Wednesday, May 16, 2012
There's something about the "quest" for a great recipe that can become more about the journey (and what you learn along the way) than the goal. For some it's a search for the perfect chicken soup or chocolate cake... I think I've had both. For me, of late, it's all about the veggie burger.
I've had a few really great veggie burgers while dining out. The best, to date, was a mushroom-nut burger I had at Gruner in Portland a few months ago. It had great flavor and, though it didn't exactly have the texture of a beef burger, it held together nicely and had just enough crunch to pass what I call the "bite" test... that little bit of crunch that mimics a true burger... and not a mushy mash. A lot of veggie burgers end up fairly mush-like. And many of the ones that aren't are often deep fried (a recent discovery I made about a burger I had long favored... and now know why). Others have so much binder in them... eggs, flour, bread... that they kind of lose their appeal as a burger that, well, calls itself "veggie."
I've definitely produced a few veggie burgers from my own kitchen as well. My first was a black-bean burger that I spied years ago in one of my many cooking magazines. It was fairly good on the flavor front and held together nicely... but sorely lacked in texture (bite). It was about as soft and mushy as you could get... completely bailing on its burger shape with the very first nibble. Others have been better in flavor, or better in texture, but none have curtailed my quest.
Given my recent 30-day "no grains" diet, this quest has been ever the more challenged.
I'm thinking a lot of the best recipes (the ones that pretty much guarantee a non-mushy center, a crunchy outer layer, and great flavor) use some grains to bind them and provide a bit of bite. A recipe I tested just prior to this new one, using french green lentils and sliced almonds, was great from a flavor perspective but far too mushy. After making some adjustments, a bit of mashed potato as a binder instead of egg, I did achieve a burger that held together better but didn't have any bite.
So... I googled for the "best veggie burger" and found what sounds like it could be a great burger... on this lovely site. The problem is it calls for a bit of a bread/grain filler... which I'm currently avoiding. So... while I opted out of all the grain additions, I did take away a few great suggestions. Namely, the use of a "flax egg" as a binder. Basically it's just a bit of ground flax mixed with warm water... a genius idea!!! Left to sit for just ten minutes or so, this mixture thickens up and gets "eggy" in consistency. I also brought black beans back into the fold... only mashed them slightly instead of processing or puréeing them. And, I substituted my french green lentils with black lentils, cooked to an "al dente" consistency to achieve the bite that a great long-grain rice or farro might offer. Then, of course, there are the veggies and flavor enhancers... parsley, scallions, garlic, carrot. And... nuts!! I think the generous use of nuts (almonds and sunflower seeds, lightly toasted and chopped, as this googled recipe suggests) provide a level of crunch and nutrition you want with these burgers.
Sautéed over a medium high heat in olive oil, these burgers get a bit of a crisp on them. While they might want to pull apart a little on the turn over... probably where a bread addition might help... they easily come back together with a little encouragement and, once seared on the second side, behave nicely as a whole... served on a bun with all the traditional fixings, or sans the bun with all the fixings over greens. Though they aren't entirely crisp, they do offer enough of a bite and yummy flavor to satisfy... certainly a quest worth the journey... or, perhaps, a journey worth the quest. Either way, they're good.
A Good Veggie Burger
adapted (or, better yet, "adopted" elements) from Our Perfect Veggie Burger, the Oh She Glows blog
makes 4 to 6 burgers, depending on size
I used about a 1/2 cup of the "burger" mixture for each burger and ended up with 5 burgers. They are great on a bun, dressed like a real burger. Or, simply plated over some greens with sliced tomato, avocado and onion. I've even nested them in butter lettuce leaves, topped with a bit of sliced radish, as a healthy in-flight snack while traveling.
1/2 cup finely diced shallot
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup black lentils, cooked to an "al dente" bite
1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained and roughly mashed
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh lemon thyme (or regular thyme)
1/4 cup almonds (roasted, unsalted)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (hulled)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons ground golden flaxseed
1/4 cup warm water
sliced cheese, if desired
Sauté shallot and garlic in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, over medium high heat, until shallot is translucent, about 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix ground flax and warm water. Set aside "flax egg" for about 10 minutes to allow it to thicken. Also lightly toast nuts in a separate pan, if desired.
In a large bowl, combine sautéed shallots and garlic with the carrot, black lentils, black beans, parsley, thyme, nuts, thickened "flax egg," and 1 teaspoon olive oil. Season mixture with salt and pepper, to taste (if the mix tastes good, the burger will too!).
Heat remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Form patties (approximately 1/2 cup mixture per patty) and place 3 or 4 in pan (being careful not to overcrowd). Sauté 2 to 4 minutes on each side, turning once they appear nicely browned. If you want to top with cheese, do so once flipped. Serve immediately.