Monday, March 01, 2010

Red Lentil Walnut Burgers

When I look back on my college days, there are many things that I can't help but miss. The lack of responsibility, for one, when your only real job is to learn (well, also to scrub trays in the dining halls, and babysit local children who laugh at your hair, but I've tried to forget most of that). There's the sense of potential and common purpose, and the sweet delaying of adult decisions. But more than anything else, there's this: dozens and dozens of friends, many of them living right down the hall. You don't even need to put on shoes. If I had known how rare that was in the grown-up world, I might never have left.

In the grown-up world, friendships can be a bit more difficult. Your nearest and dearest are often busy with their own work woes and family obligations, and at best might live on the other side of the neighborhood (at worst, the other side of the world). So I know how lucky I am to say this: the only thing separating me from some of my favorite people in town is a shared driveway.

It took us a while to broach the usual neighborly anonymity. But our kitchen windows face each other, and lord knows I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If you're doing dishes, it's impossible not to be staring into the facing window. So after several weeks of watching each other prepare separate meals, we proposed sharing dinners. Which has further developed into sharing living-room happy hours, next-door grocery runs, and a rudimentary through-the-window sign language (mostly used to gauge whether or not to shake up an additional cocktail). On the sad sad day when we're no longer living in slipper-wearing distance of each other, I'll have many fond memories to look back on. And I'll have the recipe for red lentil walnut burgers.

My neighbor happened upon this recipe several months ago, and it entered her regular rotation after a bit of tweaking (swapping oatmeal for breadcrumbs, and red lentils for brown). These healthy patties freeze wonderfully, and we both regularly make double batches to have on-hand. The spicing yields a flavor reminiscent of falafel, but with less grease and a smoother texture. We've crumbled them in pita bread with tahini, and topped them with kraut and russian dressing like a reuben (as well as enjoying them with traditional burger condiments). The combination of lentils, oats and walnuts makes them especially heart-healthy. Of course, I'd take a stellar neighbor over a delicious vegetarian burger any day of the week. But for now, I get to enjoy both.

Red Lentil Walnut Burgers

adapted from PBS's Everyday Food

yields 4 burgers

These patties reheat wonderfully, but not in the microwave for some reason (which tends to dry them out in a strange and unappetizing way). Allot a bit of extra time to warm and crisp up leftovers in a skillet or toaster oven.

3/4 cup red lentils
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, cooled
1/2-1 cup rolled oats
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 - 1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large egg
2-3 Tbsp oil for frying

Rinse the lentils, and place them in a pot with 1 1/4 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until tender, ~20-30 minutes. Check every now and then, adding more water if needed. Let cool.

In a food processor, combine the cooked and cooled lentils, walnuts, oats (start with the smaller amount), garlic, cumin, coriander, chili flakes, salt, olive oil, and egg. Pulse until combined but not totally mushed (having little chunks of walnuts and oats will make the texture more interesting). Turn out into a bowl, and knead for a moment to evenly distribute the ingredients. Let sit ~5 minutes for the oats to absorbthe moisture. Divide into 4 pieces, and shape into patties that are about 3/4" thick. If the mixture is too moist to shape (it should be fairly moist, but not ridiculously so), add additional oats, waiting 5 minutes after each addition.

Heat a few tablespoons oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add the burgers. Cook until crisp and browned, 8-10 minutes per side. The burgers will be very delicate while warm, so turn gently (they'll firm up a bit as they cool). Serve with the condiments of your choice.


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