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.


  1. Creative(!)--and fun to read.

  2. Ok. I don't eat beef (as you know) and have never in my life eaten a reuben. That said, that recipe sounds delicious, and like something I'd make with some other meat and be very happy about. Smoked turkey, maybe?
    Venison? Naw....

  3. Panther,

    You can find turkey pastrami at some of the better markets. It would work very well in this recipe.

    Failing that, there are enough bold flavors in the vegetable components in this dish that simple roasted turkey or chicken breast would still make for very tasty cabbage rolls.

  4. We can get turkey pastrami. That would certainly fit my current restrictions, and not violate Panther's too much.