Friday, 24 June 2011

Bean There, Done That...

Polpette Piccante di Fagioli Rossi 
Spicy Red-Bean Veggie-Burgers

Of course we have all tried veggie-burgers. Sometimes they're good- sometimes they're not. Often it is like chewing on bird-feed, (I know I am being nasty now, as I love müsli and seeds of all kinds!)- but you know what I mean. They can taste bland and pasty and usually only end up being tasty because of the toppings that get heaped up on them. So I set out, with a can of kidney beans and some high hopes, to make something a little better... This is another one for my vegetarian girlfriends at the office... but with enough bite to satisfy even an eager omnivore like myself!

I intentionally used the term "omnivore", as I am not somebody who has to eat meat in every meal. Although I like meat, I also know that vegetarian meals don't always have to be larger-sized portions of side dishes! They can be equally satisfying and delicious... if you know how!

My only hesitation was that I wanted to make sure that the burgers would not end up tasting too dense and "mealy". I hate that word! But I also hate the texture of mashed-up beans without something nice and juicy to lighten it up. Not a fan of re-fried beans here! I generally don't like vegetables to be cooked to death- even if they are of the canned variety. So it was time to get creative and adventurous- and why not? At the price of a can of kidney beans- how much did I have to lose?!

I started out by draining, but not rinsing the beans. I set these to one side and filled the can with oatmeal. That was going to be my measure- I used equal quantities of each. For some reason I didn't want to use breadcrumbs for this- I just wanted a more chewy consistency. The oatmeal was nearby, it was a spur of the moment decision- and it ended up working really well!

I continued by chopping an onion into a fine dice and frying it in a little olive oil, with a crushed clove of garlic, a handful of fresh thyme and  a good pinch of finely chopped fresh rosemary. I seasoned with cumin seeds, paprika powder, a little nutmeg and as much cayenne as I dared. This really does depend on how brave you are- I used around a half a teaspoon for this amount of mix and it was pretty spicy! You only want the onion to become nice and translucent and don't want for it to brown too much.

The next step is to add a good tablespoon of tomato paste and to stir everything together well. I was feeling daring and so I added a shot of cognac into mine- I am sure it will be equally delicious without... but it was pretty delicious with it within too!

Add a half a cup of water into the mix and turn off the heat. This will be a thick, lumpy, spicy but flavorful mess- but that's ok! Just look at the pictures and have faith and everything will work out just fine!

Now we have finished all of our prep-work, we can start putting everything together. Using a fork, or a potato-masher, crush the beans down into a firm paste. I didn't use a machine, as I wanted the mix to be chunky and have some bite left to it- so for me it was the fork. Now add the oatmeal/onion/spice mix and 1 egg and stir together well.

At this point you will be able to tell if your mixture needs adjusting at all. The consistency you are looking for is a dense but loose one- not as firm as a regular burger. If it feels too soft, add more oatmeal and if it feels too firm, add a little more water. I added a couple of finely chopped celery leaves at this point, a handful of chopped mint and a cupful of finely grated parmesan. I wanted these flavors to stand out from the rest and therefor did not cook them down with the onion.

Now for my secret ingredient! I decided that the whole mix needed a little hint of sweetness to it- just to set-off all of those spicy flavors and to counterpoint the otherwise bland flavor of the beans. So I added a handful of candied orange peel- the kind you use for baking. If you don't have any, or you don't like the stuff (many don't), use either a tablespoonful of marmalade or honey.

So- time to get frying! And if there is one thing I hate- it is greasy food as you know! I tried out a couple of these before I figured out the best technique- and this is what worked best for me: get the pan really hot and then spoon in a good, heaped spoonful of your mix- and don't touch it for at least 1 minute! After a minute, pour a little drop of olive oil into the pan right next to your burger... it will get drawn in right where you need it as if by magic! By now bottom of your burger should be firm enough for you to give it a gentle nudge and move it. As soon as that happens, you should be able to flip it. By frying them this way, you get crispy, firm burgers... by setting them into a pan full of oil you will get soggy burgers that soak up the oil and then fall apart. You just need to expose them to heat and they will become firm all by themselves. And that's it! You just made some veggie burgers with a look and texture that really is pretty similar to "the real thing". Yes, these are the real vegetarian deal!

They would be great in a roll with lettuce and all the usual dressings, but I served mine on a simple chop-salad of romaine and cucumber, with an olive oil, honey and lemon-juice dressing. I topped them with a couple of slices of cherry tomato, grated ricotta, fresh thyme and a drizzle of olive oil for a touch of something juicy and fresh... and voila! A vegetarian Summer sensation on a plate! 1 can of beans will make 7-8 of these- so have a friend over, have a nice meal and spend all the money you have just saved on a nice bottle of white and enjoy!

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