Before we begin, let me tell you: I. Do. Not. Like. Sauerkraut.

Another recipe from midwestern casserole maven JoAnna Lund and her Healthy Exchanges Cookbook.

It all started with a can of Bavarian Style Sweet Sauerkraut with Caraway Seeds that has been in the pantry for who knows how long, and a passing comment from Jim that we should try to use up some of the items in our pantry before we move, whenever that will be. He has said time and time again, he finds the Bavarian-style sauerkraut to be too sweet, and yet here is a can, daring us to use it. I am not a fan; Jim is a fan, having been raised in Pennsylvania Dutch territory: sauerkraut and apple pies are in his blood stream. “The only thing it would be good for,” he says, “is Reuben sandwiches.”

There was a recipe for Reuben sandwiches on the back of the can, but it seemed too work-intensive. It involved honey. The last time I checked, there was no honey on a Reuben sandwich.

What, I wondered, would JoAnna Lund have to say about Reubens?

Knowing that JoAnna Lund was from Iowa, and Iowa is on the edge of a part of the country whose basic ethnic background is German, Bavarian, Slavic, Scandinavian, and Dutch, and remembering in the back of my mind that she once mentioned her Bavarian grandmother in the headnote to one of her recipes, I figured that in the course of two cookbooks, she would have to mention Reuben somethings with sauerkraut at some point (she has a recipe for sausages and sauerkraut, and if I ever cook an Oktoberfest feast, that’s one the recipes I’ll probably employ. But not today). And I was right. In my more-favorite of her books, the spiral bound one, on page 177, is JoAnna’s recipe for a Reuben casserole.

It is simple, it is easy, and it is DELICIOUS. And remember, I don’t like sauerkraut.

Reuben Casserole

1/4 cup regular OR low fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup Thousand Island dressing
2 cups or 1 can of sauerkraut, well drained
2 1/2 ounces of sliced lean corned beef
3/4 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese*
1 sliced fresh tomato (about 1 cup)
2 slices rye bread, cut in to small pieces (for croutons)**

*Reduced-fat Swiss cheese is a must. I learned with the Crab-Caper Dip that the melting point of regular Swiss cheese is too low, and the fats will separate out during baking and be absolutely disgusting.
**I used marble rye because it’s my favorite rye bread, and it was on sale by the half-loaf in the grocery bakery.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and Thousand Island dressing. Layering in an 8×8 baking dish, place sauerkraut on the bottom, then the corned beef, dressing mixture, cheese, and tomatoes.

In a nonstick pan sprayed lightly with cooking spray, lightly sauté the bread to make croutons. Sprinkle these in a layer over the tomatoes.

Bake 20 minutes.

Serves 4. Each serving has approximately 189 calories and 7 grams of fat.

I don’t like sauerkraut, but I love this dish. The fact that I used sweet sauerkraut, I think, is the crucial difference here. Regular sauerkraut would have been too, well, sauer.  The crispy croutons, which become even more golden and crispier in the oven, soak up the moisture from the tomatoes and, when served, from the dressing, and are firm sponges of flavor. Jim definitely wants fewer tomatoes — he has nothing against them except he just doesn’t like them, and tomatoes need to be really spectacular to get on his good side. So in the meantime, I eat all his tomatoes. That’s okay with me, in this dish I like the way their texture contrasts with the textures of the corned beef and the sauerkraut. Next time I’m going to use a little bit more corned beef to enhance its presence (in Lund’s recipe, she keeps it to a thin layer, with the sauerkraut as the star ingredient) in the dish. We’ll see tomorrow how it works as a leftover tomorrow at lunchtime. But for now, count us in as fans of this dish. Minimal ingredient prep time, minimal dish construction time, and only 20 minutes to bake, with a great balance of flavors and textures.

And I don’t like sauerkraut.

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