No matter how old I am, my life continues to follow the rhythm of the school year. Here we are at back to school time, so I am naturally trying to get more organized, be a bit more disciplined, and figure out what supplies I need for the task at hand. In school days that meant new pencils, pens, folders, and notebooks. In “adult” days that means something different for each of us.
During the summer months I just don’t cook as much; our schedules are just too crazy. My favorite “back-to-school” tool is one that is enticing me back to the kitchen. It is a cookbook that was borrowed from a creative and fun vegetarian friend; an entire book of Veggie Burger recipes! Please don’t think of those tired dried out things being served in many restaurants; those are not at all an accurate representation of the delicious, healthy, and creative combinations that are possible.
There are a couple of tricks to keeping a good veggie burger together. The first is getting the amount of moisture just right, which is not very hard when following the instructions. The second is that they really are better fried in olive oil in a non-stick pan and then warmed through in the oven. This method leaves that golden crust on the outside that makes them look so beautiful and holds them together. It also gives us the opportunity to add some additional flavor with either a robust single varietal extra virgin olive oil or a flavor infused extra virgin olive oil.
The toppings provide another opportunity for easy and healthy flavor addition. Add a little Smoky Chipotle EVOO, Tuscan Garden EVOO, or Fresh Pressed Meyer Lemon EVOO to some mayonnaise and you’ve taken it to a whole new place. If you prefer to do more from scratch, check out this easy and delightful recipe for making your own flavor-infused mayonnaise: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/dining/easy-homemade-mayonnaise.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
Anyway, the cookbook is called “Veggie Burgers Every Which Way,” by Lukas Volger. My favorite recipe from it so far is for Spinach-Chickpea Burgers. Here it is:
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon good extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds (fennel or caraway or a combination work well too)
- 5 ounces fresh spinach
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (canned work fine but when you get a chance, cook your own)
- 2 eggs
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup chick pea flour or more if needed (you can make your own chick pea flour by grinding dried chick peas in a spice grinder, mini-food processor, or blender or purchase it at a grocery store or at an Indian grocery, where it is sometimes called gram flour)
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
- Toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet or saute’ pan over medium low heat
- Add 1 teaspoon of the EVOO and raise heat to medium. Add the spinach and cook, tossing with tongs, until the spinach is completely wilted, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer spinach and cumin seeds to a heatproof plate and allow to cool until safe to handle. Drain if necessary, wrap in a towel, and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Chop mixture finely.
- Combine 1 1/4 cups of the chickpeas, the eggs, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture resembles a chunky hummus.
- In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the remaining 1/4 cup beans and mash coarsely with a potato masher. Add the bean-egg mixture and stir thoroughly. Fold in the chickpea flour. The mixture should be sticky but somewhat pliable. Add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if too wet, or a bit of water if too dry. Shape into 5 patties. (I did 4 bigger ones)
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons EVOO in a non-stick saute’ pan over medium-high heat. (This is where you can get creative; F. Oliver’s Tunisian Harissa EVOO for some excellent spice, Fresh-Pressed Meyer Lemon EVOO for a citrus boost, or just a fabulous Single Varietal. I used the Cerasuola Single Varietal EVOO.) When hot, add the patties and cook until browned on each side, 6 to 10 minutes total. If your pan is oven-proof, transfer the pan to the oven. If not, transfer the patties to an oven-proof plate or cookie sheet and place in heated oven. Bake for an additional 12 to 15 minutes until the burgers are firm and cooked through.
- Serve with any toppings you prefer (lettuce, tomato, cheese, mustard, mayo, etc; I like these with a thin slice of cheddar cheese and a grainy mustard) On a bun or not: your choice. (I love a good grainy or sour-dough roll drizzled with a little EVOO.)
- You might want to double the recipe and have some easy-to-reheat left overs.
I am back in the kitchen, motivated to try more of these tasty treats. Next up is cashew-leek burgers with bulgur and lentils, or maybe corn burgers with sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese. They are easy, fun, and healthy; F. Oliver’s ultra premium extra virgin olive oils make them more so!