I love a good, hot, messy sandwich. Growing up in my parents’ Greek deli, my Dad would make some pretttttty fantastic ones, everything from tuna melts to turkey melts (all da melts) to gardenburgers (with feta, of course). And then later when I was living in LA in my twenties, I got *really* into the sandwiches at all the fantastic Jewish delis in the city, which is where I found my favorite sandwich obsession, the reuben. A classic reuben is made with corned beef, provolone cheese, sauerkraut, and russian dressing on rye bread. Now I don’t eat beef anymore, but dang I missed that super umami/sour/melty goodness of the reuben. So, I set about trying to make a non-beef version, and struck the flavor goldmine with this vegan reuben sandwich made from thinly sliced and roasted tofu.
Tofu??? <- This is what you might be thinking. And I get it, a lot of folks think tofu is a flavorless ingredient. But I would recommend that you instead think of tofu as a canvas for flavor, because it readily takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it in. And in this case, it takes on a TON of umami herby goodness from this soy + mustard + paprika + steak sauce-based marinade (yep, most ready-made steak sauce like A1 is actually vegan). SO, to get started, you very thinly slice a block of tofu (think the shape and thickness of gyro meat), then put it in a shallow dish, cover it with the marinade, and let it sit for a few hours or overnight for the most flavor. The next day, you lay the slices out on a baking sheet, roast it in the oven, and then edges get all nice and crispy while the center stays chewy and flexible, making for a really close flavor + texture profile to the classic non-veggie reuben filling.
And when you throw in the other traditional ingredients + flavors like rye bread, sauerkraut, russian dressing, and melty cheese (you could use vegan or regular cheese, you do you), you’ve got one helluva sandwich on your hands. And it’s honestly really, really easy to make. The hardest part is waiting for the marinating bit to be over so you can actually make and eat the sandwich. But since the actual cooking of the tofu is on a sheet-pan, it makes the process a lot more hands-off, which gives you the perfect amount of time to get the bread toasted + heat up the sauerkraut and cheese in time to assemble everything together once the tofu is done. Oh! And if you’re looking for another veg-friendly sandwich to hit the spot, don’t forget to try my chickpea salad sandwich from a few weeks back. Now onwards, to my tips!
Tips for Making a Great Vegan Reuben Sandwich
- Tofu slice thickness affects texture + crispness – Once it’s roasted, the edges get super crispy while the center stays flexible, which is really similar in texture to the meat that’s usually in the sandwich. But note that the thinner you slice the tofu, the quicker it will cook, and vice versa. I sliced by tofu to about the same thickness as gyro meat, so just keep an eye on it while it’s in the oven and make sure they edges get a bit crisp, but don’t burn.
- Press the tofu – Pressing the excess water out of the tofu before you marinate it will help the tofu absorb more of the marinade, which will make it more umami and flavorful.
- Different brands of tofu have different water quantities – I’ve found the extra-firm tofu that’s in flexible vacuum sealed containers like this one have less water and are firmer and better for slicing. The ones in hard plastic shells tend to be softer (even if they say extra firm) and fall apart more easily when you’re slicing them, so I would avoid those.
- Make the russian dressing yourself – Some of the ready-made russian dressings are a bit weirdly sweet in my opinion, so if you really want to hit this sandwich out of the park, it’s worth making your own at home. You probably already have most of the ingredients in your refrigerator anyway (aside from the pickle relish, which is admittedly a bit specialized unless you really like hot dogs).
Vegan Reuben Sandwich
Vegan Reuben Sandwich
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons steak sauce
- 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound extra firm tofu
- 4 slices of vegan rye bread toasted
- 2 cups sauerkraut yes this sounds like a lot for 2 sandwiches but it will lose water and cook down to a smaller size
- 2 slices vegan provolone or vegan cheddar cheese
- 1/2 cup vegan russian dressing recipe below
Vegan Russian Dressing
- 1 cup vegan mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup savory pickle relish the salty kind, NOT bread and butter pickles
- 1 tablespoon horseradish can adjust more or less depending on how "spicy" you like it
- 1 teaspoon white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Vegan Russian Dressing
- Mix together all of the ingredients in a bowl until combined. Cover and refrigerate until use.
Vegan Reuben Sandwich
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, olive oil, steak sauce, mustard, smoked paprika, garlic powder, thyme, coriander, and black pepper until combined. Set side.
- Cut the slab of tofu into thin slices, about 2-3mm thick (roughly the same thickness as gyro meat). Lay the slices to cover the bottom of a wide tupperware container, and generously brush them with the marinade, then continue with another layer of the slices and repeat until all the slices are in the container and have been brushed with marinade. Pour the remaining marinade over the top of the slices. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight for maximum flavor.
- Preheat your oven to 400°Fahrenheit. Line a lipped baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the tofu slices on the sheet, leaving at least 1 cm of space around each slice so the edges are not touching (this will make sure the edges get crispy). You may need multiple baking sheets depending on the size of your baking sheets and your oven. Give them another brush with the marinade. Place them in the oven and roast until the edges are golden brown and crispy, about 20 to 30 minutes depending on how thinly you sliced the tofu. (The thinner you sliced the tofu, the shorter the cooking time will be. Keep a close eye on them since you don't want them to burn.)
- Meanwhile, heat the sauerkraut in a frying pan over medium heat until it's released some of its water, is sizzling, and is very hot. Using a wooden spoon or metal spatula, separate the sauerkraut into two disc shapes in the pan. Place a slice of the vegan cheese on each pile, cover the pan, and reduce heat to medium low. Allow to cook + steam until the cheese has melted, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Spread 2 tablespoons of the russian dressing on 1 side of toasted bread, and repeat with the remaining 3 slices of bread (you can refrigerate any excess russian dressing and enjoy for another use). Use a metal spatula to scrape 1 pile of the sauerkraut and cheese off the pan and place it on one of the dressing-ed sides of bread. Repeat with the other pile of sauerkraut and cheese.
- Place your desired number of baked tofu slices on top of the cheese/sauerkraut, and then place the other toasted rye bread on top, dressing-side-down. Repeat with the other sandwich, and enjoy!