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!

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