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Veggie burgers are heating up the burger wars

Everybody loves burgers. That's a fact of American life. Beef, turkey, chicken, or even fish—all have their ardent fans. Maybe it's because burgers are essentially finger food. A meal in a bun, if you will. Add some oven-baked fries or potato chips, and the simplest burger becomes a yummy indulgence.

You can add to dinner time discussions about which bun filler is best by testing out this series of alternative "ham" burgers that are created from vegetable-based ingredients. Try 'em out as main dishes for your weekly vegetarian suppers. You can even create a burger bar by setting out a plate of lettuce leaves, sliced tomatoes and onions; a plate of sliced cheese (e.g. Swiss, Gouda, cheddar); and little custard cups filled with catsup, mustard and mayo. Pickles, too, plus anything else you think might go well with the thematic flavors of a particular burger

Jamaican bean burgers

"Jerk" seasoning ingredients are rather exotic and so somewhat disguise the main ingredient here, which is black beans. This may be a good starting place for this veggie venture. And, if you want to add to the tropical theme, fry up some plantain chips and serve some fresh pineapple and/or melon on the side.

P.S. While " jerked" food has a reputation for being rather spicy, this particular combination won't burn anyone's tongue.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

3 cups chopped Vidalia (sweet) onion

1 1/2 cups chopped red bell pepper

1 tablespoon grated (peeled) fresh ginger root

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground allspice

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/4 cups cooked rice

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed, well drained, patted dry

About 1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs, divided

1/3 cup mayonnaise (light's alright), for serving

6 hamburger buns (whole wheat are preferable), toasted

6 ruby red lettuce leaves, optional, for serving

6 (paper-thin) slices red onion, optional, for serving

In a large, non-stick skillet, on medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add onion, red bell pepper, ginger and garlic and saute until tender, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add allspice, coriander, salt and cayenne pepper. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Cool slightly.

In food processor, combine sauteed onion mixture, rice, 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs and beans. Pulse-process about 15 times, until mixture is finely chopped. Divide bean mixture into sixths and form into 1-inch thick patties.

Place remaining 1/2 cup breadcrumbs in a shallow plate and dredge patties in crumbs.

Heat remaining oil in skillet, over medium. Add patties and cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until browned and crisp.

Divide mayonnaise among toasted buns. Place a patty on each bun, add lettuce and onion, if using, then add top of bun. Makes 6 servings/1 burger each.

Sunflower sliders

We haven't seen "official" slider-size burger buns in the supermarket yet, so we choose round dinner rolls from the supermarket bakery, if they're available.

Visit your favorite health food market for the sunflower seeds and tamari (a mellow, thicker version of soy sauce).

You probably don't need any more vegetables with these mildly flavored, oven-baked burgers, so go for sweet potato fries and some colorful, seasonal fruit.

1 3/4 cups ground sunflower seeds

2/3 cup grated carrots

2/3 cup finely chopped celery

1/2 cup minced onions

3 tablespoons minced, fresh flat leaf parsley

2 eggs

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

8 teaspoons tamari

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

Sea salt, if you must

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse-process ground sunflower seeds, carrots, celery, onion and parsley, just to mix. Add eggs, basil, tamari, butter, garlic powder, pepper and salt. Pulse-process to mix well. If mixture seems too thick, add some vegetable broth; if too thin, add more sunflower seeds.

Form mixture into 6 to 8 patties (depending on size of buns) and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn patties and bake 10 to 15 minutes longer, until both sides are medium-brown in color. Serve on toasted slider buns with favorite condiments on the side. Makes 6 sunflower sliders.

Middle Eastern burgers

Chickpeas form the base for these burgers, aka falafel patties. Use toasted buns for these instead of the usual (mini) pita pockets.

Go-withs for the sandwich can include chopped romaine lettuce, chopped tomato, sliced cucumber and chopped red onion. If you need crunch, open up some whole wheat pita loaves, stack and cut into triangles; brush with melted butter, sprinkle on some sea salt and bake at 375 degrees until toasty.

Burgers

1/2 cup each, chopped Vidalia and red onion

1/2 cup chopped, fresh flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, optional

1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

2 (15 1/2 -ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed, drained, patted dry

4 cloves garlic, minced

About 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs, divided

About 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Sauce

1 cup hot water

1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, minced

For the burgers: In a food processor, pulse-process onions, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, cumin, salt, red pepper flakes, beans and garlic until smooth, scraping down sides of processor container occasionally.

Remove bean mixture to a large bowl and stir in 1/4 cup of the breadcrumbs. Divide bean mixture into sixths and form 1/2 -inch thick patties.

Place remaining bread crumbs in a shallow plate and dredge patties in crumbs.

In a large, non-stick skillet, over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and saute three of the patties in it for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Remove to a warm platter and tent lightly with foil. Add remaining olive oil to skillet and cook remaining patties. Serve warm. Makes 6 Middle Eastern burgers.

For the sauce: In a food processor, combine ingredients and process until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. Adjust accordingly. Serve with burgers.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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