I could probably write a book about all the delicious things I’ve eaten in California. But today I want to talk about veggie burgers. Before Sam and I went to Los Angeles so he could look at grad schools during the spring of our senior year of college, I’d eaten plenty of them. But they’d all been the frozen, microwaveable type that you eat purely for convenience, not for taste or even nourishment.
One night on our trip, we had dinner at M Café because we heard it had great vegetarian food. Our meal was sort of hijacked by an Adrien Grenier sighting, but I’ll never forget the veggie burger, because it was a revelation. It had brown rice and actual vegetables and seaweed and avocado and some amazing secret sauce. It was not microwaved. And it was the first time I realized that veggie burgers could actually be something delicious that people might set out to eat, rather than settle for in a moment of desperation.
Since that trip, I’ve had some other excellent veggie burgers, and not just in Los Angeles. (If you’re ever in Austin, Kerbey Lane, Mother’s, and 24 Diner all have great ones.) I also found M Café’s recipe online and tried to recreate it a few times, along with tons of other different recipes. They’re all delicious, and they’re all a HUGE pain, because you have to cook about 10 different ingredients in 10 different ways, committing to a two-hour prep time and using up every clean pot and pan you have. No thanks.
Happily, I figured out that it didn’t have to be that way. That you could have a really, really good veggie burger and not spend all night making it. With these, the only thing you have to prep in advance is the lentils, and they only take 20 minutes or so. After that, it’s another 15 minutes to mix up the ingredients and cook the patties in a cast-iron skillet. Not a lot of fuss or mess, but a really great sandwich.
I was feeling fancy, so we ate these on Sprouted Kitchen’s wheat brioche rolls. Make them if you have time, but store-bought ones are good, too.
1 cup dried brown lentils
2 tablespoons dried porcini mushrooms
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 to 3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
Salt, to taste
Grapeseed or canola oil
6 whole wheat rolls
Sprouts or lettuce and sliced avocado, tomato, and red onion
1. Cook the lentils in a small stockpot until tender, about 20 minutes. While the lentils cook, pour boiling water over the cremini mushrooms and soak until soft.
2. Add the cremini mushrooms to a food processor and process until finely chopped. Add the lentils, porcinis, and shallot and pulse to form a homogenous mixture.
3. Transfer the mushroom-lentil mixture to a bowl. Add the peanut butter, soy sauce, and thyme; use a fork or your hands to mix well. Mix in a big pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs—you’re looking for a mixture that’s still moist but that holds together easily. If it seems a little wet, add the remaining breadcrumbs.4. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. While the skillet warms up, form the mixture into 6 flat patties, about 1/2 cup each. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of oil into the skillet and add the patties (in batches, if your skillet is on the small side). Cook 5 to 6 minutes, or until a thick, crisp crust forms on the bottom. Flip and cook 3 to 4 more minutes, until burgers are firm. Serve on whole wheat buns with lettuce or a big pile of sprouts, avocado and other fixings, and your favorite ketchup.
Makes 6 burgers