Have you ever had one of those moments where you realize the world you thought you knew had shifted under your feet? A few weeks back, I went to a launch event in Brooklyn for a new Jewish food product. When I arrived I scanned the room for familiar faces, fully expecting to spot some friends. Not only did I not recognize anyone, I quickly noticed was 10-15 years older than everyone else there.
That pop-up moment was one of many I’ve had recently where it hits me squarely in the face: I am middle aged.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was an up-and-coming food writer. It wasn’t that long ago that I felt perched on the vibrant edge of an emerging Jewish food scene. Or when my peers and besties *were* the people launching Jewish food startups—artisanal gefilte fish companies, kosher sustainable meat companies, urban Jewish farms, and next-gen appetizing shops. There we were, bright eyed and raring to bring a 2,000 year old tradition with us into the 21st century.
But time moves on, and we are no longer the new kids. There is a new batch of ingenues ready to step in and shake things up. To start all the businesses, host all of the Shabbat dinner pop-ups, spread the babka gospel, and find their own connection between Jewish tradition and the natural world. It is their turn to take a critical look at everything around them and find ways to change it for the better.
It can be a disorienting feeling, getting older, and sometimes I miss the sparkle of being young. But I also think I kind of love it? My generation may not be the center of the conversation in quite the same way, but we still have plenty to add to it and, more importantly, an opportunity to support and encourage the next generation.
Everyone used to tell me (but I never fully believed it) that there was a freedom that comes with getting older. There’s a calmness, they promised—a rootedness that comes from more fully understanding who you are and what you have to offer the world. Most of my early career felt like an uphill climb through unfamiliar territory. These days I still have some of that anxiety—I also still have a lot to learn, and endless curiosity about Jewish cuisine (which is endlessly fascinating!). But I am grateful for the stronger foundation that a few extra years has brought me.
The Vegetarian Reuben of My Dreams
“Back in my day” (lol, 2009), my friend David Sax published a wonderful book called Save The Deli. (10/10 recommend if you haven’t read it.) In the book, Sax chronicled the demise of the old school Jewish delicatessen, while finding hope in a crop of nouveau delis beginning to pop up around North America.
In the 14 years since, the new/artisanal Jewish deli scene has really taken hold, with everything from pastrami 2.0 spots to entirely vegan delis opening all the time and all over. One of my favorite dishes to emerge is the mushroom Reuben, a meatless spin on the iconic delicatessen sandwich of corned beef + sauerkraut + Russian dressing + cheese (or sans cheese at kosher delis) on griddled rye.
I first tried a vegetarian Reuben at Wise Sons deli in San Francisco, and have spotted it on other menus since then. Wise Son’s version, with roasted mushrooms, is delicious. But I particularly love the take I’ve shared below, which swaps corned beef for crunchy, breadcrumb-coated portobellos.
The mushrooms, which are coated in Panko and baked until crispy, have a similarly smoky-savory flavor profile to the Pastrami Spiced Schnitzel recipe I shared in this newsletter a while back. They bring amazing crunch to a sandwich that is already a classic study in contrasts: tangy sauerkraut, creamy Russian dressing (I spike mine with a few special ingredients), and gooey melted cheese. Griddling the sandwich also gives it the warm and soothing appeal of a grilled cheese or tuna melt. In other words, gimme!
The origins of the first corned beef Reuben are contested. But suffice it to say that the sandwich was an evolution of American Jewish deli culture…which, itself, was an evolution of German and Romanian cured meat traditions. So a meatless, mushroom Reuben is simply the latest iteration in an ever evolving chain. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
This week’s Crunchy Mushroom Reuben recipe is for paid subscribers to The Jewish Table. The next all list newsletter (with a Shavuot-friendly recipe for cheesecake spirals + an interview with the legendary Susan Spungen) is coming in two weeks. To tap into this week’s deliciousness and access the full recipe archive, please consider upgrading to a paid subscription. If you’re already a paid subscriber, please pass the word on to a Jewish food-loving friend Thank you!
Crunchy Mushroom Reuben
This recipe can be halved if you only want 2 sandwiches. And if you don’t want the sandwich at all, the crunchy battered mushrooms make a delicious snack or appetizer, with the dressing alongside for dipping.
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