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Carrie’s Kitchen: Getting to the heart of the plate with a pair of vegan recipes

So my husband is about three weeks into his vegan diet, and I must say, it’s been easier and more affordable than I thought it would be. He’s trying to eat natural, whole foods, so we’re not stocking up on weird foods like “vegan cheese” or frozen vegan burgers, which are pretty processed and often have their fair share of preservatives. He makes a lot of bean and grain bowls, with a base like brown rice or lentils or black beans, and adds hummus and avocados and vegetables and maybe some walnuts.

I’m still making omnivorous meals for the kids and myself, but I’m making a vegan meal my husband and I can share together twice a week, and I have two of those recipes to share this week, both from the cookbook “The Heart of the Plate” by Mollie Katzen, author of the more famous “Moosewood Cookbook,” both of which are vegetarian.

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The first recipe is for a brown rice and lentil burger. This recipe took a lot of time, so much so that I ended up preparing the rice and lentil mixture one day, then forming the patties and cooking it the next night. The rice and lentils took 40 minutes to cook on their own first, then you added them to the caramelized onions (which took about 30 minutes to cook themselves) and cook that all together for another 10 minutes, allowing the flavors to mingle and to start mashing the rice and lentils to make them better at sticking together later.

I also added finely minced mushrooms to this recipe — about 5 ounces of them, and I would recommend doing that too because it tasted so good. I let my ingredients all cool in the refrigerator overnight, then formed patties by hand and placed them in an oiled skillet to cook. Keep adding oil as you cook and turn the burgers, because the oily, crispy outside really made them taste better than just mashed rice.

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I tried a second recipe for vegan burgers, this one featuring mashed sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and quinoa. They tasted good but they were a lot of work also, and they had a very mashed consistency, kind of like falafel, that I don’t think people would like as much, so I’m skipping sharing that one.

The second recipe is for farro (a large wheat grain, similar in texture to barley) and white beans with Tuscan herbs and cherry tomatoes. I was surprised by how delicious this was for as simple as it was. This could be a vegan entrée for 3 to 4 people, or a side dish for 8.

Enjoy!

Caramelized onion, brown rice and lentil burgers

1 cup short-grain brown rice

1 cup brown lentils

3 cups water

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

4 cups finely minced onions (2 large)

1 teaspoon salt

Up to 2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Black pepper

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Nonstick cooking spray

Combine the rice, lentils and water in a medium-large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook undisturbed until everything is very tender and all the water is absorbed, about 40 minutes. If the mixture gets a bit mushy, that’s perfectly fine.

Meanwhile, place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add 2 tablespoons of the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onions and cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions become soft. Add ½ teaspoon of the salt, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 20 to 35 minutes, or until the onions are entirely soft and sweet.

Add the rice-lentil mixture to the onions and cook and mash together for another 10 minutes or so over very low heat. Gradually add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, the soy sauce, vinegar, and a generous amount of black pepper.

Place a second skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add a scant ½ tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan. Heat for another minute or so, until the oil is hot enough to sizzle a crumb on contact.

Use a nonstick-sprayed 1/3 cup measure to scoop-shape the batter as uniformly as possible. Carefully transfer as many burgers as will fit in a single layer to the hot, oiled pan, knocking the cup handle assertively against the side of the pan or using the back of a spoon to release the batter. Smooth the top surface with a dinner knife, so the burgers will crisp evenly, and push in the sides to help keep their shape as they cook.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden on the bottom. Use a small spatula with a thin blade to carefully loosen each burger, flip it over, adding a little more oil as needed and pushing the burgers back into shape if they slump or break. Cook the second side for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bottoms are nicely browned. Continue to cook in batches, adding more oil as needed, until all the batter has been used. Serve hot or warm.

Farro and Tuscan white beans

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini (white kidney) beans

1 ½ cups farro

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 ups minced onion (1 large)

½ teaspoon dried rubbed sage

½ teaspoon thyme

½ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

¾ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons minced or crushed garlic

1 ½ tablespoons white wine vinegar

Black pepper

Crushed red pepper (optional)

2 cups sweet cherry tomatoes or diced ripe heirloom tomatoes (about ¾ pound)

Rinse the canned beans, let them drain, and set aside.

Meanwhile, fill a medium-large saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. When the water boils, add the farro, and cook, uncovered, at aa gentle boil over medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chewy-tender. Drain in a colander and shake dry.

Place a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet over medium heat for about a minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Toss in the onion and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the dried herbs and ¼ teaspoon salt and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the minced or crushed garlic and turn the heat to medium low. Cover the skillet and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the onion is very soft.

Turn the heat to low and mix the farro in with a fork, adding the remaining ½ teaspoon salt. When all the farro is incorporated, add the drained beans, very gently mixing them in until combined. Splash in the vinegar and taste for salt, then season with black pepper and more crushed red pepper if desired. Delicately stir in the tomatoes or just lay them on top and serve hot, war, cold, or at room temperature.

Options: Add lightly toasted walnuts or crumble on some white cheese, like feta.

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