Living alone in a studio apartment is great, in lots of ways. I don’t need to worry about anyone finishing the last of my milk, I can rock out to Lady Gaga when I roll out of bed at 7am if I feel like it, the only dirty dishes in the sink are my own and nothing is ever further than six steps away.
But one thing that living alone in a tiny apartment is not conducive to is cooking for others… and cooking for others happens to be one of my very favorite things to do. So whenever the opportunity to do so arises, I take advantage of it… and if the space between opportunities becomes too long for my liking, I bide my time until I can’t take it anymore and end up awkwardly blurting out an invitation to cook for whichever hapless victim lucky friend happens to be closest by.
This is exactly what happened this past Saturday night. I was on the phone with a friend making plans, talking about some party or other, and before I knew what was happening the words “Why don’t you come over and I’ll cook for you?” were out of my mouth. After a slight pause in which we both registered a touch of surprise (hers at the non-sequitor, mine from some distant corner of my brain that was dimly beginning to realize it was most definitely not in the driver’s seat), she accepted.
It wasn’t until after I hung up the phone that I remembered this friend is a carnivore: a big meat-lover.
I mean that literally. This girl has gushed about a good piece of meat with such passion that it practically made me blush… on more than one occasion.
Now, I don’t call myself a vegetarian — I definitely enjoy meat, fish and seafood on occasion — but I very rarely buy and cook it. In fact, I would venture to say that roughly 85% of what I make for myself on a regular basis (and therefore know how to cook) ends up being vegetarian.
And I definitely don’t have meat just sitting around my refrigerator, lying in wait for an impromptu dinner invitation for its chance to shine at the center of the plate.
Hmm. I needed something packed with protein (enough to satisfy my carnivorous friend) and something that could be ready in an hour.
Suddenly, the answer hit me: here was a dual opportunity to start making a dent in the five-pound bag of quinoa that was occupying valuable real estate in the pantry, and to attempt the quinoa burgers with black beans that I had been rolling around in my head for the last few weeks!
Risky? Heck yeah. But I live for danger.
I rushed to the kitchen (three steps) and set to work.
Fortunately for me, quinoa only takes about 15-20 minutes to cook, and while spelt berries take a little longer (40 minutes), I already had some cooked and sitting in the refrigerator. Unfortunately, the black beans I planned to incorporate had not been soaking overnight, and would need as much time as possible to cook through. Knowing this, I put mine up to boil right away so they had a full hour to cook. Luckily, this was just enough to soften them up, although I recommend cooking your beans for a little longer or using canned beans to get them a little more tender than I was able to do in the short time I had allotted myself.
One anxious hour and twenty minutes later, expectations buoyed by the delicious scents wafting from my frying pan, I took a tentative test bite… and, after a stunned moment, yelped with self-congratulation and relief. They were more than I had hoped for: nutty and nicely textured, with a crisp edge and earthy flavors of toasted spices and little bursts of sweetness from the corn. Even better, now I wouldn’t have to choose between either serving my guest a failed first attempt at some vegetarian mess (possibly ruining vegetarian food for her forever), or casually suggesting we go out for pizza.
Best of all? She loved them: oohed and ahhed and yummed for a while… so long in fact that it got to the point where I thought she was laying it on a little thick, and begged her to stop mocking my enthusiasm. At this she got the cutest look of genuine horror, threw her hands into mine and, with imploring eyes, insisted she was not making fun, far from it — that in fact she “didn’t know vegetarian food could be this good!” Really? “Really!”
Then she asked for the recipe.
Music to my ears.
Black Bean Quinoa Burgers (makes roughly 8-10 burgers)
For the purposes of this recipe, I’m going to assume your spelt or wheat berries and beans are already cooked. If they are, your burgers can come together in about 30 minutes. If they’re not, you’ll want to allow an additional hour cook time for everything, during which you can get started on the first part of the recipe.
- 1/3 cup black beans, cooked (or canned) and roughly crushed
- 1/4 cup cooked wheat or spelt berries (or some other chewier grain, perhaps bulgur or farro. Note: these are primarily for texture, and burgers will turn out just fine if you don’t have anything like this on hand.)
- 2/3 cup quinoa (I used white/cream-colored quinoa, but you could try red if that’s what you have on hand.
- 1 large spring onion, bulb and greens finely chopped (or one small onion and a few scallions)
- 1/2 poblano (ancho chile) pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped (Note: wear gloves or wash your hands immediately after chopping! These are fairly mild peppers, and not enough to make the burgers actually spicy, but still hot enough to burn your eyes and under your fingernails.)
- 1-2 tablespoons coriander seeds, crushed
- 1/4 cup corn kernels
- 1-2 tsp cumin and a dash or two of chile powder (I used cayenne and ancho chile)
- 2 eggs
- olive oil, salt and pepper to taste
- Topping: avocado & cilantro lime dressing (1 lemon, 2-3 limes, bunch of cilantro leaves [roughly 1/3 cup], olive oil & salt)
1. Cook quinoa 15 minutes, then drain and set aside to cool. While that’s going, you can do all your washing, chopping, de-seeding, crushing etc. and make the cilantro lime dressing (if using).
2. Heat a glug of oil over medium-low heat and saute the spring onion, poblano pepper, crushed coriander seeds and a dash of salt until just soft and wilted (4-5 min). Then add the corn kernels and saute one more minute until kernels are bright yellow.
3. Pour this mixture into a bowl with the beans, quinoa, wheatberries and cumin and chile powder. Combine and taste to adjust seasonings, and put the frying pan back over medium heat (no need to wash).
4. Beat eggs in a small bowl and stir into quinoa mixture. Then, using a 1/4 cup measure or a large spoon, scoop mixture back into the frying pan to form little patties. (I recommend using the back of the scoop or spoon to flatten them a little, as they won’t cook through if they’re too thick.)
5. Pan fry patties over medium heat 4-5 minutes on each side until nicely browned and crisp on the edges, adding more oil as needed to keep them from sticking.
For the cilantro lime dressing, puree juice from 1 lemon, 2-3 limes, cilantro leaves, a nice glug of oil and a dash of salt in a blender or small food processor. I prefer to keep mine light and fresh, but if you’re looking for something with a bolder flavor profile, you can also throw in a small clove of garlic and a wedge of jalapeno or poblano.
I served mine without a bun, open-face sandwich-style topped with avocado slices and a drizzle of the cilantro-lime dressing–the fresh burst of tart from the cilantro lime and the soft creamy sweetness of the avocado played wonderfully together, and were a perfect complement to the nutty, earthy flavors and chewy textures of the burgers–and a side of carrot radish tabbouleh with feta. That said, I suspect they would be also delicious topped with a fire-roasted tomatillo or fresh corn salsa, or (more traditionally) on a bun with a melted wedge of jack or white cheddar cheese.