Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How can you resist a deli classic?

“Once your taste buds get set to reuben, it's not easy to switch them off.”
~ Adam Carolla

Oh brother, truer words were never spoken.
Maybe it comes from my east coast upbringing but just the thought of a good reuben sandwich stirs something primal in the part of me from which my hunger arises.
Some consider it the perfect sandwich and I would have trouble arguing that. A fine corned beef or pastrami, sauerkraut, 1000 island & swiss cheese grilled & melted together on rye bread....
I do declare, is it getting warm in here?

I swear I could have a reuben for lunch 4 days a week and not even begin to tire of them. The problem with that of course is that the traditional reuben isn't exactly shy in the calorie department. This is one of those meals you need to keep as an occasional treat, especially if you are trying to trim away a few extra pounds, like I am now.

So I had a bit of a conundrum before me when one of my sales reps gifted me a beautiful chunk of navel pastrami the other day. As soon as I saw it my mind when back to the days when I lived an easy walk from Katz's Deli in New York City and my tastes buds were instantly set to reuben.
The problem was that this was the middle of the week and my plan now is to eat light on week nights and save the splurging for nights out.

I could have done an open face sandwich, that would have eliminated one slice of bread, tried to find low calorie dressing & fat free cheese …. None of that sounded fun to me though.
So I decided to try to come up with something that hit the same flavor notes as my beloved reuben but was more in keeping with the way I choose to eat most of the time.

Here is what I came up with.

Reuben Style Cabbage Rolls

I wasn't weighing & measuring when I made these, so I'm giving you a procedure rather than an exact recipe.

The meat:
as I said, I had pastrami to use but I've always preferred corned beef on my reubens. If I was buying meat for this & trying to keep it light I'd go with corned beef and a round cut rather than brisket. It's simply leaner. As it was, I trimmed off some of the larger sections of external fat.
I can hear my foodie friends groaning about that. Sorry guys but I have a purpose here and it wasn't like there wasn't plenty of fat on there to spare.
I sliced it up nice and thin, across the grain of course and them rough chopped it a little.

The veg: sauerkraut needs to happen, use your favorite kind, just make sure it is well drained. I picked up a head of napa cabbage & broke off several fat outer leaves and set them aside.

The sauce: I needed to avoid 1000 island of course, that's just a mayonnaise based source of fatty calories. The pickle component was easy to replace, I just picked up some nice kosher dills. I split them in half lengthwise and then sliced them thin at an angle.
As far as the tomato/acidic part of it I chose to use a sundried tomato pesto. I made a simple one with sundried tomatoes, garlic, basil, lemon juice, black pepper & a little olive oil pureed together.

The cheese: I considered forgoing the cheese altogether but realized that a little would add a nice pop of flavor without sending the calories through the roof. I choose some Jarlsberg instead of domestic swiss and cut sticks slightly less thick than a pencil out of it.

The procedure:
I heated a large saute pan up and seared the meat. The pastrami was fatty enough that I didn't need any added oil in the pan. I kept it moving and cooked it until a good amount of fat had cooked out and some of the pieces had gotten crispy. Then I removed it to a plate covered with paper towels and drained the excess fat out of the pan. (Yeah I know, “groan, groan”)

Next I tossed the sliced pickles into the hot pan that was still coated with the residual pastrami fat and cooked them until they started to brown and then added the sauerkraut and a little crushed caraway seed. Once the kraut had gotten some color I stirred in about a tablespoon of the sundried pesto.

I scooped the sauerkraut mixture into a bowl and then put the cabbage leaves in the pan along with ½ cup of water and covered it with a lid to let the cabbage steam. That only took a couple more minutes.
Then I had my components all cooked and I only dirtied up one pan. Now I just had to roll them.

I laid out two cabbage leaves overlapping, side by side for each roll. I smeared them with a little more of the sundried pesto. Then I spread some kraut mixture over the them, them some of the meat and finally one stick of cheese. I rolled them up and set them on a baking sheet.

I popped them into a 350 degree oven. Everything was still a little warm so they only took about 10 minutes to get piping hot inside. I served them over quinoa.

I won't claim that these were as sinfully exquisite as a deli style reuben sandwich (heck, what is?) but it was a delicious dinner that satisfied my very specific craving without sending my calorie average out of whack.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back from hiatus in time for a snack

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
- St. Francis de Sales

It's been a while since I posted here; just over five months in fact. I could go into a number of reasons that I've been so negligent: computer troubles, work issues, as much of my summer free time spent on the water as I could manage, etc. They are all just excuses though and those only get in the way.

I like to think that my time away from the blog wasn't totally wasted though. I did have time during the many hours I spent trying, and more often than not failing to catch salmon, to think about what I want to accomplish here and how I want to go about it. Hopefully that will show with future entries.

Right now, I figure my best approach is to handle this the same way I do if I fall off the exercise or proper eating wagon. I don't beat myself up too much, I simply get back on track & move forward.
So without further ado, let's talk about snacking.


There is phenomenon in catering I call “the crudite effect”. Simply stated it means that although many people don't usually crave raw vegetables, when they are presented in front of them those raw veggies become surprisingly popular. Of course caterers love the crudite effect because having the guests fill up on partially vegetables and not just the more costly hors d'oeuvres, is good business.

However the crudite effect can not only be used to help the bottom line, it can also be used to effect your bottom, and in a good way.
Snacking is a big issue some people struggle with when trying to cut those excess calories from their diets. A helpful solution is to keep some raw vegetables on hand. It can be whatever you like; carrot & celery sticks, grape tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, radishes, whatever.
Sure, when those snack cravings hit it's probably for something else, usually something sweet or salty. However if you can get ahead of those strong cravings & have those veggies already in front of you, you can curb those urges before you reach for a Snickers bar or bag of Doritos.

If you think about it, I bet you know when you tend to get those cravings for a snack. Perhaps during work around 2 or 3 in the afternoon or in the evening while watching Law & Order? Try setting out a small dish of vegetables for yourself before you get the urge to eat something else. When it's in arms reach you're going to find yourself crunching on a radish before the need for sweet overtakes you.
Trust me, it works. :)

Of course the best option would be to buy some nice, organic vegetables preferably at your local farmer's market and cut them up for yourself but if you need something more convenient, there are plenty of pre-cut veggies available at just about every supermarket. Those are fine options.

However, as good as raw vegetables are for you, the is a caloric dark spectre hanging over the crudite effect, the dip issue.
Some people just refuse to snack on raw vegetables unless they have something to dunk them into and one of those fatty, mayonnaise-y, high caloric condiments can quickly turn your healthy vegetable snack into something every bit as fattening a serving of chocolate pudding.

It's OK, if you need some dip to go with your raw veggies then all you need to do is choose which dip carefully and of course, don't over portion.
There are plenty of fine options for healthy dips, here is one that has been a favorite of mine recently.

Roasted Carrot & Harissa Dip

Roasted Carrot & Harissa Dip

2 lbs carrots, peeled & cut into chunks *
1 tbs light olive or canola oil
½ tsp fresh ground black pepper
3 tsp harissa**
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil***
2 tsp sherry vinegar
3 – 4 garlic cloves
salt & pepper – to taste
1 – 2 tbs chopped cilantro : optional

~Toss carrots in light oil & pepper and roast until tender. I did mine in a 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. That left them with a nice touch of color and perfectly soft.
~Allow carrots to cool to room temperature & puree in food processor or blender along with harissa, olive oil, vinegar & garlic. Note: you may need to add a little water to get the mixture to puree smoothly.
~Adjust seasoning with salt & pepper and stir in cilantro if desired.

Certainly this recipe is great with crackers and flat breads but I encourage you to enjoy it with vegetables. Some of my personal favorites to have with this dip are cucumbers slices, sticks of jicama and split cherry tomatoes. It's even really good with apple slices.

* Use organic or “fresh from the farm” if possible. Carrots are near the top of my list of vegetables that have a huge flavor difference between organic & the typical supermarket variety.

**I pride myself on not being an extra virgin olive oil snob but this is one of those recipes that really benefits from using a high quality EVOO.

***I used Mustapha's Moroccan Harissa for this recipe. I bought it from The Spanish Table but it can also be ordered from

Finally, keep in mind that this is a dip not an entree. There is a good amount of olive oil in this which is good for you in moderation but you don't want to eat a soup cup full of this in one sitting. Remember to keep the raw vegetables as the bulk of the snack and limit the dip to a condiment portion size.