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.