July 9, 2009

Lentil Burgers for 4th of July

Call me un-American but I don’t enjoy a big, juicy beef burger like many people do. What to eat for Fourth of July then, when people roll out grills, pop open beers and chow down on burgers, hotdogs and steaks galore....

The good news is that burgers are not just for meat-lovers anymore. The definition of what constitutes a burger has become very broad over the years. Unusual topping combinations and different burger patties of all different flavors and textures are in demand.

Over the years, I have had good veggie burgers that are flavorful, moist, and pleasantly textured, and not-so-good ones that are bland and readily fall apart. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to burger fix-ins--crisp vegetables, moist toasty buns, ketchup and a grainy mustard are essential.

I have always been curious to know when the hamburger became an icon for American food and how the classic hamburger came to be a beef patty sandwiched between two sesame buns with condiments such as lettuce, tomato, pickles, ketchup and mustard.

The origin of the original hamburger remains debatable. The word hamburger actually predates the idea of putting beef between a bun. It originates from “hamburg steak” from Germans in Hamburg who would shred and season low-quality beef to make it more palatable. In the 1850‘s, immigrants to the United States from German-speaking countries brought the hamburg steak with them and it became a standard meal among the lower classes.

There is a dispute as to who invented the hamburger as we know it. Several families from across the country claim to have come up with the bun-and-burger patty idea. All stories take place around the first part of the 20th century, at a time when thrift, ingenuity and convenience were dominating principles.

The family of Oscar Weber Bilby claim to have served the first burger in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1891. Grandpa Oscar’s story also explains how the American tradition of grilling on July 4th may have evolved:

"Grandpa himself told me that [...] he took up a chunk of iron and made himself a big ol' grill [...] and when those coals were glowing hot, he took some ground Angus meat and fired up a big batch of hamburgers. When they were cooked all good and juicy, he put them on my Grandma Fanny's homemade yeast buns - the best buns in all the world, made from her own secret recipe. He served those burgers on buns to neighbors and friends under a grove of pecan trees . . . They couldn't get enough, so Grandpa hosted another big feed. He did that every Fourth of July [...]."

In 1933, Oscar opened the first hamburger stand in Tulsa called Weber’s Superior Root Beer Stand. Throughout the 1930s, drive-in hamburger restaurants sprang up all across the country. By the 1950s, the hamburger was an American icon. In 1948, the first McDonald’s was opened in San Bernadino, California...and the rest is history.

In celebration of July 4th I am going to share my lentil burger recipe. I’ve experimented with different ingredients and have found that mashed lentils, thickened with old-fashioned oats make for a well-textured, tasty and nutritious burger. Good-quality buns and spreads are essential for a top-notch burger, as are fresh vegetables. If you want to be even more ambitious, you can try and make homemade pickles , ketchup, or buns.

A mixed greens salad and homemade fries make for great sides. My personal favorite are spicy sweet potato fries (see recipe below).

Lentil Burger

Makes 4 burgers.

A convenient source of cooked lentils is Trader Joe's

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups cooked lentils

1 organic egg

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons parsley leaves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoons olive oil

1. Pulse oatmeal in a food processor a few times until the oats break up into smaller pieces. Set aside in a small bowl.

2. Combine lentils, egg and salt in a food processor and pulse until chunky but not pureed.

3. Place lentil mixture in a large bowl and stir in oats and remaining ingredients. Combine well and let it is for 10 minutes.

5. Divide mixture evenly into 4 balls. Shape each into a patty.

4. Place a large cast iron skillet over medium heat; drizzle with olive oil. When hot, add patties, cook 7 minutes undisturbed until browned (lower heat if burgers start getting too brown). Carefully flip over and cook 5-7 minutes longer until browned and firm. Serve on a toasted bun with your favorite burger toppings.

Oven baked Sweet Potato Fries

Makes about 4 servings.

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3”x ¾” strips

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more to taste)

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. In a small bowl combine the salt with spices; set aside.

2. Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spice mixture. Toss to combine.

3. Transfer sweet potatoes to a large baking sheet, making sure the sweet potatoes are not overcrowded and spread in a single layer. Roast 35-40 minutes or until cooked through and lightly browned, turning every 10 minutes.

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