Smoky Red Lentil Burgers
Have you ever kept a dinner journal? Even though this blog is technically an account of what we’ve eaten, I don’t capture all of our humble everyday meals here–that’d be a repetitious and poorly lit project. But I love the idea of writing down what we’ve had for dinner. Not because I’m some insanely sentimental type. Nor do I want to obsess over every last morsel I’ve ingested. It’s that I develop amnesia about recent dinner triumphs at exactly the moment when I’m trying to figure out what we should eat on a given night.
There’s always pasta. There are bowl dinners. Recently, we’ve been making soups and eating them with salads (my choice) or sandwiches (his). Neither of us is all that picky, and one of us is a food blogger. But still, the dinner idea well runs dry. When it does, we rack our brains.
“We had something last week that we liked, right?” he’ll say.
“What did we used to eat?” I’ll ask.
When we rack our brains especially hard, we’ll often happen upon one answer: bean burgers. We do like bean burgers, I’ll remember. They use cheap pantry ingredients and no meat and are particularly amenable to incorporating whatever ingredients are on hand–canned beans, already cooked dry beans, or quick-cooking red lentils.
And that single limp scallion in the vegetable drawer.
Have you developed a system for remembering favorite meals on nights when you don’t know what to cook?
I’ve been cooking a lot of lentils recently, as I explore the food of the Middle East, and that’s where I turned last week when we decided to make bean burgers for dinner.I’ve been making little black lentils, homey brown lentils, and super quick-cooking red lentils. The latter are in so many of the Middle Eastern recipes I’ve been drooling over–especially a luxuriously rich lentil soup that takes advantage of the way that red lentils break apart when cooked a few extra minutes and become creamy.
Red lentils form the base of these burgers too, which turned out to be a good choice. If you’ve ever made such a lentil soup, you know that lentils solidify as they cool. So if you make the burgers thirty minutes in advance, you’ll find they’re really easy to cook, not at all likely to fall apart in the pan, unlike some more delicate burgers. I flavored these with smoked paprika, which mellows and complements the earthiness of the lentils.
This sponsored post is part of an ongoing collaboration with Sargento, called Flavor Journey. Throughout the year, with the support of Sargento, I’ll be exploring Middle Eastern cuisine–at home, in Brooklyn, and wherever the flavors may take me. Sponsored posts let me do some of my best work on this blog, and I only ever work with brands whose values and products mesh with the content I love to produce for you. You can read my affiliate disclosure here if you’re interested.
Smoky Red Lentil Burgers
Makes 8 burgers; serves 4 with sides
I’ve shown the lentil burgers tucked into pita breads and garnished with tahini aioli and lots of fresh cilantro. But my favorite way to eat them is piled on top of garlicky sautéed greens. You could certainly also eat on a hamburger bun with mayo, lettuce, and tomato–just like a beef burger. Leftover burgers make a great snack or lunch. Turn the same mixture into little red lentil croquettes if you’re looking for a vegetarian finger food option.
You’ll need a mesh strainer on hand to drain the lentils.
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 scallion, white and green parts chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 carrot, grated
1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Half an 8-inch pita, toasted and cooled
juice from half a lime
1 egg, lightly beaten
Bring about 3 quarts of water to boil in a pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the lentils. Cook for 12 minutes, until the lentils are very soft and just beginning to fall apart. Drain in a wire mesh strainer, stirring the lentils to get out as much water as possible. They’ll sort of fall apart as you do this, which is what you want.
In a small pan, sauté the scallion, garlic, carrot in 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft. Add the paprika and 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir for another minute.
Transfer the lentils to a mixing bowl and add the cooked vegetables.
Tear up the cooled pita and place in a mini food processor. Pulse to create crumbs. You should have about a 1/2 cup.
Add the crumbs, egg, lime, and 1 tablespoon olive oil to the bowl with the lentils. Mix well to distribute everything evenly. Using about 1/4 cup of the mixture each, form into 8 patties. Place on a cutting board and store in the fridge for about 30 minutes, so the burgers can firm up. You can cover the burgers and leave them overnight, too.
Heat a large frying pan or a cast iron skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add oil to about 1/4-inch depth. Cook the patties 5 to 6 minutes a side, until golden, then flip and repeat on second side. Drain on paper towels, and serve atop greens or inside a pita.