Low Carb Kitchen
Carb Solutions: Pastrami on “Rye”
By Dennis Linden
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as being overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children who are dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources; not to mention the affect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].
Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the blood stream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based how speedy the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate theses calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for diabetics who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from eating foods that have low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts have been proven to actually increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.
A Quickie Glycemic Primer:
There are many versions of the famed pastrami sandwich, along with a continuing debate over what condiments and/or cooking method makes for a true classic in the category. However, there is no argument amongst pastrami aficionados that a good rye bread is as much a prerequisite as the pastrami itself. Unfortunately, any bread made with flour is very high on the no-fly zone of every diabetic and those on a carb-counting diet. Here’s a surprisingly authentic tasting rye bread substitute that may not compare to New York’s Katz Deli iconic sandwich in appearance, but will definitely satisfy those pastrami-rye cravings while costing only 3 grams of “bread” carbs doing it!
- The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low-glycemic-index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
- The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
The main ingredients of this mock bread recipe are similar to those in a spinach quiche; it’s the seasonings and post-oven handling that give the slices the texture and taste of rye bread. Admittedly, rye-flavored green slices will take a bit to get used to, like one bite! If the color is distracting, then try a taste-taste first with closed eyes, which will snap wide open with surprise at the remarkable “rye-ness” of the flavor and bread-like feel on the palate. In doing some research for this feature I did find several recipes for flourless spinach “breads” on the Internet; however, frozen spinach was the main ingredient and the mixing of the ingredients was done in a bowl, then transferred to a baking dish. None sounded like they would work, which I confirmed by trying a few – very bland, stringy consistency and not nearly firm enough to be held like a sandwich. Using a food processor, a few of Melissa’s “My Grinder” herbal seasonings, a generous sprinkle of caraway seeds and an overnight chill, turned out to be the trick to flavor and texture. While the ingredient list is short and the recipe looks simple enough, there are a few key prep tips that need to be followed to insure a successful batch of this mock rye.
Firstly, why anyone would choose to use frozen spinach for this, or any recipe for that matter, when fresh leafy green is available year-around and only a two-minute steam away, is a puzzle. I used approximately one-and-a-half 10 oz. packages of fresh Baby Spinach for convenience, steamed lightly; however regular bunched spinach, trimmed, works just as well – just make sure it is double-washed to avoid gritty bread! Working with fresh spinach offers more flavor and nutrition. In fact, compared to the frozen form, freshly harvested spinach provides more folate, a B vitamin that some studies have found may prevent heart disease according to the American Heart Association. A light steaming as opposed to boiling spinach directly in a pot of water, which will cut this veggie’s vitamin content in half! Also, before adding the steamed spinach to the food processor, place it in a sieve or colander, then squeeze out the excess water as much as possible with a large serving spoon.
You can vary the thickness of the slices by the size of glass baking dish used. I have tried both an 8x8-inch and 7x11-inch pan for this recipe, but the bread was almost hamburger bun thick and not quite what I was going for. The two large deli-size slices depicted in this feature’s sandwich shot were made using a 9x13 inch pan and the perfect thickness, if I do say so myself! Do not be concerned about the “bloated” thickness when first taking the dish out of the oven; the baking process raises the spinach batter an inch or two -- similar to yeasted bread dough, though not as dramatically.
Once fully baked, let the spinach mix cool to room temperature, then place the baking dish in the refrigerator for at least two hours; the thickness will decrease by almost half as the bread gets cold. If time allows, I find the firmness, texture and flavor develops best with an overnight chill. Once chilled thoroughly, if using a 9x13-inch dish, slice into equal halves crosswise, then carefully remove each slice with a spatula or pie server. The curved bottom of the baking dish gives the sides of this mock bread a rounded edge that needs to be trimmed square. The finished slices are surprisingly firm but pliable…dare I say, bread-like!
So now you have a couple of very low-carb slices of mock rye bread looking to be a part of Team Pastrami Sandwich! So go for it! For the photograph here I chose to keep it very simple with just the basics -- a stack of deli Beef Pastrami, a couple of thinly sliced whole red onion rings, topped with a generous slather of Dijon mustard, garnished with the traditional dill pickles and served cold. Others would say that that the meat must be hot, the bread grilled, with or without mayo, kraut, and/or cheese slices – the combinations are endless and here’s a low-carb vehicle for trying them all!
Makes 2 large slices
1 pound Fresh Baby Spinach, steamed lightly (bunched spinach, trimmed)
4 Eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon Melissa’s Garlic Sea Salt Grinder
1 tablespoon Melissa Italian Herb Grinder
½ cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
1½ tablespoons Caraway Seeds
Fresh Ground Pepper to taste
Place the steamed and drained spinach in a food processor along with all the other ingredients and blend into a smooth batter-like consistency.
Butter either a 7x11 (thicker slices) or 9x13 (thinner slices) glass baking dish, then pour spinach mixture into the pan. Bake at 400° for 15-20 minutes until set and slightly browned. Cool to room temperature, chill for a minimum of 2 hours before cutting and trimming into pieces the size of a slice of bread. Triple ingredient measurements to bake in a loaf pan. Can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen.