Monday, June 17, 2024

Hold the beef!

If you’ve always thought of plant-based burgers as a meat substitute, you’ll never be happy; nothing can replace a well-made beef hamburger. Instead, think of them as a dish all their own, made and eaten just because they actually taste good. And while you can buy all kinds of frozen meat-free burgers, making your own — especially using the black bean recipe below — is really the way to go.

The trickiest thing is texture: meatless burgers tend to be mushy, and even if the flavor is good, a mouth full of mush isn’t. How to get rid of excess moisture but still retain juiciness is one of our challenges. Meatless patties are made of already-cooked ingredients and starch; they don’t have the long, sticky proteins of raw meat that meld together as they cook. That’s why, for instance, black bean burgers don’t shrink when cooked and often develop a crispy outside crust while remaining mushy inside — not what we want. Eggs help a little, but it’s still not the same. Another tip for firmer texture is to add the breadcrumbs at the last minute, just before cooking — don’t let them sit in the mixture and get soggy.

The real key is to roast the drained, rinsed canned black beans in the oven, partially dehydrating them, before adding to your burger mixture. This gets rid of the mushiness and intensifies the flavor and is well worth the extra effort. Crumbled cotija or feta cheese, plus chipotles in adobo sauce, add moisture and zesty tang.

I’ve included two other recipes for meatless burgers: one a basic portobello mushroom version, the other a more complex beet and rice burger. For me, it’s the black bean burgers that’ve become part of my repertoire; I make a full batch and freeze them.

In the United States, brands like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat make plant-based burgers that taste incredible and cook up with the texture, flavor and juiciness of real beef — almost “bleeding” when put on the grill. Burger King even introduced Impossible burgers in 2019 and now serves its own version of the vegetarian patty, named the Impossible Whopper. In Mexico, the fast-food giant began serving the plant-based “Whopper Vegetal” a year later, citing a growing demand. (Are they available in your city? Not here in Mazatlán.)

Black bean burger
This black bean burger, loaded with chipotle mayo, cotija cheese and topped with fixings is great on its own terms.

Best-Ever Black Bean Burgers

  • 2 (15-oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh poblano pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, finely chopped, plus 1 tsp. sauce
  • ¾ cup roasted cashews
  • ½ cup finely crumbled feta or cotija cheese
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cheese, buns, condiments, toppings as desired

Spread beans in single layer on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350 F (175 C) oven until beans are mostly split open and outer skins start to get crunchy, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; cool slightly.

While beans roast, heat 2 Tbsp. oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and poblano; cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic. Add chipotle chile and sauce and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Transfer to large bowl. Pulse cashews in food processor into pieces no larger than 1/3 inch. Add to bowl with onion mixture.

Transfer slightly cooled beans to food processor; add cheese. Pulse until beans are roughly chopped (largest pieces should be about a third of a full bean in size). Transfer to bowl with onion mixture. Add breadcrumbs, egg and mayonnaise; season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix gently but thoroughly.

In skillet: Form bean mixture into 6–8 patties. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in nonstick or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add patties and cook, swirling pan occasionally, until well browned and crisp on first side, about 5 minutes. Carefully flip and cook until second side is browned, about 5 minutes longer, adding cheese if desired.

Beet burger
For a color change-up, try these burgers made with beets!

On grill: Form bean mixture into patties; brush top sides with oil. On clean, oiled grilling grate, place burgers oiled side down. Cook without moving until first side is well browned, 3–5 minutes. Brush burger tops with oil; carefully flip and continue cooking until second side is browned, 3–5 minutes longer, topping with cheese if desired.

Rice, Goat Cheese & Beet Burgers

  • 2 cups cooked brown or white rice
  • 1 cup minced/grated roasted beets
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, basil, dill)
  • 1 (15-oz.) can white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg
  • 2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. olive/canola oil, as needed

Combine rice, beets and herbs in large bowl. In food processor, purée beans, lemon juice and egg. Add to bowl with rice mixture; stir in goat cheese, salt and pepper. Mix well. With moist hands, form 6 patties. Working in batches, heat 1 Tbsp. oil in nonstick or cast-iron skillet; brown patties on one side for 2 minutes. Gently flip and cook other side. Serve immediately, with or without buns.

Portobello Cheeseburgers

  • 1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed
  • 6 oz. baby spinach
  • Cheddar or Gruyere cheese
  • Buns, condiments

Whisk vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. In a wide, shallow bowl, toss marinade with mushrooms, covering all sides. Let sit 10–15 minutes. Place mushrooms on baking sheet, rounded side up. (Don’t rinse the bowl — you’ll use the remaining marinade to dress the spinach.)

Blanch spinach 20 seconds; drain and squeeze dry. Chop coarsely; toss in bowl with marinade. Set aside.

Prepare a medium-hot grill, heat heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper. Place on hot grill or pan, rounded side down. Cook 6–8 minutes, depending on thickness, until lightly browned and moist. Flip and cook 6 minutes more.

Flip once more to reheat top, then flip back over and place cheese on top. Continue cooking until cheese melts. To serve, place mound of spinach on bottom half of bun, then mushrooms, rounded side up, on top of spinach. Top with condiments and serve.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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