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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plant Burger: Revisited

Over the holidays, twelve hungry people found themselves in need of a lunch. My aunt left it up to my eight-year old niece, Hana, to decide our fate. Hana typically selects the Soup Plantation, a classic favorite of hers since she was little, but this time she opted for Islands. Oddly enough, my meat-loving brother (Hana's dad) tells me that his favorite thing to get there is their housemade veggie burger. I was totally shocked by his enthusiasm over this veggie burger. I went along and ordered it, finding myself pleasantly surprised by its cheesy nutty flavor. Besides the lentil walnut burger, I haven't made too many other veggie burgers at home. (This is mostly due to the fact that I usually cling to a simple lettuce, tomato, bread-and-butter pickle sandwich with vegenaise). But I wanted to revisit my standby veggie burger.

I decided that the time had come to revamp this recipe for my favorite veggie burger from the Plant Cafe. You good people have been cooking up this recipe and sending me all sorts of emails of how much you love this burger. So, I wanted to make it better.

And I did.
I had been wondering if cooking the lentils and bulgur would be better than soaking it, so I tried it both ways, tweaked it a little more and worked out some kinks. First, I should clarify that the old recipe listed post-soaked quantities of lentils and bulgur, which is more conducive to a restaurant that can make larger quantities. So, I wanted to rewrite the recipe to make use of all of the soaked lentils and bulgur.

Soaking proved to be the winning method because cooking the lentils created a mushy texture. After soaking the lentils for 4-6 hours, the lentils will have a texture akin to water chestnuts (it might taste a little raw and starchy, but this will cook out). The lentils nearly double in size and release some starch, so you will want to drain them and give the lentils a little rinse. I also decided to slightly increase the salt and use unsalted roasted cashews instead of raw cashews to enhance the flavor.

I also discovered that the patties hold up better if you shape them and then refrigerate them for 1-2 hours. This allows some of the moisture to evaporate so it doesn't turn into mush when you cook it. Finally, as any restaurant chef would attest, you cannot be shy with the oil when cooking the patties. You only flip this once so you need a good amount of fat and a hot skillet or griddle to really make this work.This recipe makes 8-10 patties, which may seem like a lot, but it makes such a colossal mess in the kitchen that I recommend just making a big batch and freezing the patties for later use.


* 2/3 c. quick cooking wheat bulgur (measure dry and then soak in water for 4-6 hours)
* 3/4 c. dry red lentils (measure dry and then soak in water for 4-6 hours)
* 2/3 c. raw cashews (blended into a powder)
* 2 cups beets, washed
* 8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced
* 1.5 tsp. sea salt
* 4 Tbsp. olive oil


* Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
* Place the beets in a 9 x 13 pan, add a cup or so of water and cover it with foil and bake the beets for about 45-60 minutes or until very tender.
* Allow beets to cool slightly, then peel off skin and discard the root.
* Dice the beets and set aside.
* In a skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. of the olive oil and sautee the mushrooms over medium-high heat until cooked (you can add a sprinkle of water if needed since the mushrooms will instantly soak up the olive oil).
* In a food processor, pulse the cashews into a medium fine powder.
*Add the beets, sauteed mushrooms, lentils, bulgur, and sea salt and blend until combined.
* Form mixture into 8 burger patties. Place them on a tray lined with wax paper and refrigerate them for 1-2 hours before cooking.
* When ready to cook the burgers, heat remaining 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a skillet or griddle on medium high heat. Cook burgers for about 5 minutes on each side, but try not flip more than once to avoid burgers falling apart.

Serve on grilled sourdough bread or buns with your favorite toppings!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Mission Gastroclub: New Years Eve 2010

I'm the kind of diner that disects every element of a dish and gets extremely excited if I think I can recreate it at home for a fraction of the restaurant cost. And even more excited when I can't think of how to re-create it, so I want to go read and study up on the myriad techniques of creating various soup textures. I'm the jerk who asks the waitress questions she clearly isn't prepared for and has to retreat to the kitchen to find out how the food was made. You could say I appreciate and analyze food like an accountant counts numbers.

So, on New Years Eve, when my friends, Elianna and underground dining veteran, Jesse, invited Jason and I to join them for a 4-course beer dinner at a little 14-person underground dining club called Mission Gastroclub, I accepted with grace.

And by grace, I mean I drank all of their excellent beer.

I laughed louder than I should have in mixed company.

I talked Jason into sharing some of his market fresh chilaquiles after I had already devoured my own allotment.

And I boldy walked up the Chef (who was busy cooking) to ask him how exactly he made such an impossibly marvelous brioche doughnut (which he then filled with my favorite food of all time--burrata).

But you know what, the Chef (Neil Davidson) wasn't mad at all when I asked questions. I think he might have even been a little amused by my curiosity. He even pointed me to Peter Reinhart's rich man's brioche.

When the clock struck midnight they poured us some Deus (a champagne-style beer) and pulled some string attached to a lighbulb to lower a wad a of foil Times Square Ball. In the wee hours of the night (read: 3 am), I reveled in the madness amongst friends and strangers. And strangers who are now friends.

It was one of the best New Years Eve celebrations I have ever had. Thankfully, it is adequately documented to restore my fuzzy memory of how much fun I drank had.