Years ago, I found myself the only vegetarian at a barbecue hosted by co-workers. I’ve dabbled with vegetarianism on and off; this was during one of my “on” phases. Thoughtfully, or so I thought, I packed my own frozen meatless patties so no would even notice that I wasn’t eating meat. Of course, that didn’t happen. Instead my hard commercial discs became the center of everyone’s attention. “These don’t even look like meat!” one of the hosts said who considered himself a comic. He cooked them – right on the same grill with the ground beef – and then tasted one afterward. “No wonder you’re so skinny, you’re eatin’ cardboard!”
These burgers would shut that guy up. They offer a similar meaty umami quality to the real thing. Topped with cheese, it hits the same satisfying receptors a traditional burger. Make your own breadcrumbs by either pulverizing an extra hamburger bun or leftover bread in a food processor; these can be made from leftover gluten-free breads as well. You can use canned pre-cooked lentils available on market shelves, but the texture of making them from dried beans is superior for burgers and takes 20 (hands-free) minutes. Pre-cooked lentils come in 15 oz. cans so if you’re using those, you might as well double the recipe. Topping with cheese is optional. Great toppings for these burgers include sliced avocado, tomatoes and mixed greens. One cup dry lentils yields about two cups cooked. Makes four burgers and is easily doubled. These can be made a day ahead and then simply re-heated on the grill.
1 cup dry green or red lentils OR 8 oz. (225g) pre-cooked lentils
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or cooking spray
½ medium onion (225g), chopped (3/4 cup)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz. (180g) cremini or Portobello mushrooms, chopped fine (about two cups)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 large egg, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning (optional)
6 oz. cheese (optional)
If using dried lentils, cook according to package directions. Let cool. If using canned, drain well.
Heat two teaspoons of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the onions softened, then add the garlic and cook for one minute. Turn the heat to medium and cook the onions until slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape out of the pan into a large bowl. Let cool.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Add the mushrooms, lentils, Dijon mustard, thyme, pepper and salt to the bowl with the cooled onions and mash the ingredients together with a fork. Add the breadcrumbs and egg and stir well to mix. Gently shape the mixture into four patties about one-half inch thick.
Add a quick dusting of Montreal Steak seasoning (if using). Heat a large ovenproof skillet (such as cast iron) over medium-high heat, adding a bit more vegetable oil. Cook the patties for about four minutes on one side until browned, adjusting the heat so it doesn’t burn. Then put into the oven for about 10 minutes. If you want to make cheese burgers, remove the patties after six minutes, add the cheese and finish under the broiler until the cheese melts.
Note: These also freezer well. Simply wrap tightly with plastic wrap or parchment and then store in an air-tight container. Use within two months to retain optimal flavor.