My best friend is a strict vegetarian and one of her favorite treats is a vegetarian burger from a local cafe that specializes in vegetarian food. She insisted I try one, but I always declined because I prefer meaty burgers, and didn't really see the appeal in a vegetarian one. However, one evening I was walking past the restaurant in question and decided that I might as well appease my friend and try the burger in question - boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
The burger was very tasty - it had a deep savory flavor that contrasted wonderfully with the cheese, bitter greens, and the buttery toasted bun. There were bits of beet, brown rice, and black bean in the mix, but no single ingredient overpowered any other. Furthermore, they had also managed to capture that hamburger texture which is usually lacking in many crumbly and mushy veggie burgers. The exterior seared well to give it crunchy crust and added a nice smoky flavor. I couldn't believe it, this was actually a very decent burger.
I love cooking, so I decided that I would create a recipe in honor of this tasty beet and bean burger. The key to this recipe is to infuse as much of a smoky flavor into the ingredients as possible. This can be achieved by roasting the beets, cooking the onions until they're golden and slightly burnt on the edges, adding a blend of smoky spices, and searing the burgers in a hot cast iron skillet.
Disclosure: These burgers can be tricky to make and they hold together best if you make the burger mix, leave it in the fridge overnight, and then cook the burgers the next day. To save time in the future, you can double or triple the recipe ingredients and freeze the patties for quick meals down the line.
Best-Ever Beet and Bean Burgers
Makes about 6 burgers.
1. Cook the beets: Heat the oven to 400°F. Wrap them loosely in aluminum foil and roast until easily pierced with a fork - 50-60 minutes. Set aside to cool.
2. Cook the rice while the beets roast: Bring a 2-quart pot of water to the boil. Salt the water 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 bit over-cooked, but firm. This should take around 35-40 minutes. Drain the rice and leave it to cool.
3. Begin sautéing the onions when you're done with the rice: Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over a medium heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Stir every one or two minutes, and cook until they are golden brown and charred around the edges, 10-12 minutes. A dark sticky crust should begin to develop on the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the garlic and cook until it's 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 the heat and set aside to cool.
5. Process the oats in a blender until they have been reduced to fine flour. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside for the time being.
6. Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans and add them to the blender. Scatter the prunes on top and pulse in 1-second bursts until the beans are roughly chopped - not so long that they turn into mush - 8 to 10 pulses should do. Transfer this mixture into a large bowl. Drain and rinse the second can of beans and add the whole beans to the large bowl.
7. Grate the roasted beets: Remove the skin from the beats. Grate the peeled beets and place in a strainer set over the sink. Press and squash the beet gratings to remove as much liquid as possible.
8. Combine the veggie burger mix: Add the squeezed beets, cooked rice, and sautéed onions to the bowl with the beans. Sprinkle the olive oil, brown mustard, 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, and thyme over the top of the mixture. Mix until all ingredients are combined. Finally, add the oatmeal flour and egg (if using), and mix until the dried oatmeal and egg have disappeared.
9. Refrigerate the burger mix for 2 hours, or up to 3 days: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight (this is more ideal). The mix can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days before being used.
10. Shape the burgers: When you're ready to cook the burgers, scoop up some of the burger mixture and use your hands create thick patties the size of your hamburger buns. You should have enough to make 6 large patties.
11. Cook the burgers: Heat a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is shimmering and a flick of water evaporates on contact, the pan is ready. Cook the patties for 2 minutes, then flip them over. You should be able to see a nice crust on the cooked side. Cook for another 2 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for a further 4 minutes until the patties are warmed through. If you're adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers in the last minute of cooking.
12. Serve on soft burger buns (with some fresh salad).
• Freezing Burgers: These burgers can be frozen raw or cooked. Just wrap each burger individually in plastic or between sheets of parchment paper, and freeze. Raw burgers are best if they are thawed in the fridge overnight before cooking. Cooked burgers can be reheated in the oven, toaster oven, or microwave.
• Grilling burgers: These are firm enough to do well on the grill. However, you may want to add an egg to the mix so that they hold together better.
Photos: Emma Christensen