gardeners’ incentive: vegetarian reuben sandwich

vegetarian reuben sandwichWHEN WE ARE PUSHING HARD to get the garden “open” for spring or “closed” in autumn, my trusty helper and I come up with incentives—usually in the form of food. “Treats,” we call them, or “employee benefits”—whatever it takes to get to the finish line despite the to-do list that’s far too long for too-few hands. “Let’s make the Reubens tomorrow,” she said, after a relentless day of chores, and the next work day we did. Vegetarian Reuben sandwiches, specifically; hold the corned beef.

I know; this recipe doesn’t involve garden-fresh produce the way I do it (though I do make dill pickles from my own cucumbers–and I’m including a vegetable-using variation, too). But I wanted you to know that I go a little crazy diet-wise sometimes—all in the name of the garden, of course. As Reubens go, though, these are pretty tame.

The George Foreman grill I received years ago, when I was a guest of my former boss on “The Martha Stewart Show,” figures into the recipe. But you could use a heavyweight (get it?) seasoned cast-iron pan, with another heavy one or a brick as a weight to press the sandwiches down while cooking. The entrepreneurial ex-heavyweight champion had been a guest on the television show, too, and everyone in the audience got gifted a grill.

I don’t have many kitchen gadgets, or much counter space—and was going to give it away, so I put it in the garage, where my garden helper saw it. And hence the Reuben sandwich tradition, our most indulgent employee benefit, began.

vegetarian reuben sandwich

Guaranteed to spur exhausted gardeners onward (or send them straight to the nearest lawn chairs for a long nap).


  • bread, preferably whole-grain rye
  • mayonnaise (I use an organic olive-oil based one)
  • dill pickle, chopped
  • ketchup
  • sauerkraut
  • a Swiss-like cheese
  • tempeh, sliced thin (optional; my friend David, proprietor of CrossRoads Food Shop in Hillsdale, New York, eschews the tempeh in favor of thin, pre-cooked slices of seasonal vegetables, such as turnip or summer squash or celery root)
  • small amount of olive oil or butter if you don’t have a well-seasoned or anti-stick grill pan of some sort

preparing the vegetarian Reuben sandwiches


  • If you want a protein-rich sandwich and more meaty “tooth” to the filling, slice tempeh thinly and brown it in a frying pan. The tempeh is optional… or roast thin-sliced zucchini, turnip or celery root just till tender first.
  • Put the sauerkraut in a strainer to drain.
  • Make the dressing, chopping the pickles and mixing with some mayo and a dash of ketchup to taste.
  • Slice the cheese.
  • Brush one side of each slice of bread lightly with oil if you are without an anti-stick grill or well-seasoned pan. (With the gifted grill, we use no oil or butter.)
  • Assemble the ingredients—cheese, sauerkraut, dressing, tempeh if desired—onto the bread.
  • Grill, weighted down with the grill lid or another heavyweight pan or some other heavy object. Turn if needed (again, with the grill that isn’t necessary).
  1. Reed Pugh says:

    I applaud the effort, and I am sure it is a tasty substitute, however, my Reuben will always have a few lean slices of Corned Beef and a little extra Swiss Cheese.

  2. Glenda Berman says:

    If this is anything like your Bar-B-Q lentil recipe I’m sure that it will be fabulous. My daughter is Vegan and after making the dish for her it was an instant hit. The veggie version of the Reuben sounds great and as it contains two kinds of fermented foods it is a great boost to the system. Thanks for posting Margaret.

    1. Lacey Bloom says:

      Ooh, I make the BBQ lentils all the time now! On top of a sweet potato w/ a little reduced balsamic. So. Good.

      I started making no meat reubens this summer but I used dill pickle kimchi in lieu of sauerkraut. I hadn’t thought to use tempeh, but I will next time!

  3. Marty says:

    Thank you Margaret, and Jean for the vegan version. No I’ll have to find a sub for the GF version I need. Perhaps I’ll just sauté the tempeh and add the kraut and serve with a quinoa or other grain salad. Yum!

  4. Diane says:

    I make this sandwich all the time~love it:} I’ve used tempeh marinated in low sodium soy and baked ~also, firm tofu that is drained and pressed. marinated for an hour in soy/sesame marinade then sliced into 8 “steaks” length wise. Put on a baking sheet and bake in a 400 degree oven turning once. Use all the same other ingredients, kraut, sauce, swiss cheese and whole grain rye bread, and finish as Margaret’s recipe instructs. YUMMY!

  5. Marty says:

    Oh forgot, Daiya has wonderful melting vegan cheeses, shredded or soft wedge options that’d be great in this too. And if you add a little liquid smoke to the tempeh as a marinade, it makes a lovely smokey tempeh.

  6. Daisy says:

    Yumm! What a great idea! I’m having a peaceful quiet Mother’s Day Sunday off. Got the good ole Ezekiel bread in the freezer, the pickles and the sourkraut, I’ll improvise with the rest. What a treat! Thank you margaret! And a good mother’s day to Jack’s mom too!!!!!

  7. Diane says:

    One correction with the tofu steaks~slice the drained, pressed tofu block into the 8 steaks BEFORE you marinade so they all get coated well and can lay flat in a dish or plate~this is really good and can be used for many things other then the rueben:}

  8. Tara says:

    I have a way to incorporate something from the garden in this recipe . I make mine with dill relish and make the sauce with mayo, ketchup , chives, and lemon juice( and a dash if hit sauce if you want ) !

  9. Sharon says:

    I’m skeptical, but trying it anyway and I really love nutritional yeast on the Farmer Wrap vegetarian sandwich. I really love “A Way To Garden.”

  10. Louise says:

    SInce I don’t like meat either, I love this sandwich. I especially like the home made dressing. I’d have no reason otherwise to buy a bottle of it pre made, but I aways have pickles, ketchup and mayo. Thanks for the recipe.

  11. Cary Bradley says:

    This sounds great! Am growing extra cabbages this year to make my own sauerkraut! Loving exploring preserving my veg through fermentation. By the way, thank you, your refrigerator pickles are enjoying a chill in my fridge! Love that recipe too! :)

  12. Gila says:

    Getting hungry just discussing this ….
    Can anyone recommend a grocery brand tempeh? I’ve tried the local Hudson Valley grocers’ brands offered around here but don’t care much for them. How about at natural food shops?
    Plantae vegan restaurant in Tivoli made their own. Alas, it’s no longer in business.

  13. Dianne says:

    Your recipes are always so good, and I will definitely try this one. I’m usually making a jar of kraut this time of year from garden cabbage. I didn’t realize kraut was so easy (salt, cabbage and time), so you could add cabbage in addition to your pickle from the garden. I think I will try some slices of portabella as the corned beef. I started making my own mayo in order to get away from soybean oil, and use avocado oil. I tried 100% olive oil and it was not good. I see now you can buy mayo with 100% avocado oil (and no ‘bad’ oils mixed in) at Costco. Smaller jars too. Yay. Thanks for the recipe Margaret, it will be on the menu for next week as I do garden cleanup.

  14. We make a similar sandwich but slice the tempeh, brown it and add veg. Broth, mustard, vinegar, soy sauce making a marinade for the tempeh to cook in. Very flavorful and ready for the extras to make a tempeh Rueben.

  15. John Moore says:

    An additional, unmentioned, benefit of the veggie reuben is its abundance of probiotic critters for our digestive tracts (courtesy of the sauerkraut, pickles and other fermented ingredients) . . . cousins of beneficial fungi which gardeners (and much of Mere Nature) utilize as mycorrhizae.

    Ahh . . . circle of life!

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