This Sweet and Smoky Beet Burger recipe comes straight out of my newly purchased cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. Believe it or not, I’m not a big cookbook buyer: I guess I can partially blame this on the lack of storage space in my closet of an apartment, but mostly it’s because I seek out a lot of my recipes from cooking websites and blogs. (Plus my two staple cookbooks, The Moosewood Cookbook and American Medical Association’s Family Health Cookbook, are so wonderfully comprehensive.)
That being said, what drove me to purchase The New Persian Kitchen? Specifically, to pre-order and carry home upon its arrival, hugged tightly in my arms, like a proud, excited child who had just acquired her very first homework assignment?
The descriptors in this recipe title —sweet and smoky—hold a clue. What drew me to The New Persian Kitchen was the juxtaposition of savory and sweet in almost every recipe. Riddled with the aromatic fresh herbs one would expect from Middle Eastern cooking: dill, mint, parsley, cilantro, and tarragon; a heavy reliance on onions and garlic, and unique regional spices such as turmeric, dried limes, and lemony sumac; this cookbook has it’s savory and spice side down pat. But what really intrigued me were the natural sweet flavors it was always paired with: pomegranate molasses, chopped dates, dried cherries, rose petals. The result is a balance of “hot” (gardi) and “cold” (sarmi) flavors, as Louisa describes, which play off each other in a most harmonious and flavorful fashion.
Case in point: these delicious burgers! Smoky paprika, sautéed onions and garlic, and earthy lentils and brown rice make up the bulk of the “meat” of these burgers, which are dotted with jewels of golden raisins, sweet beets, and nutty walnuts. (Yes, spend that extra $3 and buy golden raisins. It’s worth it!) These bursts of sweet flavor offer a pleasing, unexpected jolt that make this “veggie burger” anything but your plain ol’. Upgrade your choice of condiment by replacing ketchup with a saucy fruit chutney or cool mix of plain Greek yogurt, diced cucumbers and tomatoes stirred in red wine vinegar, and generous sprinkling of fresh dill.
This recipe makes 8 servings. I recommend making the entire batch and refrigerating (for up to 5 days) or freezing the remainder for another meal. Between the lentils and brown rice, the burgers take a bit of time to make, so get your prep done in one fell swoop to eliminate the time commitment for next round!
Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers (from The New Persian Kitchen)
2 tablespoons grapeseed or olive oil, plus extra for searing
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
1 cup peeled and grated beets (from about 1 small beet)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 cup walnuts
½ cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
½ cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and rained
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more for seasoning
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice, at room temperature
1. In a medium skillet, warm the grapeseed or olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to soften and caramelize, about 10 minutes.
2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the beets, garlic, walnuts, raisins and paprika. Cook, stirring frequently, until the beets are starting to brown and the walnuts are toasted, about 8 minutes.
3. Transfer the onion-beet mixture to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times until chunky. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the lentils, sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.
4. Replace the bowl of the food processor (without washing) and blend the brown rice with the egg until a coarse puree forms. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture and mix with your hands until combined. Divide the mixture into 8 portions and shape each one into a patty just under 1 inch thick.
5. In a large cast-iron skillet set over medium heat, warm enough grapeseed or olive oil to coat the bottom. Place the patties in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. Gently flip the patties and reduce the heat to low. Cover the skillet and cook the patties until they are warmed through and have a firm, golden-brown crust, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Remove the patties from the skillet and serve immediately with desired accompaniments.