August 3, 2012
Eggplant Burgers and Food TV
I watch more hours of the Food Network and Cooking Channel than I care to admit. This has been the case since food tv first entered my radar as a teenager. When most kids flicked on MTV for the Real World or VH1 for Pop-Up Video, I turned on the Food Network for a daily dose of Mario, Rachael, Bobby and Ina.
And, on Sunday mornings, when most of my friends were still deep in the comatose slumber that comes only with the growing pains and hormonal swings of teenagedom, I sat in the kitchen, glued to Martha Stewart Living. Cereal bowl in front of me, I made all of the snide remarks required from a too-cool teenager, attacking her annoying perfection and how everything was 'a good thing,' but secretly took notes. My mother, busy in the background and witness to my strange love-hate relationship with Martha, often provided a gentle reminder that no one was forcing me to watch it - a comment that I usually ignored.
My love of food became clear in my infatuation with food tv, which was unfortunate for my younger brothers who, naturally, were given no control over the remote and were not as interested in learning how to roast a chicken or make hollandaise without it breaking. I watched and watched and watched and I learned a thing or two. I'm not gonna go so far as to say that food tv was a driving force towards my eventual enrollment in culinary school, because then I would have to seriously question how I make life decisions, but who knows.
These days, I watch a lot less but it's still a guilty pleasure - not quite on the same level as when I catch myself in the middle of a Real Housewives marathon, but kind of close. The other night, while getting my Food Network fix, I caught a clip from The Farm Café, in Portland, Oregon. It was from The Best Thing I Ever Ate's burger episode. The chef was making an eggplant burger. I knew I had to have it. As Portland is a bit more of a hop, skip and a jump away from my couch in Brooklyn, I knew that in order to have it, I had to make it.
While we are familiar with my adoration for eggplant, which is kind of masochistic considering I might have a teensy allergy to it, we may be less familiar with my disdain for veggie burgers. Never have I eaten a veggie burger I could get excited about. This is not an Anthony Bourdain-style dislike for veggie burgers based purely on their lack of meat, because I definitely appreciate veggies in all of their glory. It's just that I've never eaten a good one and I have vegetarian friends that agree. Dry, sometimes bland, uninspired, generally not awesome, veggie burgers always seem like a token addition to menus, a required element that never gets much thought. When restaurants serve veggie burgers that are a stack of grilled or roasted veggies, I find it amusing. Dear chefs, a stack of veggies on a bun does not a veggie burger make.
This is the queen of veggie burgers. The patty actually kind of resembles a burger, which should probably be the first step in the quest to turn veggies into burgers. The meaty eggplant, minced finely and mixed with breadcrumbs, ends up as a patty with a mouthfeel very similar to an actual burger, which should probably be the second step in deserving the name of burger. And all the toppings put it over the edge: sweet roasted garlic and tomatoes, caramelized onions, crunchy homemade pickles. You could definitely serve this with a side salad - or you can serve it with a pile of crunchy potato chips. Clearly, I went with the chips.
Recipe adapted from The Farm Cafe
What you'll need:
4 Japanese eggplant, peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 small bunch of parsley, minced
1 small onion, minced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 cup breadcrumbs, maybe more
Salt and black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1 whole tomato, sliced into thin rounds
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
Salt and black pepper
1 large onion
Salt and black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
Place the cubed eggplant in one even layer on the bottom of a large saute pan.
Saute, dry, over low heat - once they begin to soften, season with a generous amount of salt and black pepper. Continue to saute until the eggplant is gray and very soft. Remove from heat.
Combine the eggplant, parsley, onion, garlic and jalapeno in the bowl of a food processor - pulse until pureed.
Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Use your hands to incorporate the breadcrumbs - if the mixture seems quite wet, add more breadcrumbs.
Allow the mixture to rest in the fridge. Note- the mixture can be made a day ahead if you'd like.
Once you're ready to cook the patties, remove the eggplant mixture from the fridge, add the beaten egg and stir well to incorporate.
Use your hands to form patties, as you would a regular hamburger.
Add 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil to the bottom of a large saute pan - once the oil ripples, it's hot enough to add the patties. Cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until caramelized and crispy.
Remove from the oil and add straight to a fresh, crusty roll - I used whole wheat.
Preheat oven to 350ºF
Line a baking sheet with foil and lay the sliced tomatoes on top in one layer. Add the crushed garlic cloves. Season with salt, pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
Roast in the oven until the tomatoes are just beginning to shrivel and caramelize - you don't want them too dry as the roasted tomato juices are a great 'sauce' for this burger.
Slice the onion into thin rings. Add the rings to a dry, nonstick saute pan. Saute over medium-low heat until the onions look completely dry. Add a drizzle of olive oil and stir to coat.
Continue to cook until the onions begin to soften and brown. At this point, season with salt, black pepper and sugar. Stir to coat.
Cook the onions down until they are well caramelized and soft, about 20-25 minutes.
I chose to serve the burgers stacked high with roasted tomatoes and caramelized onions, with crunchy homemade pickles on the side - but you can add whichever toppings you like best.