Homemade Veggie Burgers

Penn classes love pretentious names. Sophomore year, I took one of my favorite classes thus far: "Food: Biological, Medical, Psychological, Cultural and Historic Perspectives." Phew! Basically, this extremely brilliant and famous professor (quoted in such books as Michael Pollen's the Omnivore's Dilemma) lectured at us for three hours every week about why people eat the way they do. I learned that I'm not the only one with strange feeding behaviors regarding meat. Apparently, I'm normal to only eat certain animals, even though my choices often seem arbitrary to those unfamiliar with my twisted and self-serving logic.

The point, however, is that I consider myself well-versed in the art of the veggie burger. Some varieties I could eat everyday (Dr. Praeger's, Morningstar Farms Tomato and Basil), and others make me nauseated. Alex is similarly experienced with the dish, and we believe that the most important characteristic of the veggie burger is that it taste like a delicious vegetable patty, not like slab of fake meat.

The ultimate veggie burger recipe from Cooks Illustrated achieves this goal with distinction. The burger has a distinct flavor and an ideal soft (but not mushy) texture. We served it to veggie burger skeptics, and received overwhelmingly positive responses. Our vegetarian friend, Lara, even said that it re-inspired her vegetarianism after she spent weeks feeling less than enthused about it. Leave about an hour for prep, but these are well worth the time and steps.

3/4 cup dried brown lentils
3/4 cup bulgur
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 1/2 tsp table salt
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup leek or scallion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb. white mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup unsalted cashews
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 cups panko

Bring lentils to boil in 3 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Reduce to simmer and cook for about 25 minutes, until falling apart. Drain in a mesh strainer, dry and set aside. While lentils are cooking, boil 2 cups of water for bulgur, add bulgur and turn off heat. Let it cook until water is absorbed. Put bulgur aside. In a large pan, heat oil. Add onions, celery, garlic and leek or scallion, and cook for about 8 minutes. Set aside, then add mushrooms to the pan and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. In a food processor, process cashews until fine. Combine cashews, lentils, and bulgur with cooled vegetables and cashews. Add mayonnaise. Food process (pulse) in batches until mixture is cohesive but roughly textured. Stir in panko, and salt and pepper to taste. Form into 12 patties. Cook on the grill or in a pan, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with favorite fixings.