In Boulder, there was a spot downtown that we’d frequent all.the.time for lunch or a casual supper that made the most delicious beet burgers. I never got around to trying my hand at them at home, because any time I had a chance to zip down the hill on our Vespa and enjoy my lunch al fresco on an inevitably sunny Colorado afternoon (and someone else was doing the cooking) I was going to take it.
Fast forward a couple of years and I’ve yet to find a place in
San Francisco Santa Barbara that has a beet burger on their menu. I guess I understand….beets, after all, seem to be a pretty polarizing root veggie, and I may be in the minority in the fact that these days I almost always default to a ‘veggie’ burger option when given the option.*
*And that is not to say I won’t absolutely-but-only-occasionally crush a double-double-animal-style. Cause I’d be a liar if I said otherwise.
But this isn’t really a beet burger so much as just a really awesome veggie burger. Yes, you can taste the beets – their earthy sweetness cuts straight through the other more mild binding components – but when combined with brown rice, lentils, chopped onion, fennel, and just a bit of almond butter, their in-your-face dirt-y-ness is mellowed out and complimented juuuuust right.
I made these guys on the tail end of a streak where we were recovering from lots of entertaining (read: ribs+lamb+cheese+pork shoulder overload) and I made the decision to back off the animal products in my cooking (and elsewhere) for a little bit; just to get our systems back to par, and to challenge myself from a culinary perspective while going into a season (Summer) where produce is not only abundant, but so perfect it’s allure transcends all manner of steaks and chops.
It’s amazing how aware you become of your ingredients when you put a restriction (albeit not permanent) on what you can use, and if anything I was massively surprised at just how much I do rely on foodstuffs from our feathered friends. Cream in my coffee for breakfast, cheese on my salad at lunch, fish or chicken for dinner… The process was surprisingly enlightening, and I found myself using grains, vegetables, and nuts and legumes in new ways (a butternut squash and sunflower ‘mac’ and cheese coming soon!). I also just felt really great, in general. Alas, I do not identify myself as vegan – but rather in the camp that I think, as with all things, everything is good in moderation, and that trying new things (or trying to live without old mainstays) is good for the soul. And the waistband – these burgers would not only make even a non-veggie-curious diner happy, but they are significantly lighter than their beefy brethren.
I’ve got a delicious (and dead simple!) grilled chicken recipe on deck, and a salmon curry that is everything that is good in this world. And these burgers were blessed with a goat cheese spread, a decidedly un-vegan addition that adds a drippy and creamy foil to the crisped up edges of the burger and – at least in my little ole opinion – gives my favorite old haunt’s burgers a run for their proverbial money. Goat cheese and beets is a classic pairing, but this is a fresh and fun new way to serve it up, perfect for Summertime, and just in time to perk up and refresh your typically meat-heavy July 4th barbecue.
*Another delicious variation on veggie burgers also seen here
I made these burgers exactly as called for below, only making the following changes:
1) I used a mix of red and yellow beets, as that is what I had on hand
2) I created a (non-vegan) goat cheese spread for the burgers (see below)
3) I upped the salt significantly, to about 2 tsp (I recommend salting to taste)
4) called for 1/2 an onion instead of her 3 Tbsp…I like the flavor more onion gives and think this is an easier measurement.
Vegan option – just omit the cheese spread. Gluten free option – sub in GF breadcrumbs or a bit of almond flour.
I made a double batch of these guys and froze half by putting them on a cookie sheet (while uncooked) in the freezer till they were just set up than wrapping them individually in wax paper and popping them in a freezer bag. They defrost and fry up gorgeously, and next time I will probably triple the batch. They are perfect for pulling out and cooking up for a quick weeknight supper on the go.
Make your rice and lentils according to their package directions; I like to make a little extra of each to have on-hand to toss into salads and add heft to vegetable dishes for the rest of the week.
1 1/4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice
1 cup cooked brown or green lentils, cooled
1 cup shredded raw beets
1/2 teaspoon salt to start, plus more to taste
Fresh cracked black pepper – a few good drinks
the leaves of 2 stalks thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel (or finely crushed fennel seed)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 of an onion, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons smooth almond butter
1/2 cup very fine breadcrumbs (homemade is great, panko works too)
Olive oil for the pan
good squishy buns (the squishier the better!)
sliced avocado, for serving
bread & butter pickles, for serving
goat cheese spread (see below), for serving
goat cheese spread
2 oz goat cheese (half a small log)
3 Tbsp Greek yogurt (full fat if possible)
1 Tbsp honey
10 chives, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
Peel the beets using a vegetable peeler (watch any white countertops) and shred them with the shredder attachment of a food processor, then set aside. Change the attachment to a metal blade. Pulse the brown rice, shredded beets and lentils about 15 to 20 times, until the mixture comes together, but still has a bit of texture. It will look very similar to ground beef, which is equal parts cool and unnerving.
Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add all the remaining ingredients. Use your hands to mix very well. Everything should be really well incorporated, so be sure to take your time and make sure that all of the spices/herbs/vegetables are well mixed.
Place the mixture in the fridge for a half hour to chill and allow the flavors to meld. While it chills, make your goat cheese spread, if you plan on using it. Crumble the goat cheese into a bowl and add the greek yogurt, the lemon zest, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mash and stir the mixture using a fork until it is smooth and creamy, and then fold in the chopped chives. Taste, and adjust salt levels if need be.
Preheat a cast iron pan over medium-high heat, and while it gets nice and hot, form the patties. Divide the mixture into 4 portions, and then shape each portion into a thick patty shape. Pour a very thin layer of olive oil into the pan and cook patties for 10-12 minutes, flipping occasionally, until both sides of the burger are charred and dark in spots (this charred part is key, and will add a nice crisp edge and taste to the burgers).
Serve the burgers on buns and with any fixings you like – I love butter lettuce, tomato, pickle, and a big smear of goat cheese spread.