

To be honest, after my first bite, my initial impression was that it was not as bad I was expecting. The bread and kraut were fine. Unfortunately, the tofu was essentially a thin slab that had apparently just been lightly browned on the grill. This is a good example of the failing of many a vegetarian reuben (less so TRUEBENS, I think): YOU CANNOT JUST REPLACE THE CORNED BEEF WITH SOME RANDOM PROTEIN. Many vegetarian reubens rely on the cheese and dressing to essentially mask the lack of flavor. This is a cop-out and not respectable at all. I'm not saying all vegetarian reubens must be just as good vegan -- they are, after all, vegetarian reubens, not vegan reubens. But it's really lazy to just slap a random bland vegetable or protein on there (for example, the tomato vegetarian reuben at the Widmer pub in North Portland), and call it good. No wonder so many meat-eaters scorn vegetarian food.

But anyway, yes, the first bite was not as bad as expected. Of course, I had already slathered that portion of the sandwich with mustard. The pure tofu and kraut and rye bite was pretty horrible. I ended up employing both Aardvark and Chipotle Tabasco hot sauce to make it edible. The salad was generous, and fine, aside from the bland dressing.

So the lesson...if you are vegan, never order this sandwich. If you are vegetarian, you should probably never order this sandwich was well. Go for a tofu scramble or a vegan cornmeal pancake or even the veggie burger, which is cheaper and sounds a lot more appetizing, even if it is a Boca patty or something. And if you think you would like to try your hand at your own vegan or vegetarian reuben, learn from the mistakes of the Cup and Saucer. Be thoughtful about your meat replacement. Marinate!

Cup and Saucer
Locations in NE and SE Portland
$8.50 for a tofu reuben with side salad, soup or fries, leave off dressing and cheese.
Rating: 1

Friday, July 10, 2009

TRUEBEN: Darth Reuben at the Georgetown Liquor Company, Seattle, WA

I first heard about the Georgetown Liquor Company, a bar in South Seattle with many vegan and vegetarian options, through a review in The Stranger, Seattle's alternative weekly. The sandwich sounded awesome -- the first time I'd heard of someone utilizing the "artisan" fake meat Field Roast in a reuben (but of course, not the first time the combo had occurred to me). The review praised the vegetarian version, and noted that it was available with vegan cheese. B. and I dropped in on the place on our way up to Canada -- it reminded me of a smaller, dive-ier Backspace. They had a few arcade games, a pin ball machine, and three or four game systems hooked up to TVs for patrons to use. It's essentially a dark, hip bar with a pretty large food menu. We split the Darth Reuben and the house vegan burger over a couple of Pabst.

The Darth Reuben (all the sandwiches reference sci-fi movies or TV shows) is Roasted Tomato Field Roast and kraut on marble rye with "remoulade" and cheese (sub vegan). It's 10 bucks, kinda pricey in my book, but probably normal for Seattle. You can choose a cup of soup, salad or chips and salsa as a side -- a cup of soup alone runs 4.50, chips 3, so maybe this justifies the price. And the sandwich is large. I certainly wasn't disappointed with the portions. (The veggie burger was smaller -- maybe this is why they felt compelled to add a pickle spear on the side. No pickle with the reuben, though.).

The sandwich looked fantastic, and with the extremely dark lighting in the bar, I'm surprised the pictures turned out as well as they did. Though it took the bartender a few moments to take our order and then bring us our beers, the sandwiches came out very quickly. In my mind, the bread was probably the best aspect of the sandwich. It was a square marble rye yet thick cut and crusty -- an artisan marble rye? It was thick and crispy with hints of caraway. I was as pleased with the Field Roast, as I expected I would be. Flavorful with a dense, meaty texture, it's a great stand in for corned beef -- maybe a little too dense and chewy. The only thing about the sandwich I wasn't so sure of was the dressing. It was plentiful and not bad, but much sweeter and tangier than I am used to. It reminded me of Kraft's California dressing. B. also was iffy on the dressing. He liked the bread, but he wanted more kraut to balance the Field Roast. I didn't expect to complain about too much Field Roast, as many places will skimp on stuff like this, but I found myself agreeing. More kraut would have balanced the sandwich a bit more. B. also thought this vegan cheese here was not as good as that at Liquid Earth -- so far we haven't been too excited about vegan cheese on reubens, as usually it is barely detectable and completely bland. Liquid Earth somehow managed to offer a melty vegan cheese that really added to the sandwich.

Though B. seemed less than impressed -- truthfully, I think the Liquid Earth tofu reuben is the only sandwich that trumps tempeh in his book -- I thought this was a hearty, flavorful and creative sandwich, and so I give it at least a 3. In any case, Georgetown Liquor Company is worth a stop for any vegan on their way north from Portland -- the enticing menu, with truly a wealth of vegan options, is excuse enough, if not the booze.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

June Reuben Round-Up

June rolls around and despite being in India, and thus half a day ahead of the U.S., I'm still posting a bit late. Blame slow internet and infuriating internet cafe keyboards. There's a lot going on this month in the vegan reuben arena. Unfortunately, what I've got is mostly a bunch of links-- reviews from other cities, blog posts, the usual, and the "broadband" here is just not up to snuff. So I'll have to postpone until I can get a faster connection.

Check back in a week or two---I've got a couple reviews and recipe stashed away.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

TRUEBEN: Tempeh Reuben at Chaos Cafe and Parlor

It's clear that I'm amped to be back in Portland, on a mini-summer vacation from graduate school, tying up loose ends so to speak -- that is, hitting those restaurants with vegan reubens I didn't have time to try. Or, in this case, reviewing the reubens that have popped up in my absence. What B. and I didn't expect, upon delving back into this task, is that some truly interesting and innovative reubens have emerged.

While the vegetarian reuben at Nearly Normal's in Corvallis was hearty but a little ho-hum, I was very impressed by Backspace -- it seemed to fill the gap left by Veganopolis' departure by providing an attractive, creative somewhat gourmet reuben but with a bit more substance. Few reubens have achieved the score of 4.5 -- none have achieved the highest possible score of 5, yet, so 4.5 is considered the pinnacle. Previously this was only occupied by the Red and Black Reuben, a sandwich which won us over with its simplicity and price (and of course, taste). After munching on Backspace's smoky, dilly, creamy tempeh reuben I felt we had met a challenger. I did not expect Chaos Cafe to raise the bar even further.

I will start off saying that in theory I love Chaos Cafe, a funky little restaurant on an otherwise fairly unattractive portion of SE Powell. They are similar to the Red and Black in that they are almost entirely vegan, and use mainly organic and local ingredients. Their menu also has a sort of hearty, healthy theme, heavy on the greens and whole grains -- as well as tempeh and tofu. Their menu strikes me as nearly perfect -- I don't think it has a single vegan entree that does not appeal to me. The only downsides are that it's a little more expensive than the Red and Black, and it could quite possible offer the slowest service in Portland (and the Red and Black has recently become a contender for that title as well).

The tempeh reuben is $8.75, and does not come with cheese -- cheese can be added for $1 and avocado can be added for $2. I don't know if they offer vegan cheese, but I wouldn't be surprised, as they have nachos on the menu that come with vegan sour cream in addition to cheese (wouldn't it be counter-intuitive to have vegan sour cream but real cheese?). The sandwich is described as grilled marinated tempeh with caramelized onions, house-made dressing, and sauerkraut on rye. Chaos immediately got points by offering a side salad or chips, like Backspace (Chaos' salad was fresher and more plentiful, I will say). Again, no pickle though.

My first thought upon biting into my half of the very pretty sandwich was, "Woah. No cheese necessary." My second was, "B. is going to love this." And my third was, "Do we have a new #1 sandwich?" The dressing was great, somehow both creamy and drippy-thin, with an oiliness that gave the sandwich an unctous moistness. The cook slathered the dressing on both pieces of bread, which worked well. The bread was a sandwich rye, not too light, and nice and crunchy, and it kept my hands clean. The onions were sweet, a great touch, and didn't overwhelm the kraut. I was also very impressed by the tempeh. Another commonality between this sandwich and the Backspace tempeh reuben was a similar treatment of the tempeh. Instead of keeping the tempeh in a slab, as we often do when we're cooking, and as other restaurants such as Vita Cafe and Nearly Normal's do as well, both Backspace and Chaos broke their tempeh into chunks. The Red and Black does something like this, too. Their tempeh filling is actually a mixture of mushrooms and tempeh. I think this might be a good way to go. Though probably slightly more work in preparation, I think the flavor gets distributed better, and it makes for a more interesting and pleasant mouth-feel when you bite in.

B. shared most of my feelings about this sandwich. He said it was a clear 4.5, tying it with our earlier #1 choice (though he also said he thought this sandwich was better than Backspace, calling into question the 4.5 rating I assigned that sandwich). Yes, it is one of the more expensive reubens we've reviewed, especially if you opted for avocado or cheese, but I'm starting to wonder if the extra price doesn't make it worth it, especially when the restaurant is committed to local and organic ingredients (and a good side salad ups the value as well). While I had virtually no criticisms of this sandwich, B. felt that perhaps the tempeh was unevenly marinated in places, as some chunks were larger and less flavorful than others. Aside from the lack of pickle on the side, this was all around a very satisfying meal. (Followed of course, by a delicious house-made vegan dessert).

Chaos Cafe and Parlor
Corner of SE Powell and 26th

Sunday, June 7, 2009

TRUEBEN: Tempeh Reuben at Backspace


Don't ask me why, but I've been downright obsessed with the tempeh reuben at Backspace for awhile now. I guess because it's been out of reach for so long. But residing in North Carolina has not prevented me from obsessively reviewing the all vegetarian menu of this computer geek oriented cafe in PDF form. Finally, on a sunny Saturday morning, B. and I managed to sit down to what is now one of my favorite reubens in town. Truthfully, this reuben almost gained #1 status is my book. Probably the only real hinderance was the pricyness, though I'll admit, the sandwich isn't perfect.

Almost, though. First of all, Backspace happily veganizes this dish (and many others) without any extra charge. Second, though there is no complimentary pickle, I greatly appreciate that there are options for sides other than corn chips (in this case, green salad or pasta salad) again, with no additional charge. True, the fee is $9 for this wonderful sandwich, and with the price of vegan cheese, this seems reasonable to me (however, some of us, i.e. B. would argue that the vegan cheese added little to the sandwich and should probably be scrapped in favor of avocado anyway).

On to the sandwich. The bread: some of the best we've had, I think. A marble rye that manages to be crispy and flavorful and not taste like it came straight from a plastic bag. The kraut, I'm almost ecstatic. Fresh and crunchy and heavy with dill. The tempeh is nothing to be scoffed at either: extremely flavorful (though maybe a tad too salty), with an assertive, delicious presence despite the fact the portion was a bit more modest than we are used to. I was a fan of the dressing. It's on the creamier side, more like a spread. B. seems to have developed a taste for the runnier dressings, and he thought this sandwich was a little dry, but I had no such complaint. The sandwich was plenty grilled, the bread even slightly charred, which gave it a smoky flavor I enjoyed. Though the cheese was a little odd, unmelted as soy 'rella frequently is, I thought it contributed to the sandwich well, though I could probably be convinced that avocado would be better.

As it is, I wholeheartedly give this a 4.5. I would be tempted to rate it higher, maybe even higher than our erstwhile favorite, the Red and Black Reuben, because of the nice green salad side and the fact that service was fairly prompt and obviously thoughtful. Though the Red and Black is more affordable, I've grown less patient lately with their lackadasical service. The Backspace reuben (also found at the Someday Lounge next door) is as gourmet and carefully prepared as Veganopolis, but definitely feels like more bang for your buck.

115 NW 5th, Old Town Portland
Tempeh reuben with house dill kraut, vegan russian dressing, on marble rye. Swiss cheese or vegan mozzarella.

P.S. Stay tuned for our next review, of a reuben which B. argues is even better, drawing into question the 4.5 point assignment! Portland vegan reuben establishments, you have officially raised the bar, giving our modest yet hearty 'lil Red and Black Reuben, the erstwhile champion, a run for its money.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

May Reuben Round Up

Yarp!?, a new food cart at the ever-increasingly vegan-friendly food cart hub at SE Hawthorne and 12th, recently announced a vegetarian, mushroom-based reuben. Right now their dressing is not vegan though...but I like the idea of more mushroom-based reubens emerging. According to their blog, they are working at concocting more vegan options, so surely a vegan reuben is on the horizon.

If you find yourself in Minneapolis/St. Paul, check out the Hard Times Cafe, which serves many a vegan and vegetarian sandwich, including a tempeh reuben. See the newspaper from earlier this month here.

Apparently the midwest is rocking the food carts as well. Madison rag "The Daily Page" clues us in on a cart called The Dandelion, which serves up its own mushroom reuben (Portobello, to be exact).

Speaking of portobellos, here is a reuben recipe I stumbled across, though while we may question the use of Swiss cheese and the typographical aptitude of the scribe, might provide some inspiration for a new twist on the classic.

And another article for you, here a Fort Collins journalist waxes ecstatic in his review of Tasty Harmony, a raw and vegan joint that also offers, you guessed it, a tempeh reuben.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Veganization: Nearly Normal's in Corvallis, OR

Though Corvallis is obviously not Portland, it gives me great joy to finally review this reuben, which I have been in pursuit of for at least a year. Orchestrating a successful sampling of course was not that hard -- Nearly Normal's eluded me more than once simply because B. and I typically found ourselves in Corvallis over the weekend and found it difficult to grasp that a place seemingly so appropriate for brunch would be closed on Sundays. Now that we both no longer have strict schedules, we were able to pop in a Thursday morning to try it out. Luckily, Nearly Normal's serves their lunch menu all day, though breakfast stops at 2 pm.

For all its creative menu naming and apparently hippie history, Normal's is not nearly as odd as I was expecting. After ordering at the counter, we sat upstairs in a comfy, well-lit dining room that could have been in any other breakfast establishment. I appreciated that the menu had a little laminated mini menu-guide to let you know what you could eat, or easily modify to order, if you were vegan or gluten-free. This confirmed that the only non-vegan aspect of the tempeh reuben was the cheese. I didn't bother to ask to sub avocado for cheese, as avocado on the menu was $1.95 to add and I noticed a little note posted on the cash register that dictated which substitutions were free -- avocado for cheese was not (though tamari tofu for eggs is, if you ever go in for breakfast, the menu is not explicit about this).

The tempeh reuben at Nearly Normal's is "seasoned tempeh" on a light deli rye with lettuce, tomato, stoneground mustard and kraut. B., who is becoming a bit of a reuben purist, of course was not that happy with the tomato, not to mention the lack of sauce. But he agreed that the bread was good, the tempeh was exceptional, and the kraut was good both in taste and portion size. I agreed on all those three counts, but also found myself not missing the dressing, surprisingly enough. As it was the sandwich was crunchy yet pliable and juicy -- dressing might have made it a bit too messy. The stoneground mustard was pungent and the seasoning which coated the exterior of the tempeh was wonderful. Admittedly, the sandwich was slightly dry. This was assisted by the tomato and lettuce but I think avocado would have made this sandwich a true home run (and probably bumped the rating up a good point). The sandwich came with a copious amount of decent chips, but sadly, no pickle.

Nearly Normal's
109 NW 15th Street, Corvallis, Oregon
Open approximately 8 or 9 am to 8 or 9 pm, except for Sundays (check the website).
Tempeh reuben, no cheese, runs you about $8.

We give it a 3. Though the tempeh was skillfully seasoned, the portions were generous, and the service was friendly and amendable, B. disapproved of the use of mustard instead of dressing, and though it would have be wonderful with avocado to replace the cheese, that undoubtedly would have upped the price quite a bit. I have to admit though, if someone were to ask me to choose between Nearly Normal's tempeh reuben and the one found at nearby Cafe Yumm, I'd be torn. Though Cafe Yumm, with their vegan button on the cash register, yields a better Veganization, Nearly Normal's scores points for the tasty, hefty tempeh portion and kraut. Cafe Yumm does have a delicious, delicious vegan reuben sauce -- if only their tempeh was moister and more flavorful. It's really hard for me to say. You'll have to try them both for yourself!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Update: Papa G's Organic Vegan Deli

Last summer, B. and I reviewed the tempeh reuben at Papa G's, then a relatively new all vegan, all organic restaurant in Southeast. At 5.99, the modest sandwich didn't seem like a great deal, but I appreciate Papa G's dedication to fresh, organic and local ingredients, despite the fact that those often come at a price.

Whereas before the only sandwiches available at Papa G's were found in the deli case, wrapped in plastic, recently the establishment announced hot, made to order sandwiches. Check out their website for an updated menu (and a coupon for 10% off). The tempeh reuben is an option, now 2 bucks more (though the ala carte sandwich is still available for $5.99). The menu says the hot sandwiches come with "gigantic chips" but I can only assume this isn't the only change. Undoubtedly a freshly-made sandwich will taste better, but I hope they also add more kraut and maybe jazz it up in some way, though the description sounds just like the burger-like reuben we tried back then. I encourage folks to stop by and check it out, maybe drop us a comment to let us know what the deal is. Whether in search of a reuben or not, it seems like the expansion definitely merits a visit.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Daiya Cheese

On vacation, perusing the blogs, I've learned of a new vegan cheese that almost sounds too good to be true. Here's a pic from Vegansaurus' product review.

Daiya apparently has great melty, stretchy texture and cheesy flavor. I don't usually go for fake cheeses, but the fact that this product seems to have very natural ingredients (like cassava) and is not soy-based, makes it pretty attractive. It's produced in Canada, and until recently was only found in Vancouver restaurants such as the Naam. We're headed back to Vancouver in a couple weeks -- even though we've already reviewed the Naam's reuben, might be worth dropping in try it again, as previously the Naam didn't offer vegan cheese (only real cheese, and a non-vegan fake cheese).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tamarind Reubens with Zukay Relish and Avocado Spread

The school year is winding down. I have much more free time, but I'm also anticipating being gone from North Carolina for three full months. So this means packing up all my belongings yet again, and the requisite cleaning out of the fridge and freezer. Ever since I got my Blendtec, I've loved making a quick, easy tamarind sauce from water and wet tamarind for Indian and Mexican-influenced cooking. My wet tamarind lives in the fridge though, along with my ever-ripening tub of miso, so I'm using them both up as quickly as I can. Tamarind is tangy and flavorful, and seems like it could go great with tempeh. Hence, the inspiration for this marinade.

Tamarind Reuben Marinade

2 cups water
3 tablespoons wet tamarind
2 tablespoons miso paste
6 stems of fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon maple syrup
4 garlic cloves, peeled

1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon of paprika
several grinds black pepper

I blended all ingredients, except the spices, in my Blendtec until smooth. I ended up adding more water (hence the 2 cups, originally it was only 1/2 cup) because I thought the marinade was too thick. If you don't have a high-powered blender or access to wet tamarind, you can purchase tamarind concentrate or tamarind juice in a well-stocked Asian market. Also, if you lack a strong enough blender, press the garlic and finely chop the cilantro. Stir the spices in last. Cut tempeh in half and carefully slice length-wise as well, to make smaller slabs. Place in a flat pan or Pyrex dish and pour the marinade over the dish. This marinade more than covered all the of the tempeh. Let sit in the fridge at least 24 hours.

I also had some avocado pureed with lime juice in the freezer. Though it's a popular cheese substitute when eating out, I don't often use avocado on reubens at home. However, when I had an overabundance of cheap avocados recently, this seemed like a no-brainer. Though I usually whip up some type of Russian or Thousand Island dressing, being pressed for time, and not wishing to purchase new ingredients, I settled for a stoneground mustard instead.

Next, we have two varieties of Zukay relish to test on our reubens. Zukay graciously sent me both their cucumber relishes as well as a mild and a hot salsa. The first cucumber relish is garlic dill relish, and consists basically just of cucumber, apple cider vinegar, the requisite seasonings and live cultures. There is also a horseradish dill relish. This relish is unique from kraut in that it is "live" and raw. As a fan of raw and cultured vegan foods (such as kombucha and kimchi) I'm excited at the chance to pair these condiments with my favorite sandwich.

In a unique turn of events, this is the first reuben review where B. and I are joined by someone...other than B. and I. We had two pals, one vegan, one not, join us for this meal. Though I didn't plan it this way in advance (I wouldn't normally test a reuben recipe out on folks other than myself and B.) I thought this was fortunate, a chance to inject some new insight into this blog, and especially, to get a survey on a product we were sampling for the first time.

In terms of the Zukay relishes, we were evenly split between favoring the horseradish variety or the garlic. The best thing about both relishes was the fresh, cucumber flavor. Though I loved the taste, I realized I may have been a little misguided in thinking they were great for reubens, because the relish is fairly liquidy, as relishes tend to be. Post-sandwiches, we enjoyed small amounts of the relish alone on bread. I liked the horseradish best, because although the horseradish flavor itself is not noticeable, this relish has a sort of deep, earthy flavor. One other member of our party also liked the horseradish better, but said it was because he likes the cucumber flavor, and it comes through more in the horseradish version. B. and our other friend ranked the garlic higher than horseradish, I think mostly due to the complaint that you couldn't really taste horseradish in that relish.

In terms of the reuben itself, I liked the flavors, especially the creaminess of the avocado spread and the garlicky dill flavor of the relish, but by the time I was done wandering about the house trying to get a good picture despite a paucity of natural light, my bread was soaked through. (For this experiment, we used up the ends of two loaves--both of which I've blogged about in the past. The remnants had lived in my freezer until this opportunity). I couldn't really judge the marinade very well; I felt its flavor was obscured by the generous amount of relish I had applied. B. liked the tamarind flavor ("sort of citrusy") and credited that to the fact he used less relish than I did.

The general consensus that though it was a tasty sandwich, it strayed a little far from a reuben. It lacked both the crispy, chewy texture of the cabbage and the creaminess of the Russian or Thousand Island dressing (the latter of which, I can only blame on my lack of preparedness). B. in particular has been vocal in the past that it is not really a reuben unless it has a creamy dressing; my friend was in agreement, but also in the case of the use of dill relish instead of kraut. He believes kraut, its texture and saltiness, are crucial to a reuben; of course, he was the first to admit that since he doesn't eat vegan reubens regularly, he may be less appreciative of iterations that stray from the traditional. B. did concede that the moistness of tempeh was good, which was probably due to the large amount of marinade that kept the tempeh completely submerged during baking. We wondered if maybe in the future we should try baking the tempeh in a covered pan.

This was the best picture we could get. Sorry. Tamarind tempeh, Zukay relish, avocado spread and stoneground mustard on light deli rye. On the side, a version of this salad from Fat Free Vegan (I used lime juice instead of orange and omitted the nuts and orange segments -- quite tasty, still!).

It wasn't until later that I had the notion that Zukay relish would have been an ideal ingredient in a Thousand Islands dressing. If I'd had ketchup or another tomato base on hand, we could have mixed relish and a few other ingredients with it and had a wonderful dressing. Since B. and I are leaving town shortly, the remainder of the relish got packed up and sent on with one of my friends who was having a vegetarian/vegan grill out the next day. (It received high praise there as well).

Since so many of the foods utilized in this post were stored in the freezer until the opportunity arose to put them to good use, I feel compelled to link to this Bittman article you probably have already seen. I'd also like to let you know about Veggie Thing, which seems like a great new online resource for vegans nationwide.

I'll post again soon, with some dispatches from Portland!

Friday, May 1, 2009

April Round-Up

"...indisputable evidence..."?

...that vegan leprechauns do exist?

Wedding season is coming up, and here's a resource for vegan wedding hors d'oeuvres-- I have to admit, the "Mini Open-Faced Vegan Reubens" sound pretty good, and apparently can be frozen for later.

You, too, can finally enjoy vegan reubens, while camping!

I feel tempeh reubens are a bit over-represented on this blog, so here's another tofu one for you, at My Veggie Kitchen.

Lastly, I was happy to see this inventive and tasty new recipe pop up. Thanks, Rhymes with Vegan!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yay Zukay!

Sometimes it really doesn't hurt to just ask.

When I notified Scott of Zukay Foods of my love and infatuation with fermented foods (and okay, envy of other vegan blogs who got to review his stuff), he graciously agreed to send me some samples, to pair with one or two new vegan reuben recipes rattling around in the back of my brain.

Today four jars arrived, and I am hyped. However, B. is due for a visit in the not too distant future, so I am going to restrain myself and wait to break out the bubbly, live salsas and (best yet) dill relishes until he gets here and we can start the tempeh marinating in our usual tradition.

Could something like this be in my future? (A Melomeals post from January).

Meanwhile, check out Scott's blog, Get Your Ferment On, and scroll down for some recipes. In the next week or so I'll try to keep my tradition of Monthly Reuben Round-Ups going, but otherwise, see you in May!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Pacific Northwest still rules, yo

In case you were afraid this blog was beginning to focus a bit too much on vegan reubens in OTHER places, like, say Maryland, or cyberspace, fear not. Portland is still tops for vegan reuben options, though we'll give a shout out to Seattle as well.

Truth is, I'm a little jealous that Stumptown Vegans got to review the Someday Lounge/Backspace reuben before I got a chance. I've been drooling over this sandwich from afar for much too long (I had hoped to go in December but weather and the resultant travel delays made that impossible). Seriously, I think I've downloaded the PDF of Backspace's menu multiple times over the past several months just to longingly read it over. Word of mouth says it is great, and now you can see some pics and an official review.

Part of what makes Backspace so intriguing (as an establishment in general---their reuben is tempeh) is its frequent use of Field Roast. Now, as I've said before, I'm not typically a fan of fake meats. Occasionally I'll eat a Tofurkey brat at a BBQ and then remember, oh right, these are gross. Field Roast is definitely an exception--anyone will tell you it's the best fake meat out there. And this is essentially because it's a gourmet, "artisan" meat analog. Which brings me to the second reason I want to try some of Backspace's Field Roast offerings. I don't have empirical evidence to back this up, but there are certain vegan ingredients that are pretty pricey were you to buy them in the stores. For example, Teese seems to have the same market rate per ounce as uranium, as far as I'm concerned. Field Roast is up there in price as well, though you can find it at most grocery stores these days.

I'll outright say it---if you are vegan and enjoy food and like to cook, most of the time you can make better food at home than you would find eating out. This is not as true in Portland as in, say, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, I'll give you that. But most stuff, be it cheeseless pizza or Chinese food, I can make at home better and cheaper and healthier than most vegan options dining out.

Which brings me to my drawn out point. Because stuff like Field Roast and some (especially imported) vegan cheeses are so expensive in the stores (or online, for folks who can't find it locally), a sandwich made with these components at a cafe like Backspace may actually be about the same price as if you bought all the components yourself and made it at home. Also, it's an opportunity to try said "substitute foods" without the large initial investment. Everyone says Teese is great; I have yet to try it. I'd like it if my first time was melted on a delicious, fresh Pearl Bakery roll with delicately-spiced lentil-based sausage served up with some fresh salad greens and a strong cup of coffee.

Is my Northwest envy showing? Is it possible to envy the place you consider home?

In case you were wondering, there is actually a Field Roast reuben out there. Which brings me to another notable establishment up North, this review courtesy of The Stranger (or, as we like to call it, Seattle's version of The Portland Mercury). The review sounds so delicious I almost want to quote it here, but I'll let you read it for yourself. Or just go check out Georgetown Liquor Company as soon as humanly possible.

Expect a part two to this post in a month or so when I hope to find myself back in the dear rainy climes, sinking my teeth into these very sandwiches.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March Reuben Round-Up

I have a confession to make. I have Google Alerts e-mail me (supposedly) every time "vegan reubens" pops up on the internets. I personally think it's laying down on the job though, because lately, I seem to stumble across vegan reuben love more frequently than Google "alerts" me to them. And that's saying a lot. I don't have nearly as much time to wander the vegan blogs as I used to, these days.

The first happy stumble was over at Kamutflake Girl -- the one of the few food bloggers I really can't resist despite the fact she rarely posts recipes. This is certainly a recipe I would hit her up for, a lentil patty made with gluten flour. Like insta-tempeh?

The next stumble? Fellow reuben-addict Melody over at Melomeals (she's made it onto a round-up before) innovates with reuben pizza.

Maybe it's because St. Patty's Day got everyone thinking about corned beef and cabbage, but there's a lot of reuben-themed creativity in the air this month. Renae at i eat food serves up a reuben casserole-- the perfect thing if you are craving a reuben---and pasta?

I'll give a few sandwiches their due as well, as Google Alerts did deliver a number worth mentioning, namely this extremely pretty one from Cupcake Punk, another iteration of the Vegan Dad recipe.

And we have our requisite restaurant alerts. The Traverse City Record recommends half a tempeh reuben from Oryana Natural Foods Market as part of a "Lunch on a Lincoln" cheap eats feature. According to the blog Super Caloric Chalk Dust NYC restaurant 'Snice offers a good one, as well. Last but not least, wrapping it up with one more coincidental peruse, Tahinitoo gives you a reason to trek up to Seattle and visit the Wayward Cafe.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reuben experiments and a vegan wine review!

B. came for another visit earlier this month, to coincide with my spring break. A couple months ago I purchased a BlendTec Total Blender (and I've actually created a second blog devoted entirely to it). One thing I love about the BlendTec is the ability to reduce whole fruits and vegetables to juice, without any peeling or left-over pulp. Since we'd had good luck with apple-based marinades, I was eager to experiment with the blender in creating a marinade for reubens. We added beet, for the color mostly, and because I'd seen at least one other reuben recipe that employed beet juice.

Beety Reuben Marinade:

1 large apple, quartered and cored
1 medium beet, trimmed and quartered
1 small knob of fresh ginger, peeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard seed
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

We tossed all these ingredients into the BlendTec and ran it on the Whole Juice cycle. The result was a very red, soupy yet thick marinade. We had about half a block of left-over tofu, which I sliced thin and laid in a Pyrex dish, then covered in marinade. We put thinly sliced white mushrooms in a bowl and added the rest of the marinade. Both sat in the fridge over night.

The next day, we baked the tofu for about an hour at 425, flipping part way. For the mushrooms, we first sliced up most of a medium yellow onion, sauteed it until softened, then added the mushrooms and sauteed until the mushrooms had cooked down a little. The marinade was so thick, it stuck with the mushrooms and turned out to be more of a sauce as well. It wasn't bad, but I don't know if it was preferable.

Both sandwiches got the same reuben sauce from this post, and this local raw sauerkraut, from Farmer's Daughter in Carrboro.

Tasty! We ate the tofu on a light deli rye baked at the local co-op, and the mushrooms went on the same dark 100% rye from the earlier post. Both toasted of course.

We tried the mushroom first, paired with some vegan syrah from Frey Vineyards that I'll get more into later.

The beet flavor was pretty strong, but the onions and mushrooms still came through. I liked the tofu the best I think---tofu is a great medium for a strong marinade, and of course takes on color quite well. I did end up adding a little Siracha hot sauce to my tofu reuben. After tasting the mushroom one, I thought it would be complemented by a little more spiciness. B., who is officially a tempeh fiend I think, missed the meaty texture that nutty soy product provides. I really like the raw, local kraut---the woman who runs Farmer's Daughter is a pickling genius in my opinion---but it is a little milder than your average kraut, and was perhaps a bit overpowered by the beet, in the case of the mushroom version at least.

I wasn't disappointed by either of these sandwiches, but I wasn't blown away either. I think in future experiments, I will use a minimal amount of beet, maybe just a few slices, and probably add more water so that the marinade functions more like a marinade and less like a sauce.

Now for the wine! I'm excited about this inaugural product review. And after visiting the Frey Vineyards website, I'm genuinely excited that this environmentally-friendly, vegan wine is not only delicious, but affordable. B. and I both immensely enjoyed the Syrah and the Chardonnay. I'm the type of person who rarely spends more than $15 on a bottle of wine, so when I found I really, really liked Frey's offerings, I assumed that it was an expensive, high quality wine that would typically be out of my price range. Upon investigating the website though, I found that at least currently, they have some great deals.

So, did you know that alcohol isn't always vegan? It's something that annoys me, but I often utilize a "don't ask, don't tell" type of approach, mostly just because there are very few alcoholic beverages that will state on their label whether they contain animal products (or used animal products at some point in processing) or not. Luckily, I enjoy hoppier ales as opposed to stouts, which more frequently include dairy. Frey Vineyards, which by the way was voted Best Vegan Wine by VegNew Magazine in 2007, states this on their website, "No animal products are used in the making of Frey Wines, such as egg whites, gelatin, or dairy-derived substances."

Like I said, our impressions of the wine flavors were very good. I like red wine over white typically---the syrah was complex and sweet, but not overly sweet. B. and I decided it would go well with a spicy, rich meal--probably would go great with a tempeh reuben with a lot of heat and spice. The Chardonnay was light and pleasantly dry, probably the best white wine I've ever had.

So check out the Frey Wines website. Located in Mendocino, California, their Organic and Biodynamic products have gained acclaim from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, and numerous wine competitions. And they are almost local to Portland!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Baltimore Vegan Reubens: Liquid Earth

Get ready for the most realistic vegan reuben ever. And while I don't think I would give up other vegan reubens for this sandwich, that statement is closer to high praise than it is to condemnation.

Truthfully, there is something slightly pedestrian about this trueben. But that fact alone is what makes it so unique. Never have I tasted a vegan or vegetarian reuben that was so close to the real thing. The cheese, though mild and not overly applied (VeganRella, we were told), and the sauerkraut, in about the right proportion, the pale deli rye-- all were not memorable in their own right, but served as the appropriate backdrop for salty (but not too salty, thankfully), robustly-hued tofu "meat" that even B. thought tasted remarkably like the real thing.

This sandwich is a bit of a celebrity. It earned mention on Homicide, a cop show set in Baltimore. And with good reason. It seems exactly like the sort of thing a newly vegetarian cop would gravitate towards. We're more of the tempeh crowd, but still, this is a sandwich I would probably return for again and again, if I lived in Baltimore.

Located on Aliceanna near the Inner Harbor, Liquid Earth does feel a bit like the kind of coffee shop/juice bar/raw and vegan eatery you might find in Portland---reminiscent of places like Proper Eats and the Red and Black, but with a little East Coast edginess. The prices were sort of high, like Vita Cafe the sandwiches had no sides or even pickles, but were a buck or two higher than you'd expect in Portland. But man do they know their way around tofu-as-meat. The stuff was marinated, though appropriately dry, and thinly sliced to perfection, both in the Reuben and the Philly we had (the latter of which we ordered especially vegan, for a buck or so extra). Though there was a hummus sandwich and some nut meat raw tacos, I don't think I saw tempeh on the menu, tofu being the topping of choice. But if you do something right, by all means, keep doing it. In this case, simplicity was the ticket. As someone who obviously eats a lot of vegan reubens, I appreciate some innovation and play on the classic, with unique marinades, slaws instead of kraut, and stand-out sauces. But this sandwich reminds you of what it is all about: five relatively simple components that fit together just right.

Thanks to B. for catching the homicide reference (and having the friends in Maryland) that made this little spring break excursion to Liquid Earth possible.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February Reuben Round-Up

I've got a wealth of recipes and reuben spottings for you this month, both from recent reviews and postings and from the krauty annals of the vegan blog-world. There's really a lot, so I'll just get started, in no particular order.

Tami at Vegan Appetite teases us with the Corned Seitan recipe, a tester from well-loved vegan cookbook author, Robin Robertson, raving that it's even better than the Chicago Diner. That's high praise.

And here's a recipe from almost a year ago from Diet, Dessert and Dogs, another inventive vegan blog, it's an adaptation of the VWAV tempeh reuben, and seems well-worth testing out.

I'm always somewhat entertained when a small-circulation journalist takes on vegetarianism or veganism as a challenge, and is immensely terrified. Check out this Philadelphia writer as he tries out a week without meat, and consequently, seitan reuben sliders at Horizons. Living on the Vedge also clues us in on a good spot for vegan reubens in Philly.

Man, and that's just the beginning. Here are some more recipes from the blogs. We've got suggestions from the likes of Vegan Parenting, Vegan Footprints, VegWeb, Awesome. Vegan. Rad., Smarter Fitter, ...but what does she eat?, and the Food Network, of all places! Note this one is only vegetarian, but easily adaptable of course.

Can I just pause in all this and say how shocking/awesome (pick one) it is that a Wisconsin restaurant called The Cheese Factory has a vegan reuben on the menu? Speaking of which, apparently the Comet Cafe is the place to go for a vegan reuben in Milwaukee. And Falls Church, VA, another somewhat unlikely spot, has a reuben option as well.

And just for the hell of it, I'll throw in a book review.

Along those lines, and something a little closer to home for me at least, the Indy Week just did a feature on a recent vegan cookbook. I swear, the Triangle gets more like Portland every day. But for you real Portlanders, I've got confirmation that Backspace does indeed have a vegan Reuben -- or something like it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Vegetable Love contest poll opens!

Just a reminder that you can vote for my entry in the Vegetable Love contest over at Fat Free Vegan now, through Friday. Susan got a whopping 34 entries, and as expected, a number were heart-shaped and used beets as well. But it's an impressive spread! Please head over there and vote for your favorite. Just for voting, you can be entered to win a Nava Atlas cookbook as well!

And while I'm at it, for a change of pace, Vegan Dad has created a tofu reuben recipe. Check it out.

Oh, and also, I have joined the club. The club of vegan bloggers owning high powered blenders. And I have a started a blog of recipes that utilize primarily this device, mostly experimental. See it at Three Horsepower Vegan.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A "Vegetable Love" Letter

The first birthday of this blog passed last month, and I almost didn't notice. Maybe it's hard to imagine that I have somehow succeeded at talking about vegan reubens at least twice a month for the last 12. For the few of you that have been following this blog from the beginning, you've probably caught on that though I recently lived in Portland, Oregon, I have since relocated to North Carolina for a couple years of schooling. B., my partner-in-crime so to speak (he has accompanied me on nearly every review), who actually came up with the idea for this blog, has remained in Portland, though he visits about once a month. Not only did he inspire this blog, but when I moved, he advocated for it to continue ("PVR must not die!" I believe were his words.) So we've plugged on, posting less frequently of course, but I somehow keep finding ways to to talk about reubens since August, when I began classes here.

So when I saw that Susan of one of the my all-time favorite vegan blogs, Fat Free Vegan, was holding her Vegetable Love competition again this year, it seemed like a fitting opportunity this time around. After trying so many reuben variations, and not a few reuben recipes in the home, B. and I have developed some distinct preferences and ideas about what should go into our ideal reuben. This recipe incorporates what we've learned so far, while probably being the healthiest (yes, it's fat-free!) reuben recipe out there. It's pretty entertaining, but true, that I can't see a better way to honor the man I love from afar on Valentine's Day, than with a vegan reuben recipe crafted with him in mind (pssst--by the way, he doesn't know, yet). I've tried to consider his personal tastes (for example, I believe B. would say that a vegan reuben needs to start with marinated baked tempeh, mushrooms and caramelized onions on a dense, dark rye) but I'm also excited to experiment a bit with ingredients I haven't before (for example, I'm enamored of grated beets lately, and always wanted to try a dressing with white beans and no mayo or oil).

Thus I bring you my entry! Because I'm sure not enough people will incorporate beets and heart shapes into their submissions!

Tempeh Reuben Sliders with Raw Beet Slaw and Red-Wine Braised Mushrooms

I don't usually do cutesy things like this, but since it's a slider (yes, another B. inspiration) and Valentine's themed, I thought it would be fun to make them heart-shaped. However, this recipe does not need to be modified at all to make a normal-size, normally-shaped sandwich--in fact, if you actually make sliders, you will have left-overs.

There are a lot of components and thus a lot of ingredients and steps, but really, it's pretty simple! I'll try to present the information in the least confusing way possible, and more or less chronologically.

Before I get to the recipe, we might as well talk about bread choice. There are a couple different ryes out there-- probably marble rye, with its distinctive swirl, and "deli rye" which is usually a lighter bread, sometimes with caraway, are the most common. B. and I really like a dense, dark rye bread, because of its flavor mostly. But I also like that it probably has more fiber and wholegrain, and B. likes bread that can keep saucy dressings and kraut juice off his hands. I think our favorites have been the vollkornbrot from last month and the somewhat-local-to-Portland Abiqua Farms Old World Rye we used when trying out a recipe from Bazu's blog. But really dense breads can sometimes be apt to crumble, and after watching B.'s attempt to slice the vollkornbrot recently, I wanted a bread that wouldn't pose such a challenge during the delicate cookie-cutter procedure. After reviewing the options at the co-op, I settled on this.

I usually try to avoid imported foods, for environmental reasons as well as the fact that especially a bread is going to be less fresh, but this bread seemed to fulfill my criteria of dark, dense and resilient--plus it came thinly sliced already. And I'm not going to lie, the extremely happy looking woman on the package probably had something to do with it. Ultimately I was satisfied with the choice, but I think you should just go with whatever bread you prefer when trying this out. Any sandwich bread should work fine. Who knows, maybe I could have used the cookie cutter on the vollkornbrot with no mishaps. This recipe marks my first time using a cookie cutter on anything other than cookie dough (Crazy, I know!).

On to the recipe! Note that this recipe makes enough for two (normal-sized) sandwiches.

First, you probably want to marinate the tempeh.


1/4 cup of applesauce
1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 pressed or chopped garlic gloves
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper or red pepper flakes

8 oz tempeh, sliced thin lengthwise

Mix the marinade together in a small bowl or large measuring cup. Slicing the tempeh to make a thinner slab can be tricky, a large sharp knife helps, but we find it greatly improves the sandwich. Place tempeh in a single layer in a Pyrex baking or casserole dish and pour marinade over it. The marinade is very thick; try to pour it so it distributes evenly over both pieces of tempeh. Marinate for a minimum of half an hour; we recommend overnight. Flip it halfway through if you can.

If you are going to take a cookie cutter to your tempeh, I recommend doing so before you put it in the marinade. I marinated the tempeh first because I had trouble finding an appropriately-sized heart-shaped cookie cutter and wanted to give the tempeh a day to soak while I tracked another one down. Then I realized that I probably didn't want to try to cut the tempeh when it was piping hot from the oven, so I cut it right in the pan before putting it into the oven. This worked fine, especially because you get bonus little marinated bits you can use in a salad or something else later, but doing it before marinating might just be simpler -- the tempeh tends to kinda stick in the cutter and you need to push the piece out. But the tempeh held together well and didn't crumble as you might expect. Man, now the possibilities are endless. Tempeh ducks, tempeh shamrocks, tempeh gingerbread men...

With the tempeh marinating in the fridge, I made the sandwich dressing next as these kinds of things are always better when they have a chance to "meld" in the fridge as well.

White Bean Reuben Spread

1/4 cup cooked white beans, cannelini, great northern or navy
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons minced white or yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced pickle

Blend all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Alternately, you could probably mash the beans by hand, or use an immersion blender. If you have a powerful blender or food processor, you could save yourself a little work and toss the onion and pickles straight in there first. When blended, transfer to a jar and refrigerate.

If you're on a roll of making things in advance, you might as well throw together the slaw. This is my stand-in for sauerkraut. It definitely has more of a fresh beet flavor versus a pickled flavor, which I thought actually complemented the sandwich well.

Raw Beet Slaw:

1 medium beet, peeled
3 tablespoons red wine or sherry vinegar
pinch of salt
generous amount of fresh ground pepper
a couple pinches of dried dill

Grate or shred beet and toss with vinegar and seasonings. Refrigerate. Note that this slaw has a lot of juice. You might want to put some in a colander in the sink to drain while your tempeh is baking, before you construct the sandwich. The excess liquid didn't harm the slider, though, and if you don't mind a lot of red juice on your plate, don't worry about it.

Because the tempeh needs to bake for awhile, you can hold off on the braised mushrooms until you are just about to take the tempeh out of the oven.

Red-Wine Braised Mushrooms

Braising is basically cooking something over high heat for a few minutes to sear in some flavor, then reducing the heat and simmering for the remaining time. B. and I have also found we really like caramelized onions on our reubens-- caramelizing is a process of cooking onions over high heat until they start to break down and sweeten. Usually this uses a lot of oil. I thought this method would thus combine two of our favorite reuben toppings, and "red-wine braised" just sounds romantic. If you are worried about your onions burning and sticking, keep more red wine on hand to deglaze as you go. You could also probably use a good vinegar instead of red wine if you prefer.

4 large white mushrooms with stems on, cleaned however you prefer, sliced
1 small yellow or white onion, halved and sliced thinly into strips
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 cups red wine
salt and pepper to taste
Note: I'm sure this recipe would also be wonderful with the addition of some fresh herbs, like thyme, oregano or rosemary.

Heat a pan, a wok or cast iron skillet could work well, but you need to have a lid for it, and toss in your onions. Cook on high heat, stirring frequently, and adding red wine as needed to keep from sticking. When they start to brown, add mushrooms, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir and cook for five minutes. Reduce heat, add more red wine, and cover, allowing to simmer for about two minutes. For the last few minutes, cook uncovered until the majority of the wine evaporates.

When you are done marinating the tempeh, simply transfer the dish to a pre-heated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Reubens are typically grilled and usually the kraut is warmed also. For this recipe, I recommend trying to put the sandwich together while the mushrooms and tempeh are still warm and the bread is fresh out of the toaster. It also might be good to let your spread and slaw come to room temp if they've been in the fridge.

Toast your bread. Top one piece with tempeh, mushroom and onion mixture, and then slaw. Slather the other piece with dressing and lay on top. Or feel free to use dressing on both pieces if you like. Enjoy!

Since this is a reuben review site, I feel compelled to rate my own performance, though I think that would be sort of awkward. Over all I aimed for a recipe that was healthy and relatively easy to replicate and I think I succeeded. And don't get me wrong, it was tasty! But this recipe is certainly nothing if not heavily open to adaptation. As you can see from the pictures, the marinade turned out quite thick -- I went with applesauce instead of say, apple juice or straight apple cider vinegar because I had an open jar and wanted to see what would happen (in case you couldn't tell, I didn't really test any of these recipes before this first trial run). Since applesauce is a popular ingredient in vegan baking, I figured lots of you would have it on hand as well -- but feel free to substitute at will, or include other flavorings, like ginger, pickling spices or sweeteners, to the marinade. Same goes for everything else really. I think the wine-braised mushrooms and onions was my favorite part, but take my note about fresh herbs to heart.

Thanks must go to Susan, for hosting this fun contest, all the vegan cooks out there whose various reuben recipes have informed this one in one way or another, and of course to you, for reading! Susan will post the entries on Fat Free Vegan on February 11th, when you'll get to vote. While the prizes look awesome, I'm just happy for the excuse to craft this little labor of love. See you next time (or in approximately a month, if you're B.)!