Meatless burgers needn’t be bland, mushy messes

Julie Falsetti
For The York Dispatch

Guess who’s coming to dinner? No, it’s not Sidney Poitier. Having a knighted nonagenarian, though, would be an honor.

In this case, your honored guest is your son’s vegetarian girlfriend, a small point he forgot to mention beforehand. The grill is already fired up, and you are in a panic.

In another equally dire scenario, your family doctor looks you calmly in the eye and states that your cholesterol level is through the roof. He inquires about your diet and informs you that using Egg Beaters does not constitute a low-cholesterol diet. No more red meat for you.

If neither case hits home, maybe you are just tried of ground beef patties sandwiched in a bun. Take heart! There are alternatives to the great American hamburger.

Save yourself some time and forget trying to find a veggie burger that tastes like meat. Food scientists have invested countless hours in the lab, but the results are lackluster. What you are looking for is something with a complex flavor and toothsome feel when you bite into it. No one wants a mushy burger that falls apart in the bun.

Enter the black bean burger.

The ingredients are simple, but the magic happens in the combination. Pepper jack cheese inside turns the patties into automatic cheeseburgers. A soupçon of Tex-Mex spices gives these burgers a flavorful zing. A topping of fresh salsa and avocado rounds out the Southwest taste.

Black Bean Burgers

3/4 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight

11/2 teaspoons salt (divided)

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 scallions, roughly cut

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 large egg

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup grated pepper Jack cheese

Vegetable oil to cook

Drain the beans and cover them with water about 1 inch over their height. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat. Cook until the beans are done, about 30 minutes. Drain the beans and set aside.

Put the oats in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to roughly chop. Add half of the beans, scallions and cilantro. Pulse into a coarse paste. Add the egg, cumin, and ½ teaspoon salt and process to mix well. Transfer the bean mixture to a large bowl. Mix in the remaining beans and grated cheese. Taste for salt.

With wet hands, form the bean mixture into four to six patties, depending on what size burger you prefer. Transfer to a lightly oiled plate. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes to let the burgers set up.

Heat a large frying pan (preferably cast iron) on high heat until very hot; add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Cook the burgers until browned, with a good crust, about 3 minutes; then carefully flip and cook the other side until browned. The burgers should feel firm when pressed with a fingertip.

Serve the burgers in buns, topped with fresh salsa and avocado.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.