Okay, so one thing we have never gotten is why, when you're out at a restaurant and you're feelin' a hankerin' for, let's say, a vegetarian reuben, the fake-meaty ingredient is always, without a doubt, tempeh. Don't get me wrong, we love tempeh just as much as the next guy...assuming the next guy likes tempeh...but it's not exactly authentic to the makeup of the original, super-meaty sandwich. Though the exact origins of it are debatable (Omaha vs. NYC—suck it Kulakofsky!), the meat ingredients of a traditional reuben are always corned beef or pastrami—heavily brined, thinly sliced rare beef. How does that resemble fermented whole-soybean patties? So, we recently accepted the following self-assigned-mission: Craft a nearly entirely homemade, awesome, tempeh-less reuben sandwich. I know. What what?!
The Best (Vegan) Reuben Ever...No Joke
• 1 Whole Loaf of Jewish Rye
• 1-2 Loaves of Homemade Seitan or 8-16 oz. Store-Bought
• Vegan Russian Dressing (recipe follows)
• Sauerkraut (we like Bubbies, which is vegan and crazy-ingredient-free)
• Daiya Vegan Cheese (Mozzarella Style)
• Vegan Margarine (we like Willow Run as it's vegan and doesn't include any palm oil, which can be a bit rough, eco-/primate-habitat-wise)
Okay, so, obviously most of the ingredients are quantity-less...because...you know, these are sandwiches. So, if you like more seitan, great. If you like a lot sauerkraut, load it up, man. And, as for the seitan, it's totally cool to use some store-bought, like White Wave's or some from a local producer, but in the past year or so, we've gotten SUPER into making the seitan from Terry Hope Romero's recent cookbook, Viva Vegan, which has an excellent beef-style seitan and a really great pork-/chicken-style seitan. It's easy to make, yields a lot so you can use it for lunches, dinners, and such later in the week, and it really tastes so, so good. This recipe by Isa Chandra Moskowitz is great too. Anyway, long story short, homemade seitan's great, but store-bought's 100% cool.
Second order of business—in our research, we found that reubens are made with either thousand island dressing or russian dressing and that the former is essentially a simpler, dumbed-down version of the latter, with a lot less depth, pungency, and interestingnesses.... So we obviously opted for working up a vegan version of the russian, which rules.
Thirdly, we recommend using Daiya for your vegan cheese here. If you haven't had it yet, you should—it's melty, soy-free (if that's a concern for you) and pretty stupendous. Definitely the closest we've ever had to dairy-based cheese. You can find places that carry it near you here.
Okay, so, first thing's first—if possible, go to a nice little bakery and get yourself a fresh loaf of Jewish Rye, unseeded. If you've never had fresh rye, you're missing out. So good. We're lucky enough to have a great bakery across the street. I know. We suck. So, place the whole loaf of bread, unsliced, in the oven and bake it at 350ºF for ten to fifteen minutes, until the crust is crunchy. Set the loaf aside and let it cool. Keep the oven on.
While the bread's cooling, get a sharp knife and slice as much seitan as you want as thinly as you can. Now take a large piece of aluminum foil and place the slices of seitan on it, drizzling a little water or vegetable broth overtop of it and then wrapping the foil around it so that none of the liquid will leak out. You can even use fresh beet juice if you want more of a...um...bloody, meaty look...but maybe that gets into some weird ethics, right ? Anyway, place the wrapped seitan in the oven and allow it to steam a bit before assembling the sandwiches.
Once the bread's cool, take a serrated knife and cut the loaf at a 45º angle so that the slices have a larger area than they would if you just cut it width-wise. Now take your bread slices and spread the margarine on one side of each and slather the other side with your Vegan Russian Dressing. Here's that recipe:
Vegan Russian Dressing
• 1 C Veganaise
• .25 C Vegan Sour Cream
• 3 oz. Tomato Paste
• 1 tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
• .25 C Bread + Butter Pickle Chips (finely diced—again, Bubbies is awesome)
• .25 C Chives (we actually used some garlic chives from the farmer's market, which were great)
• 3 tsp Capers (finely diced)
• 4 tbsp Prepared Horseradish
• 2 tsp Vegetarian Worcestershire
• 1 tsp Simple Syrup (you can just dissolve some sugar in as much water)
• .5 tsp Smoked Paprika
• Salt (to taste)
• Freshly Ground Pepper (to taste)
Basically, finely dice or process all of the whole ingredients, then mix everything in a large bowl. This yields a lot, so, if you're not into having this around as a salad dressing or sauce for a wrap or the like, feel free to cut the recipe in half. It's nice to have around though and keeps well. So, like I said, take a few spoonfuls of the dressing and spread the it on the insides of the bread slices. Then layer the ingredients, bottom-to-top, seitan slices, sauerkraut, Daiya, topping with your other piece of bread, dressing-down, obvs. In a heated heavy iron skillet, press the sandwich with a skillet weight or just with your spatula until the bread's browned, like 5 or so minutes. Now carefully flip it and do the same to the other side. If it looks like the vegan cheese isn't quite melting, throw a little water in the warm skillet and cover so the interior is steamed. Remove the sandwich from heat and serve it up. Furless ushanka's optional but recommended. Especially given the weather lately. Budem zdorovy!