Amanda Stone's Tasty States

My beloved Reuben surprised me this week. A sandwich layered with such bold flavors screams a New York origin story, but you know what assuming does. 

The humble state of Nebraska lays claim to the Reuben, named for the man who requested the ideal sandwich fixings. There’s some debate as to the validity of the story, but ‘tis often the case when naming a dish with such wide appeal. 

As the story goes, Reuben Kulakofsky was playing in a poker game at Omaha’s Blackstone Hotel in the 1920s. Reuben got a little grumbly in his tumbly, and sent word to the kitchen that he wanted a sandwich. The owner created a hot mess of corned beef, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing and sauerkraut, pressed together between slices of dark rye bread. 

Reuben loved it. In fact, everyone loved it. The sandwich was named for him and put on the hotel menu. A waitress entered it in the National Restaurant Association’s National Sandwich Idea Contest, where it won. Now Reubens are a household name, for which I am very grateful. 

The middle of the U.S. is home to a sizable German population, who brought bierocks to Kansas (among so many other delicious recipes) and just a smidge north, runzas to Nebraska.

Bierocks and runzas are essentially the same dish: yeast dough filled with cabbage, ground beef and spices. Bierocks may be round or half-moon shaped, but runzas are pretty much always a rectangle. 

They are comfort food to the max, each a pocket of handheld warmth. There’s even a chain of restaurants specializing in them, called, you guessed it: Runza. There are tons of them in Nebraska, with a few in neighboring states. Worth a road trip for sure. Or make your own runzas using frozen bread dough to make them a snap. 

Frenchees seem to be confined to Nebraska for reasons I cannot understand. A fast food chain called King’s Food Host had Frenchees on the menu during the 1960s and 1970s. Frenchees stuck around, although the restaurants did not.

The original frenchee was essentially a deep fried cheese sandwich, with gooey processed cheese and mayonnaise sandwiched between slices of white bread with the crusts cut off. The whole thing was battered and dipped in crushed corn flakes, then fried so it was crispy on the outside and cheesy soft on the inside. The recipe below offers the basic frenchee experience without deep frying. 

Try these recipes for a taste of Nebraska. 

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Cheese Frenchee

6 slices American cheese

6 slices white bread

Mayonnaise

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups cornflake crumbs, crushed fine

2 to 4 tablespoons butter, for frying

Prepare 3 cheese sandwiches, using mayonnaise and 2 slices of cheese for each. Cut each sandwich in half. Combine egg, milk, flour, and salt. Dip each triangle into the egg mixture and then coat with the cornflake crumbs. Lightly fry each sandwich in butter, turning to brown each side.

Recipe adapted from www.praycookblog.com

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The original Reuben sandwich 

3 tablespoons sauerkraut, well drained

3 tablespoons Thousand Island dressing

2 slices dark rye bread

Unsalted butter, softened

4 thin slices Emmenthaler Swiss cheese

4 slices Jewish-style corned beef, or more to taste

Optional for serving: kosher dill pickle, potato chips, radishes

In a small bowl, mix the sauerkraut with the Thousand Island dressing. Set aside.

Spread one side of each bread slice generously with softened butter. Place 1 slice on a clean work surface with the unbuttered side facing up. Top it with two slices of cheese, the corned beef, the sauerkraut, and then the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining bread slice, buttered side up.

Heat a small skillet, griddle, or grill pan to medium-high. Melt a thin layer of butter in the skillet, or brush the grill pan with melted butter.

Once hot but not yet smoking, transfer the sandwich into the pan and cook, pressing down occasionally with a spatula and flipping as needed, until the bread is browned evenly on both sides and the cheese is fully melted, about 5 minutes per side.

Transfer to a plate, slice in half, and serve immediately. Garnish the plate with the pickle, potato chips, and radishes if desired.

Recipe source: www.saveur.com

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Runzas

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef

1 small head cabbage, shredded (about 4 cups)

1 small onion, diced 

24 frozen bread dough dinner rolls

Salt and pepper

Melted butter

Place frozen dinner roll dough on a sheet pan and rise according to package instructions. You will use 2 rolls for each sandwich.

While dough rises, begin browning ground beef and onion in a large skillet. When the meat is about halfway done, add the shredded cabbage and cover with a lid. Cook until meat and cabbage are done. Drain off any excess grease or liquid. Set aside.

When rolls have risen completely, lightly flour countertop. Remove two rolls and form a ball. Roll the ball out into a 5-by-7-inch rectangle. Place about 1/3 cup of the filling in the center of the dough and spread out from top to bottom.

Fold the bottom up and the top of the dough down and press to seal. Fold the left side over, pinching to seal. Then do the right side, gently stretching to cover the left. Pinch closed.

Place each runza on a greased cookie sheet, seam side down. Let rise again for another 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush runza tops with melted butter. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve hot.

Recipe adapted from www.anaffairfromtheheart.com

Amanda Stone is a food and gardening columnist for The Joplin Globe. Email questions  to amandastone31@gmail.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.

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Amanda Stone is a food and gardening columnist for The Joplin Globe. Email questions to astone@joplinglobe.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.