Friday, February 17, 2012

An All-American Plate: Burger and Fries

While it's awesome and healthy to have goals in life, it's important to make sure they are realistic. If, for example, you find yourself writhing in misery every time you think about going into work, finding a new job is a good and realistic goal. If you are a crazy dog, it is reasonable to set your sights on becoming a normal, well-adjusted dog. If, however, you are an oak tree, it would not make sense to hope that someday you will sprout wings and turn into a bird. Likewise, if you are a veggie burger, embrace your veggie-ness and don't worry about your meaty cousins. You're better than that.

Most grocery store veggie burgers, relentless in their quest to remind us of a juicy beef patty, fall pretty short. They are generally made up of a lot of processed soy and wheat with a token onion or some corn thrown in for good measure. Let's look at the Grilled Vegetable Boca Burger

WATER, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, RED BELL PEPPERS, CORN, ZUCCHINI, GREEN BELL PEPPERS, ONIONS, WHEAT GLUTEN, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF ASIAGO CHEESE (PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES), POTASSIUM SORBATE (AS A PRESERVATIVE), LOW-MOISTURE PART-SKIM MOZZARELLA CHEESE (CULTURED PASTEURIZED PART-SKIM MILK, SALT, ENZYMES), DRIED GARLIC, METHYLCELLULOSE, SALT, CARAMEL COLOR, DRIED ONIONS, AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, NATURAL FLAVOR (NON-MEAT), SPICE, DEXTROSE. CONTAINS: SOY, MILK, WHEAT.

Note that the very first ingredient is water ("Boca Burgers: When You're Thirsty"), and the second is some processed soy thing. I'm also not sure why they needed to add caramel color since all the other stuff blended together is most definitely brown.

There are probably better brands of veggie burger available; I have read good reviews about Gardenburger varieties for those of you in a time crunch. However, for anyone who wants a truly fabulous homemade meal and has a couple of hours to enjoy their kitchen, these Cook's Illustrated inspired burg's are the way to go. 


Veggie Burgers
Makes 12; can be frozen for storage

Ingredients
3/4 cup dried brown lentils
2 tsp salt
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 small leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick (this adds up to a whole lotta mushrooms)
1 cup raw unsalted cashews
1/3 cup full-fat unsweetened Greek yogurt
2 cups Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
ground black pepper

Directions
Get to cooking the lentils and rice. For the lentils, add 3 cups of water and a bit of salt and boil them until they are very soft and about to fall apart, about 25 minutes. At the same time, boil your rice with 1.5 cups of water until the water has been absorbed and the rice is soft.

When the lentils are done, spread them out on a tray under some paper towels to absorb the moisture and let them cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. When the rice is done, set it in a large bowl (you are going to end up adding everything else into this bowl) away from heat to also cool a bit. You want to get most of the moisture out of the lentils, so you may also need to pat them dry with paper towels.

While your lentils and rice are cooling, heat a bit of oil in a pan - we used our new big boy cast iron skillet - add the onion, celery, leek, and garlic. Cook about 10 minutes until it all begins to brown.  Spread them out on another tray under some paper towels to absorb moisture.

Using the same pan, add a bit more oil over high heat and throw in the 'shrooms. Cook the mushrooms until they are golden brown and have shrunk down considerably. Spread them out with the vegetable mixture and let it all cool off.

Next, you want to turn your cashews into a powder as best you can. You can use a food processor, magic bullet, coffee grinder (our choice), or just put them in a plastic baggie and smash them with something heavy. The method you choose may depend on what kind of day you've had.  Add the crushed cashews, the cooled lentils, the cooled veggie-mushroom mixture, and the yogurt into the large bowl of rice.  Mix it all together with your hands. Don't be afraid to get in there!

The idea for this next step is to blend/puree the mixture so it's nice and mushy. You can transfer part of it at a time into a blender or food processor but I think that creates more of a mess than necessary. We got out our immersion blender (is there anything it can't do??) and blended away.  Use it until everything looks pretty well mushed together. It should be kind of sticky and have a rough texture.

Add the panko one cup at a time and mix it together as you go. You might find you don't need as much as the recipe calls for to get a good burgery consistency, but 2 cups is a good gauge. Salt and pepper to taste.

Form patties out of this mixture. You should get 12, and since two people cannot eat 12 of anything in one sitting, you may want to freeze half of them. Cook or grill them up however you want! 

Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 2 hungry people who also have veggie burgers to eat

Ingredients
1 large sweet potato
2 Tbsp EVOO
freshly ground salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat your oven to 450F.

You can use peeled or unpeeled potatoes depending upon your preference. We "roughly peeled" ours, meaning we left some skin on. I recommend that.

Cut up the sweet potatoes into sticks. Chop off the ends if they are small or pointy, as this will make for burnt fry ends. Cut the potato in half around the middle (width-wise not length-wise), slice each half into rings 3/4 inch thick, and slice up each ring into sticks each about 1/2 inch wide.

In a bowl, toss the potato sticks together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Use the pepper generously! Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the sweet potato sticks on it gently. Be sure they are evenly spaced and not touching - this will affect cooking time, the amount of burning that goes on in your oven, and sogginess. Give them some room for goodness sakes! They will get smaller as they cook.

Put them in the oven for 13-15 minutes. You'll probably want to check them around 12 minutes to see how brown the underside is getting. When it starts to brown, it's time to flip the fries. Remove the baking sheet and flip each fry. You can do this by hand or perhaps with tongs, but beware they are hot. Put them back in the oven for about 10 more minutes, and try to keep an eye on them.

After their second round in the oven, the fries are done and ready to enjoy!

Shared on Fresh Bites Friday

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