Pastrami Tempeh Reubens
Fourth of July is almost here and a lot of us are likely getting prepped for some big celebration. For me, that would normally mean stocking up on tons of meat for a blowout cookout, and while my central focus is around a carnivorous diet, I'm in the habit now into ensuring my vegetarian friends are equally cared for. That has meant ditching the usual veggie burgers and dogs and taking up more unique and thoughtful dishes. Back at my Memorial Day event, I was smoking up some pastrami for reubens, which gave me the idea to both utilize the existing ingredients I had on hand and also make something pretty special for the non-meat eaters with these tempeh reubens.
I was actually discussing my vegetarian reuben plan with my friends prior to the event, and while they seemed really receptive to the concept, it was pointed out that my original idea of using tofu wouldn't be so apt—I was told it would be like making pastrami out of chicken breasts. They recommend I try out tempeh, which is a brick of fermented soy bean that was new for me to cook with. I wasn't totally sure how to work with it and considered a whole host of options including cutting it into thin slices, soaking it, and smoking it, but eventually decided to go with the most straightforward method for my first try—just seasoning and grilling
The seasoning part I had down from all my past pastrami experience, using a rub that's three parts coarsely ground black pepper to two parts coriander to one part garlic powder. I added salt into the rub this time around though since I wasn't starting with a piece if very salty meat that had been curing for days beforehand.
The tempeh did pose a problem with how to apply the rub. With meat, or even tofu, there's enough natural moisture for a seasoning mixture to adhere to the exterior, but the tempeh was completely dry. So to get the rub to cling to the outside, I first applied a brushing of yellow mustard, which I thought would also be a good compliment to the fermented tofu and strong flavor of the rub.
Like I would when using meat, I applied the rub generously to hopefully give the tempeh a really strong pastrami flavor.
And we mustn't forget that all important Russian dressing. I used the same recipe as I did for my meaty reubens, but subbed out the Worcestershire for soy sauce to still get in that savoriness, but without any animal products (Worcestershire usually contains fish).
Next it was time to grill, which I did over indirect, medium-high heat. I really wasn't sure what qualities I was looking for in doneness, but figured I couldn't go too wrong since the tempeh is kinda cooked already. I just let the tempeh grill until it was warm throughout and the exterior was lightly browned.
Then I removed it from the grill and cut it into thin slices. Because I hadn't soaked the tempeh to soften it beforehand, I knew thinner strips would probably be better so the final sandwich didn't end up with large pockets of dense dryness.
The rest of the sandwich construction was exactly the same as with the meaty reuebens—butter and toast rye bread and top with the "pastrami," sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and dressing. Then back onto the grill to warm over indirect heat until the cheese was melted; halve and serve.
I can say, put next to the regular reubens, these both smelled and looked just as tasty. They didn't have that familiar stack of red beef, but the entire sandwich together felt like a legit reuben. They ended up being a hit with my vegetarian guests, who ate up all the sandwiches with their sharp pastrami spice paired with tart sauerkraut, creamy Swiss, and tangy dressing. Once all the sandwiches were gone, my friends continued to eat all the leftover tempeh on its own too, which I think is saying something positive. So I guess I didn't do a bad job on my first shot with tempeh, and now that I know a little more about the stuff—which seems way more interesting to work with than tofu—I have a new foil to keep creating special dishes for my vegetarian friends that are no less exciting than all the meaty goodies I'm more accustomed to cooking.
Pastrami Tempeh Reubens
- Yield 4 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Cook 15 Minutes
- Total 30 Minutes
- For the Russian Dressing
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3 tablespoons ketchup
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
- 2 teaspoons prepared white horseradish
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- For the Pastrami Tempeh
- 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup yellow mustard
- 2 8oz pieces of tempeh
- For the Sandwiches
- 8 slices rye bread
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sauerkraut
- 4 slices Swiss cheese
- To make the Russian dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, ketchup, shallots, horseradish, soy sauce, and paprika. Transfer to an airtight container and place in refrigerator until ready to use.
- To make the pastrami tempeh: In a small bowl, mix together black pepper, coriander, salt, and granulated garlic. Brush tempeh all over with mustard and coat generously with the rub.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange coals on one side of charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil grilling grate. Place tempeh on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until warmed through and lightly browned on the outside, about 10 minutes. Transfer tempeh to a cutting board and slice into thin strips on a bias.
- To make the sandwiches: Butter one side of each slice of bread and place on hot side of grill, buttered side down, and toast until golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove bread from grill and place slices of tempeh on untoasted side of 4 slices of bread. Place about 1/4 cup of sauerkraut on top of tempeh followed by a slice of Swiss cheese. Spread a layer of dressing on untoasted side of remaining 4 pieces of bread and place on top of topped sandwiches. Place sandwiches on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until cheese has melted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Slice each sandwich in half on a diagonal and serve immediately.