My hackable vegetarian sandwich

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As some know, almost 2/3 of my daily diet consists of a flavorless food substitute, which sounds horrifying to many. The thing is, I love food and I enjoy cooking. I just don’t like cooking more than once a day, and I don’t like eating too many frozen meals and processed foods when I’m not feeling like cooking. When I do cook, however, I like the experimentation side.

Sunday evening seems like a good enough time to post a “hackable” recipe. Yes, all recipes are hackable. That’s a major entertainment point of cooking for me. Some recipes are just safer to go crazy with than others.

I’ve gone from vegetarian to carnivore and back to vegetarian, but there’s one simple meal — a vegetarian sandwich — that I’ve always enjoyed. I don’t know how to name it, and it changes a bit every time I make it. It’s kind of a “vegetarian Rueben,” but very loosely so. Every part of the recipe is tweakable and it’s hard to screw up.

Here’s the basic idea.

The “meat” of the sandwich is tempeh. I start by seasoning it because if you don’t, it’s almost as boring as tofu. My usual tactic is to slice the tempeh to squares about 3x3” about 1/2” thick, then simmer them for 5 minutes in a base. My current favorite is a strong Better Than Bouillion mix. After seasoning, I move the tempeh to a plate to air while I prep the rest.

The bread I use is usually rye, but it varies. I definitely prefer a denser bread for these, and darker grains are my favorite.

I consider cheese an important part of the recipe, but you could make it vegan without it if you wanted to. I started with Swiss, but have come to like it with deli-sliced Provolone lately. This happened because I make them with whatever’s handy, rarely planning ahead, and somehow they always seem to work.

Next is the sauerkraut. Don’t use the stuff in the can that tastes more like can than cabbage. Get the stuff that’s still a little crisp and without a ton of salt and sweetener in the brine. It’s hard to find at a grocery store, but the local co-op probably has some good choices. Press the sauerkraut lightly with a fork against a plate, draining it before using it. Excess brine will make the sandwich soggy (and annoying to eat).

Lastly, the dressing. My standard is a good brown mustard, but I’ve used everything from Thai Peanut salad dressing to Worcestershire sauce. Quantity used depends on the strength of the flavor and personal taste.

Lightly butter the outside of two slices of bread. Any oil-based spread will work, this is more for browning than for flavor. I’ve used real butter, low-fat butter, margarine, and a light olive oil basting; all have worked fine. Flexibility, right?

Heat a skillet to 400°. Lay down a slice of bread, butter side down. Stack the cheese first, then the seasoned tempeh, then two forkfuls of sauerkraut. Add the top slice and press the sandwich with a spatula. Let it rest for about a minute and a half, or until you see the edges of the cheese wilting, then flip and cook for another minute and a half.