The first time we went to Portland, we hiked, biked, and drank and ate our way around the city and developed a serious crush on the Pacific Northwest. It was July, a perfect time to leave overheated Florida for lush Oregon.
The first place we went was Deschutes Brewery. We ordered beers immediately because a drink with lunch means it's vacation. We often order a vegetarian meal when we go out to eat because those dishes are often more interesting than the meaty ones. This was never more true than the day we ordered the Deschutes beet burger. It was so good, we went back to the brewery for a second time that trip to order it again.
Once home, we tried to re-create the burger several times, but each attempt flopped. Some burgers fell apart as they cooked. Others just didn't taste as good.
Finally, now, three years after that trip and that first perfect beet burger, we feel as though we've struck gold. We finally found a homemade version that measures up to our romanticized memories.
The winning recipe for these sweet and smoky burgers (slightly sweet from raisins and beets, smoky from paprika) comes from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. I couldn't resist the book that won Food52's 2014 Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks after reading a Bon Appetit article on Persian cooking that sparked my interest.
Such a burger deserves a special bun so we decided to make our own. We had already used Joy the Baker's recipe (joythebaker.com) to make hot dog buns so we just tweaked her recipe a little to make burger buns. It's a summer staple.
Making your own burger buns is easy. Promise. Kneading is no big deal, and most of the time is spent letting the dough rest and rise. The dough will grow quite a bit in size so make sure to use a large bowl. At the end of the first rise in the bowl, the dough had risen above the top of the bowl, pushing the tea towel up slightly. Go yeast.
Feel free to prepare the burger mixture a day ahead and store in the fridge. This recipe also calls for several cooked ingredients (lentils, rice, walnuts) that can be made ahead as well. The beet burgers can be served on a bun or you can think of it as falafel and serve with a salad. We topped the burgers with dill, chopped tomato and thick yogurt whipped with ground cumin and fresh mint.
Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with fiance Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. Contact her at email@example.com.
Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers
3 tablespoons grape-seed oil, plus extra for searing
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 cup peeled and grated beets (from about 1 small beet)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup walnuts (toasted for a boost in flavor)
½ cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
½ cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and drained
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice or white sushi rice, at room temperature
Add oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat and saute onion until it starts to darken and caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Turn heat down slightly and add beets, garlic, walnuts, raisins and paprika. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.
Transfer contents of the skillet to a food processor and pulse several times until mixture comes together but is still chunky. In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture with the lentils, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Replace the food processor (without washing) and add the rice and egg; pulse to form a coarse puree. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture in the bowl and mix well with your hands.
Lightly oil your hands and divide the mixture into 8 portions. Shape each into a patty just under 1 inch thick.
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. (We cooked two or three at a time.) Gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust. Serve hot.
Note: Burger mixture can be made a day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge.
Source: The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia
Homemade Burger Buns
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 packets or 2 scant tablespoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 cups warm milk (105 to 115 degrees)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
6 to 7 ½ cups all-purpose flour (see note)
Poppy or sesame seeds, coarse black pepper, and sea salt for topping (optional)
For the egg wash:
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon cold water
In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and then the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.
Gradually add 6 cups flour, ½ cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. (Note: In humid weather, you may need more than the 6 cups but only add it to make the dough kneadable, sprinkling only enough to keep it from sticking to you or the board.)
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.
Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Because this dough is so slack, you may find that a bowl scraper or bench knife can be helpful in scooping up the dough and folding it over on itself.
Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide dough into 18 3-ounce balls. This is done most easily by dividing the dough first into thirds, then those thirds into halves, then the halves into thirds.
Slightly flatten the balls (dough rises more in the center so this will give a gently rounded top).
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly grease the paper.
For soft-sided buns, place them on prepared baking sheets 1/2 inch apart so they'll grow together when they rise. For crisper buns, place them 3 inches apart.
Cover them with a towel and let rise again until almost doubled, about 45 minutes. (Use a towel, not plastic wrap, which may stick when removed.)
Fifteen minutes before they are done rising, preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and, if desired, sprinkle with poppy seeds, black pepper and salt.
Bake 18 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190 degrees.
When the buns are done, remove them from the baking sheet and cool on a wire rack to prevent the crusts from becoming soggy.
If using in the next day or two, buns can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature. If not, they can be frozen. Wrap each individually in foil and place in an airtight freezer container.
Makes 18 buns.
Source: Adapted from JoytheBaker.com and King Arthur Flour