Vegetarian Reuben Sandwich
I’ve take a classic American sandwich that’s ordinarily stuffed full of meat and made it vegetarian. Find out how below.
The Reuben’s humble origins…
Like all good sandwiches there are lots of different restaurants and chefs who claim to be the creator. One of the earliest mentions of a sandwich that resembles the “modern” Reuben can be found in a 1926 issue of Theatre Magazine. The reference was a to a sandwich called the “Reuben Special” – something which Arnold Reuben (the owner of Reuben’s Delicatessen in New York) claims he had been serving since 1914. Whether or not Arnold himself created the sandwich or one of his chef’s did is another bone of contention.
The second most referenced origin story gives the ownership claim to a hotel in Omaha, Nabraska. The sandwich was supposedly invented by Reuben Kulakofsky and found its way on to Blackstone Hotel lunch menu in the 1920s. Though, the Omaha version does seem to be made with thousand island dressing rather than Russian dressing. Perhaps the origins of the original sandwich will never be known but one thing is for sure, it’s almost always made with thinly sliced corned beef, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and Swiss cheese sandwiched between rye bread.
The real deal
The first time I ever had a Reuben Sandwich was at Katz’s Deli in New York. Back then I ate meat so chowed down on a ginormous sandwich filled with the saltiest of beef. It was a mission to finish! Just look at my little face in the picture below. It was so well packed with sauerkraut and meat that it weighed a tonne! Though, I don’t actually remember it having Swiss cheese…maybe my memory deceives me…
It wasn’t until a month or so ago that I tried my first vegetarian Reuben sandwich – this time at a restaurant in Washington DC that prides itself in only using locally sourced ingredients. It was this sandwich that inspired me to have a go at making my own veggie Reuben at home. They had swapped the beef with mushrooms. Now normally I’d say that’s a really sensible swap: it works well for burgers, mince based dishes and even in place of steak strips when making a vegetarian Philly cheese steak sandwich. Although it tasted delicious I missed the saltiness that you get with corned beef and I really wanted too see thin slices of something pink contrasting with the pale yellow of the sauerkraut. When I got back to the UK I made it my mission to come up with a vegetarian alternative that got as close as possible to the real deal.
A vegetarian twist
80% of the time I don’t care about trying to replicate the texture or taste of meat in vegetarian or vegan dishes. Take chicken korma for example. I could use some sort of mock meat but swapping the chicken for potatoes and cauliflower makes a seriously delicious dinner that doesn’t involve an ounce of meat. But then there are some dishes where the look and texture of meat are so integral to the dish I think it’s important to try to mimic them when making the recipe vegetarian friendly.
Creating plant based slices of corned beef is no mean feat… it involves natural food colourings (beetroot juice or powder) and a fair few spices. The result isn’t identical but you get these thin strips of aubergine which not only have great texture but also really look the part. Best of all, the spices work really well against the creamy Swiss cheese and the tangy sauerkraut. You really won’t miss the meat at all.
Want to make a veggie Reuben at home, then this is the recipe for you!
Vegetarian Reuben Sandwich
For the Russian dressing
- 8 tbsp mayonnaise
- 4 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tbsp onion minced
- 1 tbsp dill pickles minced
- 0.5 tsp hot sauce
For the vegetarian "corned beef"
For the rest of the sandwich
- 2 slices rye bread
- 2 slices Swiss cheese
- 4 tbsp sauerkraut
- Mix together the water, soy sauce, spices and beetroot powder to make the marinade for the aubergine.
- Place the aubergine into a shallow dish and pour over the marinade: make sure all of the slices are submerged so that they go a lovely shade of bright pink and soak up all of the flavour.
- Leave to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
- While the aubergine is marinating, make the Russian dressing by mixing the ingredients together.
- One the 30 minutes is up, place a griddle pan over a medium heat and brush lightly with a little oil.
- Once the pan is hot, griddle the aubergine slices for 3 minutes either side or until they are cooked through (see note 1).
- In the meantime, toast the two slices of rye bread.
- To assemble the sandwich, slather both slices of bread with Russian dressing, next layer over the slices of aubergine fresh out of the pan followed by the sauerkraut and then the Swiss cheese.
- Before topping the sandwich with the second slice of bread, place the sandwich under a grill for 2 minutes or until the Swiss cheese has melted.
- Top with the final slice of bread and serve immediately.
Note 1.The aubergine should be sliced roughly the same thickness as deli-cut meats. This means that it will cook really quickly in the griddle pan. You will get a little bit of bite from the skin of the aubergine but otherwise it will melt in your mouth like soft, slow cooked beef.
Make it vegan
To make this sandwich vegan you’re going to need to find a substitute for the Swiss cheese and the Russian dressing. But don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Violife do an awesome pre-sliced Swiss “cheese”. It’s my go to for any time I need a mild and creamy melted cheese. The Russian dressing contains mayonnaise. My favourite vegan mayonnaise is Mr Organics but you can use whatever brand your local store stocks. And that’s it! You’ve got yourself a tasty vegan Reuben with just two ingredient swaps! In fact do you want to know a secret? The photos are of the vegan version!!!