Monday, May 23, 2011

A Book Review: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches with a Rachel and Reuben on the Side

What do you get when you slap a Blogga and a Biter between two slices of bread? Why, a fantastic foodie history and recipe book, chock full of gorgeous color photos and interesting sandwich lore: The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches: Recipes, History, and Trivia for Everything Between Sliced Bread, by Susan Russo (the Blogga, as in Food Blogga) and with photography by Matt Armendariz (the Biter, as in Matt Bites)(Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011).

I received a review copy of this delightful, sandwich-shaped (crusts trimmed) book from the publisher and it has been road tested a few times in the last month. First, I had a most enjoyable time reading through the alphabetized descriptions of sandwiches. Russo writes with such verve and introduces the reader to so many obscure and regional varieties of sandwiches, that it is a pleasure to pore over. Whether you savor a Southern Fried Green Tomato BLT; a Walleye Sandwich from Minnesota; Buffalo, New York's Beef on Weck, or Kentucky's Hot Brown Sandwich (an open-faced turkey-bacon melt with Mornay cheese), there are plenty of great sandwich ideas in these pages.

Now, we've tried a few of these tantalizing, bready meals since the book arrived at Chez Crispy. Daughter No. 2 immediately requested a Croque Monsieur and I made some Falafel Pitas, but the big hit was making up a batch of Rachel and Reuben Sandwiches. How could I not try my name in a sandwich?

The Rachel sandwich is a twist on the traditional Reuben, that cardiologist's nightmare: grilled sliced corned beef and Swiss cheese, laced with sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The Rachel subs in pastrami and cole slaw, but is no less awesome. Served up with a garlicky dill pickle, and you're talking awesome eating!

Now, for a wheat-free, meat-free version of the classic Reuben for my gluten-free, vegetarian husband, I had to make some changes to Susan's traditional Reuben recipe (pp. 221-222 of the book).

Obviously, corned beef would have to be substituted. I saw a great recipe for a Tofu Reuben on Vegan Dad and used his recipe (sans the juniper berries, which I just don't have in my pantry). I used a very firm, almost rubbery tofu purchased from the Asian Supermarket in Albany, seen below. This tofu is ready to use in any recipe and it's firm texture allows one to slice it very thinly, without having the tofu disintegrate into soft pieces.


The spice and brine were perfect for this dish and gave the tofu a salty and complex corned flavor that was perfect for the sandwich. Next up was making up a batch of braised sauerkraut, since the Crispy Old Man likes a mellower kraut than is to be had straight out of the can or jar.

I've made this Braised Sauerkraut recipe many times before. Sometimes I add a little white wine or beer, or snipped fresh herbs for a little variation, but for this Tofu Reuben, I wanted a strong deli flavor, so I went heavy on the caraway and mushrooms:

Braised Sauerkraut

1 (14.5 oz.) can sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 large onion, peeled and chopped fine
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 tsp. caraway seeds
1 cup vegetable broth

Melt butter in sauce pot. Add onion, carrot and mushrooms, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sauerkraut, caraway seeds and vegetable broth and raise heat to high. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat, and simmer, until liquid is reduced by half, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

To assemble your Tofu Reuben, generously spread some Russian Dressing on the inside of your bread (classic rye bread is out for celiacs, so we used one of Dan's chewy gluten-free rolls), top with a mound of Corned Tofu slices, a mound of braised sauerkraut and a couple of slices of Swiss Cheese. You can then grill or microwave up your Reuben to ensure that the cheese melts, and then hoist into your mouth for an amazing, messy taste treat.

I've got a pile more sandwiches to eat my way through in Russo's much dog-eared book, and I am eagerly awaiting the height of the summer garden season so as to consume mass quantities of the classic Tomato Sandwich. If you enjoy a juicy food history book, packed with recipes, and want to explore other more exotic sandwich species, this is the book for you (or is the perfect gift for your favorite Dagwood).

I'm sending on a Tofu Reuben to Souper Sundays, a weekly blog event that celebrates soup, salads and sandwiches, hosted by my Hawai'ian blogger buddy Deb of Kahakai Kitchen. You can also inspect Deb's great review of The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches and see her take on the Potato Chip and Toasted Chocolate Sandwiches.


Alicia Foodycat said...

If your name is going to be attached to a sandwich, the Rachel is a gorgeous one to have!

I think your gluten-free, vegetarian Rueben could be renamed the Daniel - also suitably Old Testament!

Tina said...

I'd order a Rachel! Mmmmmmm...

Heather S-G said...

OH, I'd actually love to try that tofu, it sounds delish! And though I love a Reuben far too much, I'd give a Rachel a chance ;) Love this book, too.

Deb in Hawaii said...

I loved this book too--so many great sandwich ideas. I love both sandwiches you made--the Rachel looks delicious and your Tofu Rueben looks like it has so much flavor you wouldn't miss the meat. Thanks for sharing them with Souper Sundays! ;-)