Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Best-Ever Beet and Bean Burgers

On weekdays, I'm typically all about quick and easy, but on the weekends I can I like to dive into culinary projects. These burgers are one such labor of love. I'm not going to lie to you and say that these aren't somewhat of a project, as many different components have to be prepared before mixing everything together, but with a free afternoon and little bit of planning, you can have hearty cache of meals. In order to keep the process moving along as efficiently as possible, I cooked the onions and processed the beans while the beets were roasting in the oven and rice was cooking in the rice cooker.

Although it should be obvious, if you HATE beets, you should probably skip this burger. While the flavor doesn't smack in you in the face, it can't be completely ignored. But if you're on the fence about beets or looking to give them another try, this burger might be the right way to go. Beets were not a vegetable that I grew up with (my dad was subjected to the overcooked 1950s version and didn't want to do the same to me), so I didn't really get to know this vegetable until it arrived in a CSA box a few years ago. I'll admit that undercooked beets still taste a bit like dirt to me, but I've really come around on this veggie, particularly the pickled and roasted varieties. The double-cooking of the beets in this burger gives them a deep flavor, long roasting process bringing out their inherent sweetness and pan-searing creating a glorious layer of caramelization. Black beans provide the hearty backbone of these sturdy burgers with starchy support from rice and oats and vegetal reinforcement from the onions and garlic. The prunes and cider vinegar were the real surprise ingredients, the former adding a complementary and binding sweetness, the acidic punch of the latter elevating the carefully curated list of spices.

Though the long list of ingredients and instructions may seem overwhelming or intimidating, if you've got a couple hours and want to meditate through the rhythms of the kitchen (as I do), this recipe was made for you. Each shred, stir, and slice melts a little stress away, feeding the soul in the present and the body in the future.

Best-Ever Beet and Bean Burgers
adapted from The Kitchn (inspired by the veggie burgers at Northstar Cafe in Columbus, Ohio)
Makes about 6 burgers

3 large red beets (about 1 pound)
1/2 cup brown rice (uncooked)
1 medium yellow or white onion, diced small
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (gluten-free, if necessary)
2 (15.5-ounce) cans black beans
1/4 cup prunes, chopped into small pieces.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons spicy brown or dijon mustard
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 large egg (optional for non-vegan burgers)
Salt and pepper

To serve:
Sliced cheese (provolone, jack, cheddar, Swiss, etc.) (optional for non-vegan burgers)
6 hamburger buns
Condiments and toppings of your choice

1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Wrap the beets loosely in aluminum foil and roast until easily pierced with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. Meanwhile, bring a 2-quart pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously and add the rice. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the rice until it's a little beyond al dente. You want it a little over-cooked, but still firm (not completely mushy). This should take about 35 to 40 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside to cool. (You can also use an equivalent amount of leftover rice or prepare rice using a rice cooker).

3. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir the onions every minute or two, and cook until they are golden and getting charred around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. A few wisps of smoke as you are cooking is ok, but if it seems that the onions are burning, lower the heat. A dark, sticky crust should develop on the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the garlic and cook until it is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the cider vinegar and scrape up the dark sticky crust. Continue to simmer until the cider has evaporated and the pan is nearly dry again. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

5. Process the oats in a food processor until they have reduced to a fine flour. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

6. Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans and transfer the beans to the food processor. Scatter the prunes on top. Pulse in 1-second bursts just until the beans are roughly chopped — not so long that they become mush — 8 to 10 pulses. Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse the second can of beans and add these whole beans to the mixing bowl as well.

7. Use the edge of a spoon or a paper towel to scrape the skins off the cooled roasted beets; the skins should slip off easily. Grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater. Transfer the beet gratings to a strainer set over the sink. Press and squeeze the beet gratings to remove as much liquid as possible from the beets. (You can also do this over a bowl and save the beet juice for another purpose.)

8. Transfer the squeezed beets, cooked rice, and sautéed onions to the bowl with the beans. Sprinkle the olive oil, brown mustard, smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and thyme over the top of the mixture. Mix all the ingredients until combined. Taste the mixture and add salt, pepper, or any additional spices or flavorings to taste. Finally, add the oatmeal flour and egg (if using), and mix until you no longer see any dry oatmeal or egg.

9. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or transfer the mixture to a refrigerator container, and refrigerate the burger mixture for at least 2 hours or (ideally) overnight. The mix can also be kept refrigerated for up to three days before cooking.

10. When ready to cook the burgers, first shape them into burgers. Scoop up about a scant cup of the burger mixture and shape it between your palms into a thick patty the size of your hamburger buns. You should end up with 6 large patties.

11. Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of vegetable oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan. When you see the oil shimmer a flick of water evaporates on contact, the pan is ready.

12. Transfer the patties to the pan. Cook as many as will fit without crowding; I normally cook 3 patties at a time in my 10-inch cast iron skillet.

13. Cook the patties for 2 minutes, then flip them to the other side. You should see a nice crust on the cooked side. If any pieces break off when you flip the burgers, just pat them back into place with the spatula. Cook for another 2 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 4 more minutes until the patties are warmed through. If you're adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers in the last minute of cooking.Serve the veggie burgers on soft burger buns or lightly toasted sandwich bread along with some fresh greens.
Recipe Notes:

• Freezing Burgers: Burgers can be frozen raw or cooked. Wrap each burger individually in plastic or between sheets of parchment paper, and freeze. Raw burgers are best if thawed in the fridge overnight before cooking. Cooked burgers can be reheated in the oven, a toaster oven, or the microwave.

• Grilling Burgers: While I haven't had a chance to try grilling these burgers, they are firm enough to do well on a grill, particularly if you cook them in a grill pan or other device. You may also want to add an egg to the mix to help the burgers hold together better.

• Making Your Own Beans: Northstar makes their own black beans for their burgers. If you would like to do this, try cooking your beans with an onion, a clove or two of garlic, and some dried ancho or chipotle chile peppers for extra flavor.

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