Kitchen Shrink: The great burger flip flop

KITCHEN SHRINK:

The beloved burger is America's sweetheart of foods affirmed by the 14 billion consumed yearly, and a nationally designated month (May) honoring the grilled sandwich.

In my globetrotting days, I met many strange burgerfellows — some caught me off guard, taking my stomach by surprise, while others thankfully never got passed my lips. At a trendy Florida eatery, I scarfed down what I thought was a turkey burger, but was shockingly a gator burger. In Italy, I mistakenly ate a goat patty thinking it was chicken. During my youth in the Northeast, I narrowly escaped eating a black bear on a bun. While beef is still the top choice for burgerphiles, other vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian and carnivorous options are entering the field in a flurry.

Be adventurous for July 4th and beyond with this line-up of sweet and savory hamburger alternatives that'll sure to please even the most discriminating palates.

• Take it with a Large Grain: Move over soy boys. Use a confetti of red, white and brown quinoa, the Incan mother grain as a base for this protein-dense, gluten-free veggie burger. Blend with organic eggs, chopped onions, roasted corn and red peppers, and shredded Jack cheese, then top with heirloom tomatoes on a crusty sourdough, slathered with a kicky chipotle mayo--even the most diehard meat lover would not feel deprived.

Brown rice is chewy and hearty, same with bulgur wheat, buckwheat and assorted ancient grains from teff, farro and kamut to amaranth, blue corn and black barley as a satisfying meat alternative. These can be combined with legumes, peas and beans (lentils, chickpeas, English peas, kidney, navy and black beans), along with roasted root vegetables (sweet potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, beets), and assorted herbs and spices (garlic, cayenne, turmeric, celery salt, smoked paprika, ginger, mustard seed, basil, Italian parsley, rosemary) for a vegetarian's paradise on a bun.

• Cap it Off: Nothing imitates meat better than mushrooms with a rich beefy taste, color and texture. A whole Portobello marinated in a red wine or balsamic vinaigrette, and grilled to a soft pink center is then dressed with fresh watercress, and truffle aioli on a crusty focaccia roll. Or construct a patty with a mix of chopped mushrooms (crimini, button, oyster, shiitake, trumpet), shredded mozzarella, bread crumbs and spices for a moo burger doppelganger with an antioxidant oomph.

Eggplant cut crosswise about 1-inch thick, marinated and grilled, topped with baby arugula and a drizzle of yogurt Meyer lemon sauce on a toasted baguette is another satisfying choice.

• On the Wild Side: If you have a gamey palate, try lean, grass-fed bison, a native of North America and Europe, and relative to water buffalo, sheep, and cattle. Bison resembles beef in heartiness, but with a sweeter flavor. Pasture-raised, immune boosting "lamburgers," that are lean and juicy pair well with Moroccan flavors from ginger, turmeric and cumin to paprika, saffron and cinnamon. Top with refreshing mint leaves and tzatziki yogurt and cucumber sauce or hummus, and stuff in a pita pocket.

Low-fat, tender, protein-dense elk meat from the deer clan also makes a hearty change up from mainstream hamburgers. For a rich smoky flavor add chopped bacon to the patty, and accessorize with hickory barbecue sauce and caramelized onions.

• Plenty of Fish in the Sea: For pescavores best choices include sweet Dungeness crab meat, or a firm fish like mahi mahi, ahi tuna or wild-caught salmon. These can be filleted and seared, or either finely ground or coarsely hand-cut and formed into patties. Marine burgers pop with Asian accompaniments like scallions, pickled daikon radishes, and wasabi mayo.

• Sweet Endings: A dessert burger will hit the sweet spot with grilled pineapple rounds, peach halves, or mango slices drizzled with a caramel or hazelnut chocolate sauce, or a berry puree sandwiched between a brioche bun.

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••• Recipe: Knock-Your-Socks-Off Caramelized Onions

Ingredients: 3 large Vidalia or other sweet onions, thinly sliced; 2 tablespoons each, sweet butter and virgin olive oil; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar; 1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar; 1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves; 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Method: In a covered skillet, heat butter and oil on medium until melted, then add onions and thyme. Cook covered for 10 minutes. Stir, add sugar and heat covered for another 30 minutes until golden. Add wine vinegar and seasonings. Cook for another minute, stirring well.

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: kitchenshrink@san.rr.com

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