Friday, December 7, 2012

50 States of MoFo: Iowa: Tavern Sandwiches

Some days, I'm up for wildly involved fancy-pants cooking.  Other days (i.e., today), I am tired from work and have to bake a bazillion dozen obligatory Christmas cookies.   Thus, dinner has to be easy and I decided to veganize Iowa's tavern sandwiches.   To be a bit more fair to the potential of Iowa cuisine, maybe I'll make some lovely fresh corn dish in the future.

Taverns are named after a restaurant in Sioux City, Iowa, which helped popularize them.    They are also known as "Maid-Rites" (after a chain which sells them) and "loose meat sandwiches"  (yum...?).   Like most Americans, I had heard the term "loose meat sandwich" on the TV sitcom Roseanne, but I had zero idea of what they are.   Think of a sloppy joe without the sauce, and you are close.

As with many beloved regional foods, there are fights over the "right" way to make them.  Should the onion be cooked with the meat, or left raw and sprinkled on at the end?   Are all seasonings (even salt and pepper) except for onion forbidden?  And so on.   Google if you want to read the internet fights.   There are also more complex variations.   A coworker from Iowa told me that sometimes her mother stirs ketchup, mustard, and a can of condensed chicken gumbo soup into the burger mixture.   The thought of working out a vegan equivalent of condensed chicken gumbo soup put me off that notion, at least for now.   I did adopt a couple of possibly unorthodox yet not uncommon approaches - broth instead of water for simmering, and the use of some dry onion soup mix for seasoning.

I used Boca crumbles for this, but, with some slight variation in the procedure, you could adapt to ground seitan, tofu, tempeh, or whatever your preferred vegan protein may be.   As I have remarked on other recipes of a similar background, sometimes you really have to go with the processed food for authenticity.   (Hush!  I'll have a big salad tomorrow!)

1.  In a large skillet, heat 2 T oil.  Add 1/2 of a medium onion, chopped fine, and a 12 oz package of Boca burger crumbles.   Saute until it warms through and the onion starts to become translucent.

2. Add 1 cup veggie broth,  1 T nutritional yeast, and a little bit of dry onion soup mix (most brands are vegan but check to be sure).  Go easy with the onion soup mix, so the burger crumble doesn't get too salty.  You can always add more.    (I worked up to about 1/2 envelope, before it was finished.)    Simmer gently until most of the liquid has evaporated.   Taste, and adjust seasoning with dry onion soup mix, salt, and/or pepper, as you see fit.

3.  Serve this loose burger mixture on buns with yellow mustard and pickle slices.   To be traditional, set these on pieces of waxed paper to catch the mess which will result as your burger falls apart.  Eat quickly, to prevent too much disintegration!

These were better than you might think -- and a different way to make a quick comfort-food meal.


Cadry's Kitchen said...

This line cracked me up - "They are also known as "Maid-Rites" (after a chain which sells them) and "loose meat sandwiches" (yum...?). " The name really doesn't do it any favors, does it? I'm from Iowa and grew up eating these (before I went vegan, of course). In my mom's version salt & pepper was involved for spices but nothing else. The onions were sautéed, not raw. That's so funny that there are internet fights about the proper way to make them. It's cool to see a regional staple veganized. I'm glad you're keeping up this theme even post-MoFo!

JohnP said...

Cadry, thanks! I will finish the 50 states. These sandwiches were extremely popular with the rest of the household, and we will surely be making them again. Yay, Iowa!

Kittee Bee Berns said...

Look at you! I had no idea you were still blogging after MoFo!!! I have some serious catching up to do!