My top three veggie burger picks

blogger-image-1873776363.jpg

In case you haven't been following as closely as I have, there's a new speed record for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was set by favorite vegan ultrarunner Scott Jurek in what he calls his "masterpiece" and likely last long distance feat. The dude's endurance and willpower is incredible, and his recent AT record had me re-read his memoir Eat & Run for some additional inspiration. Even though Chris and I both read it a few years ago, we're only now getting around to trying some of his recipes. First we tried his red curry almond sauce, which blew our previous curry attempts out of the water with its vibrant flavor. That recipe also forced me to finally open the shiro miso I bought last year and convinced me that it tastes better than its cat food-like appearance. Next we tried Scott's Lentil-Mushroom veggie burger and it easily takes its seat among our top three favorite burgers of all time. Also dabbled with the chocolate adzuki bars and his "Western States" faux cheese spread, named after a 100-mile race he won several consecutive times.

Ultrarunning isn't for everyone, but I loved every moment of my re-read of his book. If nothing else, it reminded me to keep seeking an edge and to live outside my comfort zone. It prompted me to go running a few extra mornings before work, to revisit what I think is possible and to revel in the natural world and want to explore it more. Scott's philosophy also ties together the natural movement that our bodies are meant for and the ways we can best nourish them through food. 

In honor of Scott's new AT record and our shared love for plant-based meals, here are my favorite homemade veggie burger recipes. 

blogger-image-1082037639.jpg

Beet & Brown Rice Burgers
Still a go-to recipe, if you don't mind dealing with messy beets. An added bonus if you are trying to win over meat-eaters is that they sort of look like hamburger, with their red hue and texture. 

Find the full recipe here.

Cumin-Scented Black Bean Burgers
From one of my all-time favorite cookbooksThe Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen. We've made these so many times over the past year or so and they never get old. Pay particular note to her serving suggestions; the pickled red onions are quick, easy & absolutely delicious. Trust me, I didn't think I would like them but they are the new preferred sandwich topping in our home now. 

Lentil-Mushroom Burgers
From Scott Jurek's Eat and Run. He claims these will convince even the heartiest of meat-eaters, and I'd join him on that bet. They are awesomely flavored, with a great, nutty texture. This recipe is the most complicated of the three and it calls for the most ingredients, but don't let that scare you off.

See the full recipe here.

What do they all have in common? They're hearty, protein-packed and the perfect dinner for a summer night. You can also freeze pre-formed burgers for an even quicker meal during the week. You're welcome.

Simplifying dinner

Sometimes we like to cook. Most of the time, perhaps. We'll research new recipes and collect our ingredients and make an evening out of it. I love those nights, the two of us puttering about in the kitchen with Fresh Air on the radio. I love the menus we create and how creative we let each other get with recipes. I love that, without meat, our dinners have broken out of the formulaic Protein, Starch & Side Vegetable scenario. It's a lot of fun.

Except when it isn't. Except when we don't feel like cooking, just eating. When it's too late or we're too tired or I Just Want To Sit On The Couch And Read This Book Please. In this case, we have a few options:

Skip dinner. Ok, that's not really an option, but maybe just snacking on some crackers? Sad story.

Order in. No shame in this! We do try to limit it though so we rarely order food on a weekday. Plus, it can end up taking just as long as the next option...

Simplify dinner. This is our newest challenge. Funny, right, that it's a challenge for us to simplify our dinner routine? Of course there's always the odd bowl of cereal that can be substituted for a proper dinner, but what I'm more interested in are the healthy, tasty meals that don't take a lot of time, too many ingredients or much brainpower. Our go-to list involves dinners which are basically made up of the same ingredients, just put together differently. Quesadillas/tacos/enchiladas (rogue veggies & beans in a tortilla), salad (rogue veggies, maybe beans, over greens), grain bowl (rogue veggies, beans over a whole grain).

We did not want to cook dinner last night, but we came up with something that was quick and easy and not a grilled cheese. I love grilled cheese but there is a limit to them, and I've been pushing up against that limit this winter. We put together a pearl couscous salad with sliced strawberries (impulse buy), corn (from the freezer), avocado (always), sliced almonds and hemp seeds (pantry staple) and a lime vinaigrette (limes were on hand to make margaritas).

We also fixed up a can of black beans, a la this deliciously easy creamy beans recipe adapted by Molly Wizenberg. I know the recipe doesn't look like much, but please give them a try. Here's all you do: Open a can of black beans, toss in a tablespoon of butter, a minced garlic clove and some shakes of hot sauce. Simmer it all together with the bean juices (yum) for about 30 minutes while you work on something else. MAGIC!

I think simplifying dinner goes hand in hand with a general need to let ourselves off the hook more. Not everything needs fixing, not every moment needs to be filled with a project, not every evening needs to be wildly productive and forward-leaning. Some dinners are masterpieces and some are pure sustenance. And how lucky are we that our most serious food concern is not about whether we can afford it, or how difficult it is to access it, but rather what do we feel like making each night?

Chocolate pear jam

I've had this recipe bookmarked for awhile, and a few weekends ago I took the plunge. I armed myself with an armful of Bosch pears, the new Decemberists album and the quiet of a snowy morning. That's just what you do when you find a recipe for chocolate pear jam. You make it happen, no questions asked.

As is so often the case with jam recipes, my yield differed from what was called for. Likely because of a mis-measurement of pears on my part or some science-related explanation of the air quality and humidity levels that morning. I doubled the recipe and ended up yielding only 3 1/2 half pint jars, instead of the four I imagined.

Upon finishing up, I promptly made a batch of scones because I had to. Again, it was chocolate pear jam protocol and I had no choice. Croissants would have also been an acceptable option, and in that case you would do well to just buy them at a local bakery because 1) no one has time to make croissants and 2) I never want to witness how much butter goes into them. It would ruin the experience.

That afternoon, I spread a generous portion of chocolate pear jam atop a freshly baked scone and I thought to myself, "This will save lives." Now, I don't know if that is strictly true in the medical sense of things, but I do know that I will never underestimate the medicinal properties of warm chocolatey pear jam and a pastry. It helps if you stand over the stove stirring the jam and staring out the window as the snow falls, but you might be able to get the same benefit by stealing a jar of the good stuff from someone else. I don't know, but that's why I'm on a mission to put up jars of weird, delicious things you won't easily find at the store. What was once just a shelf to show off my preserves has become an apothecary of sorts, and anything with chocolate in it is bound to show up on the prescription pad.

Would you try chocolate pear jam? You really should. I wonder if my batch is more chocolate-y than the author intended but, then again, I'm not sure that's actually a problem. This is a phenomenal fancy jam that will totally win over your house guests or make your gift of a home-canned jar of something seem really special and not like an afterthought. It's the real deal.

Recipe is another good one fromPreserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can find a similar, but not quite the same, recipe on the author's website Food in Jars.

Cranberry ketchup

Continuing my strategy of canning only the weird recipes, right after the holidays I made up a batch of cranberry ketchup using the recipe in Food in Jars. While I was at it, I used the leftover cranberries to make a few jars of cranberry simple syrup to freshen up seltzer and cocktails.

What's cranberry ketchup? I, like so many of you, was totally thrown off the first time I heard about non-tomato ketchup. WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NO TOMATOES?! That's the beauty of these weird little recipes; they blow up your preconceptions and smash your traditions. I like that sometimes. As it turns out, you can make ketchup from lots of things that aren't tomatoes. What makes ketchup so ketchup-y tends to be the spices and flavor you add to the main ingredient. So for the cranberry ketchup, I sweetened it, spiced it, added onions to it and cooked it way down to a thick, french-fry-dipping consistency.

The verdict? Pretty tasty. It tastes exactly like cranberry ketchup should. Undeniably in the ketchup family, with a slightly odd tartness from the cherries. It hasn't replaced my other ketchup substitute, the beloved tomato jam, but it's a nice switch from my sugary, processed Heinz bottle.

And yes, if you are wondering, I'm a ketchup person. I bastardize my eggs with it and dip everything in it I can find and, in my wild youth, had been known to put it on my mac and cheese. It's blasphemous, but it's delicious. At least I'm trying to expand my ketchup palate, right?

Peach jam, two ways

After my last post, I did some more canning and even though it's no longer peach season and these definitely weren't grown locally, I tried out two incredible peach jam recipes that the world should know about. One is a sweet Salted Brown Sugar Peach Jam, best used on oven-warmed croissants or hearty slices of toast. Or, perhaps, just on a spoon. It's got a gooey caramel flavor, which should be enough information to tempt you into making a small batch of it right this moment.

The other tends towards the savory side and we've been using it in much the same way that we use our beloved tomato jam. Peach Jam with Sriracha. Can you wrap your mind around it? Peach jam with a healthy pour of sriracha cooked right in. As I was following the recipe, I got a little sweaty at how much sriracha it called for and how red the jam was turning. Was this going to melt my face off? The answer is no, your face is safe. It's so very unusual and delicious, and you absolutely must add it to your quirky home pantry. Which brings me to a recent revelation:

I'd rather make small batches of weird things all year round than spend a hot & humid weekend holed up in the kitchen putting up gallons of something boring.

For example, I like tomato sauce. I loved getting together with a friend and making a few quarts. But that was my limit. I didn't need to do much more. I'd rather have a pantry full of strange concoctions that really spice up my cooking, things I can't readily buy at the store. Because here's the secret: sometimes other people or companies are better at making things than I am. Not always! (See Quiches, Homemade.) But sometimes. And I'd rather just buy those. Hopefully from a smaller, local producer but even then, not always. 

Make weird recipes and put them in jars! That's the new theme of my home canning and preservation strategy.

Both recipes from Marisa McClellan's new book Preserving by the Pint:  Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces. You can download the cute canning labels over at From Scratch Club.

Related
This year's preserving stockpile
Have you really not given tomato jam a try yet?