I love veggie burgers. I’ve had favorite recipes stashed away for years that I go back to time and time again. But when I went vegan and wheat-free a couple of years ago, my repertoire shrank to zero. Almost all veggie burgers call for eggs and many of them call for wheat flour as a thickener and/or coating. Undaunted (after a short stint of despair), I began to experiment and build up my stash again, little by little. When I heard recently about these beet-barley-corn burgers by Chef Homaru Cantu, I couldn’t wait to try them.
I loved his idea of making a burger out of the things that cows eat rather than the cows themselves and since it was summer and the local corn was at its peak, I began to scout around online for a recipe. I couldn’t find one! Instead, I found this great blog post that described a method for making the Homaru Cantu burger, so I used it as a template, adding and changing a bit along the way. After testing it out several times now, I can tell you I love this burger so much that I’ve been buying huge quantities of corn from my local organic farm stand, par-boiling it, roasting it, cutting it off the cob and freezing it so I can continue to make them over the winter. I’m hooked.
TIP: Here’s what I like to do to keep corn kernels from flying all over the kitchen: put a large cutting board into a larger rimmed baking sheet [old and well-used in this case!], stand the corn on its stem end and start cutting. The kernels will do a bit of flying, but I’ve found they stay contained in the rimmed sheet and are easy to retrieve. →
The beets give the mixture a sort of hamburger-y look, if you’re into that sort of thing, but not the flavor of a hamburger. They are quite delicate in texture (too delicate for a grill, by the way) and have a sweet/smoky flavor. I love how the crispy outside contrasts with the soft, savory inside. I could picture trying these with other sweet root vegetables, and I’m developing one with carrots that I think is delicious. Will post about it soon.
You’ll need a juicer to make these. You could buy ready-made juice I suppose, but you’d still lack the dried pulp. Or you could get a friendly local juice-shop to give you both the fresh juice and the pulp. My Breville shoots the pulp out the back into a half-moon-shaped bucket while the juice is shooting forward into another container. I line the bucket with a clean plastic bag to collect the pulp, and then scrape the rest of it off the other juicer parts before washing them. Then I spread the whole thing onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper to dry in the oven for an hour.
≈ These are wheat-free but not gluten-free! Barley contains gluten, so if you are gluten-sensitive, try a substitute. I haven’t experimented with this myself, but my choice would be something that mimics the “gumminess” of barley, something like sweet brown rice, sushi rice, gluten-free oat groats. Let me know how they come out if you do try one of those.
≈ If you’re unsure you’ll like the whole amount of smoked paprika, hold some back. The lovely thing about vegan burgers is that you can taste the mixture before it’s cooked, so you can always adjust your seasoning right up to the moment you begin to fry them.
≈ My non-vegan husband loves these as much as I do and the other day he suggested trying a vegan Worcestershire sauce on them. I was quite skeptical, but it turned out to be delicious. Right now I’m using the Wan Ja Shan brand and it’s good, but I’m planning to try to make my own soon. Mayonnaise of some sort, though, is almost mandatory with these. It’s so good.
Beet, Barley, Corn Burgers
(makes about 6 burgers)
1 large or 2 small red beets, juice + pulp
2 ears of corn (approximately 1½ cups of kernels)
1 cup of cooked pearl barley
¾ tsp. smoked paprika
salt + freshly ground black pepper (generous amount)
¼ red onion, minced
1 large clove garlic
3 – 4 Tbs. non-GMO cornstarch (or try sweet rice flour, arrowroot, potato starch)
Remember you’re dealing with beets. Wear an apron!
Peel and juice the beet(s) and save both the juice and the pulp.
You should end up with slightly more than ¼ cup/50 ml of beet juice and ¾ cup of dried pulp.
Spread the pulp onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and dry in a low oven (set to “warm” or 200°F); bake for 1 hour until slightly dehydrated. Doesn’t have to get completely dry.
Cook and drain the barley well; leave in sieve to dry up a bit. (Barley grits are OK; they cook very quickly and work well in this recipe).
Par-boil the corn for a minute or two. Drain & dry. Brush with olive oil and grill until some kernels have blackened and caramelized. This takes a while on an indoor grill, but be patient and keep turning them until you see that delicious caramelization. When cool, cut the kernels off the cobs.
Place onion, garlic, corn, beet pulp, beet juice and barley in food processor. Pulse until you get a uniform color and size (doesn’t take much; don’t overdo it, you don’t want mush). Place mixture in a bowl.
Add salt, pepper, smoked paprika and taste for seasoning. No raw egg in there, so it’s OK to taste to see how things are going. Once you’re happy with the seasoning, add the cornstarch or other thickener of choice until it seems like a reasonably manageable mixture. It will be loose but it should form burger shapes without much trouble. Avoid trying to make it into a firm mixture; that would destroy the lovely texture of these. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, or refrigerate until you’re ready for them, then fry away.
Fry in heated cast iron pan over medium-high heat with a generous amount of olive oil. Make the burgers a moderate size (maybe 2 – 3 ″; no hulking quarter-pounders here!) and don’t turn them until well done on the bottom. They are fragile, but they hold together well if you treat them right.
Serve with mayonnaise, either vegan or Hain’s Safflower if you’re not vegan. Something about these with mayonnaise is insanely good. Serve with or without bread, sprouts, etc.—they’re good almost any way that takes your fancy. Delicious.
NOTE: These can be made ahead and frozen. Just line a flat baking sheet with parchment paper, form the patties and put the whole sheet in the freezer until they are frozen through, then fold them up in the parchment paper (I like to keep them from touching each other, but that’s probably overkill), place in a freezer bag, label and freeze. It’s easy to take one or two out or a whole bunch for a party. Allow to defrost before frying.