Last night, I went out for a Thai dinner at an old college haunt with an old friend. My choice of meal was predictable: tofu summer rolls for an appetizer, vegetarian coconut curry for an entree, brown rice on the side. For some reason, I always go the route of the familiar when it comes to Thai. I think it’s my comfort food.
This banal restaurant ordering is a rarity in my life though, as one of my favorite aspects of dining is the surprise of the menu. Sure, I will read through the ordering options before I choose to visit a new place, but the kitchens I love most are those that change their offerings often. That is, of course, one reason I gravitate towards locavore chefs: ingredients change with the seasons, and so their menus must as well.
In a perfect world, every restaurant I visit would be a farm-to-table locale. Though New York makes it easy to live out that dream, sometimes, like at my Thai meal last night, reality pulls in a different direction. Sometimes meeting for dinner is more about companionship than the creativity of the food.
On those occasions, the restaurants tend to be a bit more dull, and I can generally predict the existence of a few conventional dishes in their kitchens. Salmon, prepared in some sort of Asian glaze, with light vegetables as an accompaniment. Chicken, perhaps with mashed potatoes. A salad of apples, nuts, gorgonzola cheese, and balsamic – grilled chicken optional. And a roasted beet salad.
You’ve seen this one before. Mesclun greens, roasted beets, candied walnuts, creamy goat cheese. I spot it on menus more often than not. The combination is tried, it’s true, it tastes good.
I’m sure it wasn’t boring the first time I spotted it, or even the tenth, but at this point in my dining career [yes, career], I’ve seen this one too much. I never order this salad, because it annoys me. It is too predictable.
Earlier this week, however, I found myself stocked with the exact ingredients for that humdrum salad. Refusing to fall prey to predictability, I decided I would simply have to create something new out of the old.
I summoned up my inner culinary artist, and the result was a joy. I knew the flavors would work – if they didn’t, why would the trio show up on menus with such frequency? So, a salad became a delicious vegetarian burger, and predictability ended up tasting rather wonderful.
This burger could easily be served up atop greens in a call to the classic dish, or in a bun with mustard in a more traditional burger fashion. I found myself with an abundance of potatoes that needed eating, and so I served the burger up on its own. Really, it needs nothing else: all the goodness is tucked inside.
beet burgers with walnuts and goat cheese [makes 4]
3 c shredded raw beets
1/2 c rolled oats
1/2 c walnuts
3 oz goat cheese
1 t thyme
couple pinches salt
I like a veggie burger to have some texture, so I pureed about 2/3 of the ingredients and mixed the rest in later. Instructions for this method are below; if you prefer a smooth burger, just mix in the full amount.
1) In food processor, blend together oats, thyme, salt, and about 2/3 of the walnuts until a fine powder forms. Add 2 cups of beets; process until smooth.
2) Transfer mixture to large bowl and fold in remaining beets and walnuts. Add 2 oz goat cheese and mix until well distributed.
3) Form 4 patties. Press a few pieces of remaining goat cheese into each patty – this will give you pockets of cheesy delicious in each bite.
4) Heat a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook burger 3-4 minutes per side, until golden. Alternatively, you could bake them at 350 for 20 minutes.