April 30, 2012

Zesty Black Bean Burgers

When I first sat down to write this post, I included a lengthy explanation about my absence.  Then I realized that all I really cared about was the food.  I was in school.  I got overwhelmed.  Either you are still here or you aren't.  So let's skip any long-winded allusions to the prodigal son and get to cooking. 

                Now, I grew up in a very meat and potatoes kind of household.  Not just figuratively, either.  My mother is required as part of her job description to serve meat at every meal.  While I am sure that vegetarian ranch hands do exist, they are few and far between, and the bulk of the men and women who work out there want something more substantial than "hippie food."  Sometimes we had chicken. Sometimes we had pork.  On rare occasions fish (albeit in the form of "sticks,") made it onto the menu.  But mostly we ate beef.  Steaks followed hamburgers followed big beefy lasagnas followed sloppy Joes followed yet more steaks.  I'm not complaining.  Sometimes, like right after helping my dad butcher a cow, I might have questioned my eating habits; for the most part I ate of the meat and the meat was good. 

                It came as quite the culture shock, then, when I arrived at Seventh Day Adventist boarding school.  No meat anywhere.  Since I lived in the dorm, I could go entire months without eating any.  This was hell.  The transition in diet, both at the beginning of the school year and the end of it, would make me nauseous for three week stretches.  Whenever I would get off of campus, I would look for meat like a junkie looking for a fix.  At the time, I thought like anyone from a cattle ranch would; I thought that my cravings were due to the importance of meat.  I would later come to realize it was simply because Adventist food (at least of the institutionalized variety) was crap. 

                What helped me come around was being homeless.  When you are homeless, you can rarely say no to a free meal.  In fact, my pursuit of food made me multi-denominational.  Each Wednesday I became Catholic for fried chicken.  Saturday afternoons I took in Protestant teachings with a burger in hand.  Sunday was reserved for the Hare Krishna.  After prayers and dancing and singing and the devotion of the meal to God, we were set loose on the most sumptuous vegetarian feast.  It opened my mind to flavors I had mostly ignored.

                I was prepared, then, when the hippies I began to associate with didn't eat meat (or ate it only sparingly.)  I learned that as long as the cook knew what they were doing--admittedly, a rarity--I didn't miss meat at all.  Once I realized that a good way to guarantee the cook knew what they were doing was to become that cook, I intentionally gave up meat for two years. 

                Those of you who know me personally know what happened next.  Wife is no big lover of vegetables to begin with, and after making a "small" exception for Thanksgiving our meatless lifestyle fell apart.  We weren't doing it for any particular reason other than a vague sense that it was healthier to body and planet and so we could always accommodate traveling hippies with what we had on hand.  We just weren't emotionally invested enough to keep going. 

                Still, I've maintained a fondness for vegetarian food; as long as a restaurant's "hippie tax" isn't too steep I even prefer veggie burgers when I eat out.  My abilities were put to the test, though, when Lotus came to stay with us.   This wasn't the usual crash-and-dash, or the summer two-weeker that we frequently extend to our friends as they pass through.  This is an extended detour; two months.  It was beyond the point of reason to have separate dinners each night.  Wife was looking to eat healthier anyway, and so we jettisoned meat from the menu.  This dish (which I modified from a recipe on Epicurious) has been one of the stars of the new line-up. 

                It all starts with an onion, finely chopped.  I always have to delegate this part to Wife, because onions affect me too strongly to maintain any kind of standardized cut.  Alongside it, mince a jalapeno and three cloves of garlic and coarsely chop two tomatoes.  Once all the knife work is done, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium and add your vegetables along with two tablespoons of chili powder and two tablespoons of cumin seeds.  You can use ground cumin if that is all that you've got, but the seeds really do add more flavor.  Cook everything until the onions are soft and the tomatoes are falling apart. 
Then add:

32 oz. of cooked black beans
1/2 c of Panko Japanese breadcrumbs
4 T barbecue sauce
2 egg whites

                I'm not going to lie; I haven't strayed too far from the recipe that was my source.  I changed the bean type, sure, and I added cumin seeds, but the biggest single difference here is that I make my own beans.  Yeah, it's a pain in the ass, and you could easily just use canned.  You'll even save yourself some hassle when it comes time to cook the burgers.  They just won't be as good.  If you don't care, fine.  But especially if you are a meat-eater who is going to the trouble of making this dish, take the extra step--you've already come this far. 

                Once you add the additional ingredients, remove them from the heat and mash everything together with a fork.  This is important; a potato masher might seem faster, and it is definitely easier on the wrist, but it just doesn't work.  The thin tines of a fork can really smash individual beans and help them blend with everything else.  Of course, you could avoid all this work and toss everything into a food processor.  They're still going to taste good.  But that's always been one of the appealing factors of veggie burgers to me--they vary in texture.  I like having the occasional bean that escaped the fork's swath, or the onion that broke down less than all the others. 

                As all the ingredients come together, spread out a sheet of wax paper on your counter.  You don't have to, of course.  You could use a sheet pan or the counter itself.  But especially if you are making the beans yourself, the patties are going to be a little soupy prior to cooking, and they will be hard to get to the pan or griddle without a plan. 

                I just pour everything out onto the paper and approximate.  This particular amount of ingredients is good for eight burgers.  Just divide everything by eying it and adjust as necessary.

                After the burgers have been formed, heat a pan or griddle to high heat and lightly oil it (I just use cooking spray.)  Now, if you used wax paper this step is pretty easy--just cut little squares around the outside of each patty, and lift them up from underneath, flipping them onto your cooking surface.  Getting them up by spatula is far trickier, but can be done.  Let them cook for 3-5 minutes per side, being careful to maintain their structure as you flip.  They should still be fairly loose as you turn them, but hold together quite solidly after they are done. 

                That's it.  Delicious veggie burgers that don't need to apologize for their meatless ways.  I serve mine on toasted wheat buns with a quarter cup of shredded cheddar, lettuce, tomato, thinly sliced avocado, and more barbecue sauce, but it would be just as good with pepper jack and pico de gallo or green chilies and mozzarella.  

1 comment:

  1. Can we get a link to the original recipe?