Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By Any Other Name: Lentil Barley Burgers

Is this really a burger? It isn’t made of animal protein. Should it be called a bean and grain patty? Or an oversized croquette? Does it have to hopelessly pretend to be beef or chicken, like the “meatless burgers” in the supermarket freezers, to earn the name of burger? After I made these Lentil Barley Burgers, I surreptitiously checked out those massed-produced posers. Luckily, I was armed with my Master’s degree in chemical engineering, or I may have been terrified. Does being filled with wheat and soybean derivatives pounded into submission along with some yeast extract and a handful of unpronouncables qualify something as a burger? In some of these cases, I’m not sure it qualifies it as food.

I actually quite like veggie burgers, including some of those boxed up in the supermarket, which is why I’ve been questing after good recipes for homemade meatless patties for years. I’m looking for a firm disk that might be easily served as a sandwich, like a meat burger, but that has plenty of flavor, a pleasant texture, positive nutritional value, and, what the heck, a high WFQ* as well. All too often, however, I’ve ended up with sloppy bean pastes that fell apart in frying pans.

At least by the time I tried these burgers, I had learned to take a cue from the Beet and Carrot Burger recipe and bake the patties rather than frying them. This worked well when I made Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, as did pureeing some of the grains and beans, then pulsing in the rest to make a coarse mixture. Ta da! The same method worked well in these Lentil Barley Burgers, too!

These patties may seem a bit ethnically challenged with their French green lentils, barley and southwestern seasoning, but they’re good that way. I’m betting some other spice combinations would work as well, and I think you could use another variety of lentil, although the cooking time of the lentils and the texture of the burgers may vary. Whatever I might do to vary these, they’re still going to be made with whole food ingredients and won’t need to pretend to be anything they aren’t. Even if you don’t want to call them real burgers, you at least have to admit that they’re real food.

Lentil Barley Burgers
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

½ cup uncooked pearled barley
water for cooking barley
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
½ cup uncooked lentils (I used French green lentils)
1 dried bay leaf
1 ½ cups water
1/3 cup grated carrot
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup breadcrumbs, preferably whole wheat
¼ cup cilantro leaves and tender stems
2 eggs

1. To cook the barley, place it in a medium saucepan and cover with water by a few inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat and boil gently about 20 minutes, or until the barley is tender. Drain and set aside.

2. To cook the lentils, heat the canola oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté 30 seconds. Add the lentils and stir until coated with the oil. Add the 1 ½ cups water. Increase heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium low or low and boil gently 30 to 40 minutes, or until the lentils are tender and the water is mostly absorbed. The cooking time may vary depending on the type of lentil you use.

3. Remove the lentils from the heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in the grated carrot, tomato paste, salt, cumin, coriander, chili powder and red pepper flakes. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. When the lentil mixture has cooled enough to handle, place half of it into the bowl of a food processor. Add the breadcrumbs, cilantro, eggs and ¼ cup of the cooked barley. Process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally if necessary.

5. Add the remaining lentil mixture and remaining barley. Pulse until just combined. The mixture should be homogeneous, but some whole lentils and barley should still be visible. Transfer to a bowl, cover and chill at least 1 hour.

6. Preheat oven to 425 F. Oil a baking sheet or line it with a silicone baking mat. (I would also lightly oil the baking mat, since these stuck a little when I baked them.) When the mixture has chilled, divide it into 6 equal patties (about a heaping 1/3 cup each). Place the patties on the baking sheet and bake at 425 F for 25 minutes. Serve with salsa and sour cream, or other accompaniments alone or as a sandwich on a bun.

Makes 6 servings.

Patties can be frozen and reheated another day. Simply place the cooked burgers in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and freeze for a few hours, or until frozen solid. Remove them from the pans and wrap them in a freezer bag or other freezer-safe container, separated by wax paper. Defrost or reheat in the microwave.

*WFQ: Whole Food Quotient

Other recipes like this one: Black Bean and Corn Croquettes, Beet and Carrot Burgers

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