Loony Burgers

I discovered veggie burgers in London, strangely enough. The residence manager of my flat (who also happened to be a mother-like figure to all 28 of us on the study abroad trip) was a pescetarian but also a big foodie and therefore a powerhouse of knowledge for anyone looking for vegetarian, vegan, and all-around good, organic cuisine. She helped me discover Planet Organic, Food For Thought, Hummus Brothers and, most notably, Mildred’s, a hole-in-the-wall, vegetarian café and restaurant that just so happened to have the best vegetarian burgers and sweet potato fries in the planet. These veggie burgers are by no means a comparison to the flimsy, rubbery things in the frozen food section (do people really eat those?). I would assimilate them to a sturdier version of falafel, a swelling patty of mashed beans and whatever fresh vegetables they had that day (a certain zucchini, sweet corn, olive, and herb version was my favorite). They were served on a seeded bun with arugula and alongside crispy yet tender sweet potato fries and a basil yogurt dipping sauce.

Now I was, and still am, a meat-eater but have made an earnest effort to go meatless a couple days a week in the past 3 years or so. So back in the U.S., I desperately searched for a comparable replacement of my meatless burger only to be met with unfortunate realization. Almost all vegetarian substitutes of commonly meat-containing foods have soy as a prominent ingredient. This is a problem and has been since the first time I ate tofu and ended up with fat swollen lips and an uncomfortably prickling and itching scalp and neck. Soy products and I do not get along (except soy sauce, which for some reason gives a much reduced allergic reaction) so I have since avoided the likes of all veggie burgers in the fear of the hidden evil ingredient.

That is, until I discovered Luna Burgers.

I saw them in the freezer section of a local food co-op, a neat little package of 2 patties in a rustic brown cardboard box. I was dubious when I went to look at the ingredients, expecting the worst. But wait! Was I reading correctly? No soy?! It was just a simple, no-fuss list of basic ingredients: beans, grains, vegetables, and herbs/seasoning. And to make a long story short, the Luna Burgers came home with me. I cooked them up in a frying pan and met the same flavorful, herbaceous, and creamy yet crispy, burger-sensation as I did at Mildred’s. I found myself in veggie burger heaven, so much so that I came up with the brilliant idea of making the exact same thing myself at home. Why does it always come to this – why can’t I just buy already made things like everyone else? But I must say, it was entirely worth it.

Loosely following the ingredients list on the back of the Luna Burger package and guestimating on ingredient amounts, things somehow turned out just right the first time, resulting in 4 patties just over a quarter-pound each. They even looked like beef, tinted red from grated beets. I put the patties in the freezer for future use but you could certainly cook them right away. Just heat a small splash of olive oil in a pan and cook both sides until browned and crisp. I like them on an English muffin with spinach, cucumbers, goat cheese, and sea salt and fresh cracked pepper but the toppings are entirely up to you. Regardless of add-ons, these burgers are crazy good, so I call them Loony Burgers, the soy free, meat free, ridiculously amazing burger.

Loony Burgers
makes 4 or 5 burgers

½ onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
½ medium beet, peeled and shredded
the leaves from 3 pieces of kale, cut into small ribbons
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1¼ cup cooked barley or other grain, cooked according to package instructions (lentils would make a good substitute for a gluten-free version)
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup blueberries
½ Tbs. molasses
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbs. tahini
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. finely chopped rosemary
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg (optional)

In a frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes until soft. Add the carrots, beets, kale, and a good pinch of salt and sauté for an additional minute. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, cooked barley, and oats and use a potato masher to mash everything together until it becomes a sturdy paste. Don’t worry about getting things perfectly smooth. Some remaining whole beans or big chunks will be just fine. Mash in the blueberries until incorporated. Add the cooled, cooked vegetables, the molasses, vinegar, tahini, cumin, rosemary, another good pinch of salt, and some pepper, and use a wooden spoon of a large fork to combine everything together. Taste and add more salt or other seasoning if needed. At this point you can add in a beaten egg (it will help to hold things together) but is not necessary if you want to keep the burgers vegan.

Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Once cool and firm, divide the mixture into 4 or 5 patties (a kitchen scale works well here to keep them the same size). You can either cook them right away or set them on a parchment lined baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, pack the patties into a freezer safe container with a piece of parchment between each patty so they don’t stick. To cook, defrost overnight in the refrigerator or, if you are impatient like me, in the defrost setting of the microwave, and pan-fry in a bit of olive oil until hot and crisp. Assemble on a bun or English muffin with toppings of your choice.

End of Summer Salad

So this is it, the “end of summer” post. The chance to bid farewell to hot days, long nights, and amazing food. It really hit me last weekend. I was browsing around the farmer’s market and everywhere I looked there were hints of fall. Squashes of all shapes and sizes were mounded at every stand from quintessential round, orange pumpkins to my favorite bell-shaped butternuts, to the oddest assortments of lumpy, crooked, and cankered looking things that I’m not even sure how to cook. I even spotted some emerald heads of broccoli that I sorely regret passing up. But the buzz of the market came when one long-awaited truck pulled up late, harboring the very last supply of the summer’s sweet corn. I swear I’ve never seen such a rush of market-goers in my life elbowing to the front of the line for their cherished two-dozen ears. It was sheer mania. And yes I did get some, three plump ears for a mere dollar. They made for an outstanding lunch. I boiled them up, cut he kernels of the cob and tossed them with a simple mix of butter, parsley, cherry tomatoes, feta, and salt and pepper. I used the knife to scrape ever bit of warm, milky sweetness from the cob into my bowl which melted and mixed with the cheese to make a salty and tangysauce. It was a great way to end the harvest.

But now its fall, which is actually my favorite season for both the food and the weather. I love the root vegetables. I absolutely love the apples and pears. I love hot coffee on crisp mornings and warm pies on cool evenings. I love the hues of rust red, ochre, and goldenrod. I love corn mazes and pumpkin patches and apple cider and mulled wine. Fall is my elixir. And though the transition into the season in compliance with tropical storms galore made this past week miserable cold and drizzly, I sit here with my just purchased fall issue of Food Network magazine patiently waiting for the typical Autumn days. School has begun, stress has settled in, Senioritis is nagging at me, but fall will get me through. It always has.

But I’ll leave you with one last hurrah for summer. A semi-recipe that makes use of the leftover bits and bobs of summer produce. It’s a meatless nicoise salad of sorts made from leftovers and essentially made to suit your tastes and whatever is in the house. The dressing is just an estimate in terms of amounts but use your own judgment to make it how you think you would like it. So here it is.

Last of Summer Salad for One

Salad Ingredients
A handful of leftover potatoes, chopped roughly
A handful of leftover green beans, chopped roughly
1 boiled egg, chopped (reserve half the yolk for the dressing)
Toasted almonds, chopped
Real Parmesan cheese shavings

Dressing Ingredients
2 parts olive oil
2 parts white wine vinegar
1 part plain yogurt or sour cream
½ part Dijon mustard
The reserve half of the egg yolk
Salt and pepper

Mix the salad ingredients expect the Parmesan together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients until the egg yolk broken up and well incorporated. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Top with the Parmesan and extra salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy outside, in the sun, with a cool glass of wine or sparkling fruit juice.