The ancient Greek philosopher, Plato, is famous for a lot of things. The Reuben sandwich is not one of them.
One of the things Plato is famous for is his theory of Forms. Plato posited that there is an ideal Form, Form with a capital F, for everything we come across in everyday life. The Reuben sandwich, the one we all mean when we say we want a Reuben sandwich, is the Form, the ideal. The actual sandwich we eat is not.
When my native New Yorker husband says he's craving a Reuben sandwich, he has a Form in his mind that goes something like: buttered rye bread with Russian dressing, corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut. According to Plato, no sandwich I could make would possibly hold up to that ideal Form.
Big thanks to Plato for letting me off the hook. Since I can't possibly make the ideal Reuben sandwich, then I'm free to make it lower in fat, vegetarian, and whole grain.
This is the Reuben sandwich I actually make, light years distant from the Form:
2 slices 100% whole grain spelt bread
1 t Earth Balance Spread
1 t Thousand Island dressing
2 slices Hickory Smoked Tofurky
2 T well-squeezed sauerkraut with caraway seeds
2 slices Swiss cheese
I butter the outside of the bread, put Thousand Island on the inside of the slice. Then I sandwich the Tofurky and sauerkraut between the two slices of Swiss cheese. I toast the sandwich on my panini press.
I tried to balance the fact that my spelt bread isn't rye bread by using probiotic sauerkraut with caraway seeds. The smoked Tofurky is supposed to be giving the impression of corned beef.
You could even go further with the alternative Reuben sandwich. Vegan Thousand Island and vegan cheeses are available for those who avoid dairy. Gluten free bread could be substituted- who knows, maybe there's a gluten free deli rye out there somewhere!
But here's the one change I tried to make that didn't work:
In an effort to curtail the huge fat content of this sandwich, I tried to leave off the "butter" (Earth Balance) on the outside of the bread, thinking that the fat from the Swiss cheese and Thousand Island were far more characteristic to the sandwich than the butter. My husband wouldn't buy it. A Reuben sandwich that hasn't been greased on the outside with something, somehow, is apparently not a Reuben sandwich.
His refusal on this point brought me into deep thought about what, exactly, makes a Reuben sandwich a Reuben sandwich. How far away from that Platonic ideal of the Reuben can we get, before the sandwich we've created is no longer even a shadow of that Form? Apparently I can take away the corned beef and swap out the rye and still sort of have a Reuben. But if I forsake buttering the outside of the bread I do not. If I took out the dressing it would not be a Reuben. If I took out the cheese it would not be a Reuben. If I put in vegan cheese would it become a Reuben again?
And what about all these substitute foods? Play foods, really, foods in costume designed to look and somewhat taste like something they are not. Soy disguised as turkey, cashews disguised as cheese. Are any of these products Food with a capital F? And if they are not Food, then is it because they were processed and packaged in a factory? Or if I had made my own vegan cheese at home, would vegan cheese qualify as Food?
The question of alternative food substitutes is fodder for another post. In the meantime, I'm left wondering whether a Reuben with much of its artery-clogging properties removed is still a Reuben, and feeling very grateful that the Reuben craving only comes once or twice a year.