If you’ve been following this mini-series, “Cutting the Crap”, you know I’ve been explaining the perils of processed foods, why they are worth ditching, and just how to go about it. Sometimes, that feels like a lot of negativity, so now it’s time for the best part: the delicious rewards of replacing processed foods with wholesome, homemade meals. If you’re just arriving, you can check back on the Introduction to “Cutting the Crap” and parts One and Two – or cut straight to the delicious recipes below!
Summer is the perfect time for burgers. Hell, what am I saying? It is always the perfect time for burgers!! I love a cheesy, juicy burger (whether beef, turkey, or bison [the best]) just as much as the next foodie, but I also keep my meat intake to weekly or less, and my red meat consumption even rarer. But who wouldn’t love to come home from work on a Tuesday night and sink their teeth into a fresh burger? Hopefully, you’re already past the point of swinging by the drive through to get your fix. You might be a vegetarian, or just really enjoy a good veggie burger, and I am with you! There was a time (cough, high school) when I would eat Boca burgers probably two or three times a week, assuming it was a healthy vegan product. It might be slightly better for you than a quarter pounder, but have you ever stopped to wonder what’s in it? Why does it have that faint “grilled flavor”? Why is a blend of soy and vegetables brown and spongy?
Let’s do some research. This is the ingredient list for the Boca “Cheeseburger” product (source: http://www.bocaburger.com).
Ingredients: WATER, SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, PASTEURIZED PROCESS CHEDDAR CHEESE (CHEDDAR CHEESE [PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], WATER, MILKFAT, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM HEXAMETAPHOSPHATE, SALT, ARTIFICIAL COLOR), CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF WHEAT GLUTEN, CANOLA OIL, CHEESE FLAVOR (WHEY, BUTTER [CREAM, SALT], CHEDDAR CHEESE [PASTEURIZED MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES], BUTTERMILK SOLIDS, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, NATURAL FLAVOR, ENZYME MODIFIED CHEDDAR CHEESE [MILK, CHEESE CULTURE, SALT, ENZYMES, DISODIUM PHOSPHATE], YELLOW 6, TURMERIC [COLOR], ENZYME MODIFIED CREAM, ENZYME MODIFIED BUTTERFAT), YEAST EXTRACT, METHYLCELLULOSE, SUGAR, CARAMEL COLOR, ONION POWDER, NATURAL FLAVOR (NON-MEAT), DRIED SOY SAUCE (SOYBEANS, WHEAT, SALT), SALT, SESAME OIL, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, DISODIUM INOSINATE, LACTIC ACID, SUCCINIC ACID. CONTAINS: SOY, WHEAT, MILK, SESAME.
Going back to one of my favorite examples from Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, the sheer number of ingredients is far from appetizing. If I start to get tired of reading halfway through, I’ve got a serious problem with the product. Even worse, if I can’t imagine what “methylcelluose” or “sodium hexametaphosphate” is, I really don’t want this “food” item in my body. No thank you.
The solution is not to over-indulge in meaty burgers! Those are delicious treats for special occasions. I want you to eat them, but on the 4th of July or at your buddy’s birthday party, not every other weeknight, ok? There’s a happy, healthy compromise in a surprisingly simple combination of beans, eggs, and breadcrumbs – it doesn’t take much more than that to create magical burger bliss.
My all-time favorite go-to veggie burger recipe is the classic Black Bean Burger. These are incredibly easy and truly fantastic – my former roommates, one of whom was a diehard carb-rejecting carnivore – loved and begged for these burgers time after time. The recipe I linked to is a base, to which I usually add some extra heat like chipotle en adobo, and sometimes cilantro. Do not bake them, as the recipe suggests, unless you have no other choice. I typically use a George Foreman grill, cast iron grill pan, or aluminum foil over a charcoal grill. Serve with avocado, lettuce, tomato, and homemade ketchup. Sweet potato fries on the side are 100% mandatory. A summery Mexican beer is strongly recommended.
With that simple formula in mind, I decided to go Greek. For me, summertime is accompanied by a near-constant craving for all flavors Mediterranean. I could eat hummus, tabbouleh and baba ghanouj for days and days. And sometimes I do. But I decided to get a little more creative and make a veggie burger that incorporated chickpeas, carrots, feta, parsley and lemon. And I absolutely had to find something to eat tzatziki on, other than a spoon. And thus, a star was born:
Chickpea Carrot Feta Burgers with Tzatziki
1 regular can of chickpeas, drained
1/2 red or yellow onion, quartered
1 cup shredded carrots
3/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3 cloves garlic
1/2 to 3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
salt + pepper
additional spices, optional
(I have a great “Greek Blend” from World Market – you could use crushed red pepper flakes and/or coriander seeds)
1 pint non-fat Greek yogurt
1 large English cucumber, peeled
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp mint, finely chopped
- Make tzatziki first so the flavors can really blend. If you even have a chance to make it a day ahead, it’s that much better. Halve the cucumber and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Shred it using the large holes of a box grater, toss with a generous pinch of salt, cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. This causes the cucumber to release its water, which you can then drain.
- Stir together all ingredients and season to taste. Keep chilled, and keep in mind this tastes better with time. Try your best to keep your paws off it while you make the burgers!
To make the burgers:
- Pulse garlic and onion in a food processor until finely diced. Add chickpeas and roughly pulse so that about half the chickpeas are pureed and half are only slightly crushed. You want some texture; we are not going for hummus here.
- Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in eggs, feta, carrots, parsley, bread crumbs, seasoning, and the zest and juice of your 1/2 lemon. Add enough bread crumbs and olive oil to reach a consistency that you can form into patties. You might have to play around with this; I don’t really cook with measurements.
- Form burger mixture into patties; you should end up with about 6, depending on the size. Sliders are always a winner! (You’d get at least 12.)
- Heat some olive oil in a non-stick skillet. I often use a cast-iron grill pan, but I found having full contact with a flat heating surface to be beneficial for this recipe. Sear the burgers until lightly browned, about 6-8 minutes per side. Serve on whole wheat burger buns with a generous heap of tzatziki. A nice quinoa tabbouleh or Greek salad would make a perfect side dish. Personally, I find these very filling.
Have a fabulous week, and expect more exciting, healthy, and unprocessed recipes coming soon! Still have questions about ditching processed food? Shoot!