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.)!


SusanV said...

This looks fabulous! I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't had a reuben in a really long time, and now you've got me craving one. Thanks so much for participating in the contest!

Ricki said...

What a fantastic recipe!! I love Reubens--can't believe I've never seen your site before! Now I must go through all those twice-a-month Reubens that you've posted for the past year. . .!! :)

Anonymous said...

This looks soooooo good! I love tempeh! :) Great job!

Carolyn said...

This looks delicious and I am inspired. You got my vote, kid!

XO from Portland.

Jeni Treehugger said...

This sounds so so good it's insane, and it's so pretty too.
Perfect for Valentine's Day.
Good luck.

¡Yo Soy Liz! said...

wow what a great sounding and beautiful recipe! Hope you are enjoying North Carolina. I also went to school there and think its such a great place to live.

B said...

Coolest Girlfriend Ever, obviously...

Happy Valentines Day,

Ouroboros said...

THIS is the kind of mad genius I expected would eventually result from your insane quest to hunt down and review every vegan reuben in Portland.

This recipe looks delicious and I intend to try components of it this-and-next month. I do hope that you don't feel that this is The One, and keep at the development of Another Great Vegan Reuben, because there is room for three-four variations on every part of that fine sammich once we try to replicate it without meats.

TJF said...

Oh yes, we will continue to test, of that we can be sure.

Thanks for your kind comments!

Shelly said...

Welcome to the foodie blog roll!