whole food ~ well made

What’s the Trick to Vegetarian Reubens? It’s All in the Cheese

I still remember my first tempeh Reuben at a cafe in Bellingham, Washington during graduate school. It was during my vegetarian days, but I’d always loved Reubens.

As I licked the Russian dressing from my fingers, I realized that this counterfeit Reuben included everything I’d craved–absent the corned beef.

New York delis may stake their Reuben reputations on obscene piles of corned beef or pastrami. But in my experience a Reuben has three essential components:

  1. Griddled rye bread {toast will not do, but you can pick light or dark rye or marbled if you can’t decide}
  2. Quality sauerkraut {not the shrill pickle brined stuff but a real fermented sauerkraut}
  3. Swiss cheese and Russian dressing {I put them together here for a reason I’ll get into in a moment}

Consider the Rachel. That’s a Reuben where the beef gets replaced by turkey. There are other versions in the Midwest that feature fish, such as grouper or walleye. And really, if you used roast beef or ham in combination with elements 1-3 above, I assert that it would still taste like a Reuben.

So, what if you skipped the meat altogether?

Personally, I never miss it. And I say this as someone who makes her own corned beef.

Reuben Cheese Spread

Here’s the recipe I developed for Reuben Cheese that posted on Food52 yesterday. Inspired by the genius that is pimento cheese, this story is how it came to be–and how I’m still amazed that no one else thought of it first.

My recipe for a beet reuben on Food52.

The beauty of Reuben cheese is that it combines the elements of the Swiss cheese with the Russian dressing in a single handy spread. Because the cheese is grated, it melts better.

And you have everything you need to turn just about anything into a Reuben–provided you have elements #1 and #2.

Vegetable Reubens

Since that tempeh Reuben, I’ve tried Reubens with tofu and seitan. They all satisfy and prove my notion about Reubens in general.

Then there are vegetable Reubens–like this recipe using sauteed mushrooms and spinach. But the one I love most uses beets. The texture and earthy flavors of thinly sliced beets provide the best texture–and meatiness–for this sandwich.

Typically, I’ll use sliced beets I’ve roasted myself. But in the process of testing this recipe for Food52, I also discovered a shortcut: canned beets which I have always loathed. I credit the Reuben cheese.

It’s quick to mix up a batch of Reuben cheese, which lasts for a week in the fridge. So you better do it sooner than later because a) you’re going to want to eat a Reuben, and b) once you have Reuben cheese, you’re minutes away from a great one.

What’s your favorite Reuben?

Let me know in the comments below or tag a photo #lynnesforage on Instagram or Facebook for more inspired eating.


and become a forager

Beet Reuben

Turn sliced beets (roasted yourself or even from a can--I know!) into a Reuben for a pub-style meal anytime. Serve with a kosher dill pickle and dark beer. You'll need to make a batch of Reuben cheese that makes enough for four Reubens.
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people
Author Lynne Curry


  • 8 slices light or dark rye bread
  • 1 batch Reuben cheese
  • 3 cups sauerkraut
  • 1 15-ounce can sliced beets
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter


  • Preheat a cast iron griddle or skillet over medium low heat while you prepare the sandwiches.
  • Spread both sides of the bread with about 2 tablespoons of the Reuben cheese. Layer the beets on top of the bottom bread slice and top thickly with sauerkraut and cover with the other bread slice.
  • Add 2 tablespoon of the butter to the griddle. As soon as it melts, tilt to spread it around and arrange the sandwiches to fit. Cook on the first side until the bread is deeply browned and the cheese begins to melt, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook on the second side until the cheese is completely melted and the sandwich is heated through, about 5 minutes more.


  1. this recipe is really looking so delicious thank you for sharing it

    1. Thanks!

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