I grew up going to Rein’s Deli outside of Hartford, Connecticut — almost exactly halfway between my home in Massachusetts and my grandmother’s house in New York. Stopping at Rein’s on a road trip was sometimes a treat but often a necessity for my parents (my sister, Jenny, and I were usually fighting loudly in the back seat). I remember liking the barrel of pickles, the endless menu, and the enormous, messy sandwiches at Rein’s. My dad always got the tongue sandwich with Swiss and I always got a kosher frank (no kraut). As I got older and my tastes evolved, I occasionally branched out to egg salad or a Reuben (or a Rachael, if I was feeling especially risqué).
I haven’t been to Rein’s in years, but I wanted to recreate the Reuben I remember – piled high with Russian dressing and sauerkraut – without the meat. I decided to use seitan, a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, in place of the corned beef. It is very similar in texture to meat and (although some people think it is pronounced the same as Satan — it’s actually pronounced say-TAN) has nothing to do with worshiping the devil. My seitan version of the Reuben doesn’t have anywhere near the volume of corned beef Rein’s version does (those things are like a foot high), but it’s pretty tasty.
Note: Unlike traditional Ruebens, this sandwich is kosher. It’s easy to make this sandwich vegan, as well (use your favorite vegan slices in place of the Swiss, margarine instead of butter, and vegan mayo in the Russian dressing).
For the “Corned Beef” Seitan:
1 1/3 cups vital wheat gluten
1 cup vegetable stock
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp juniper berries
2 bay leaves
5 cups vegetable stock (for simmering)
For the Russian dressing:
¼ cup mayonnaise (or vegan mayo)
2 Tbsp ketchup
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp bottled horseradish
For the Reuben:
Thinly sliced “corned beef” seitan (recipe below)
Butter or non-dairy butter
8 slices rye bread
8 slices Swiss cheese (or vegan cheese if you want it to be a vegan sandwich)
2 cups sauerkraut, liquid drained
Russian dressing (recipe below)
First, make the corned beef. In a large bowl, combine the wheat gluten, 1 cup vegetable stock, paprika, allspice, cloves, ground pepper, nutritional yeast, salt, and ground ginger. Stir until the liquid is soaked up and then knead the ball with your hands until it is very elastic, 2-3 minutes.
Roll the dough into a short, dense log. Set it aside to rest for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, bring 5 cups vegetable stock to boil in a large pot. Place the seitan in the boiling vegetable stock, add the bay leaves and whole juniper berries, and reduce to a simmer. Cook over low heat for 1 hour. Once done, allow it to cool completely, drain the liquid, then slice the seitan very thinly. Set aside.
Next, make the Russian dressing. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Add salt to taste.
To assemble the sandwich, butter two slices of bread. Flip those over and spread 1-2 tablespoons of Russian dressing, 2 slices of cheese, a hearty spoonful (about 1/4 cup) sauerkraut, and a thick layer of sliced seitan on one piece of bread. Top with the non-buttered side of the other slice of bread.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Place the whole sandwich in the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted. Remove to a cutting board or plate, slice into two, and enjoy!
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.