Simple and Satisfying Bean Burgers

This year’s summery Memorial Day holiday in upstate New York signals the start of the season for picnics in the park.  A simple to make and satisfying bean burger is a treat not only for picnickers who are vegetarian or vegan.   This bean burger is so good that beef eaters might just be persuaded to forgo the beef patties.

Although white beans (like Great Northern white beans), black beans or pinto beans can be used in this recipe, the heirloom cranberry beans, which I grew in my backyard garden in the 2011 growing season and dried this past fall, made for a very special bean burger (   At the Troy Waterfront Farmers Market, up the river from my hometown of Albany, NY, a farmer on several occasions was selling dried cranberry beans.   It’s worth the effort to try to find these special beans, but given how “useful beans are in improving our diets, stretching food budgets and expanding mealtime options” [“All About Beans” brochure of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA)], this recipe can be made with other types of beans as suggested above.

1 cup dried heirloom cranberry beans
1 egg
1 cup of oats
1 cup of breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons of tahini
1  tablespoon of sweet paprika

Soak beans overnight or for 8 hours at room temperature.  Drain and rinse the beans.  Place beans in a large pot and submerge and cover with cold water.  Cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 90 minutes to 2 hours until soft.  Drain the cooked beans while saving the liquid in which the beans were cooked.  The one cup of dried beans produces a little more than 2 cups of cooked beans.  In a large mixing bowl, mash the cooked beans for 5-10 minutes.  Add to the mashed beans one cup of rolled oats, one cup of breadcrumbs, one egg, three tablespoons of tahini, and one tablespoon of sweet paprika.  Stir the mixture thoroughly and, if necessary, add a little of the saved bean liquid (or additional breadcrumbs) so that the mixture holds together.  Divide into 6 portions and shape into patties.

Heat 1/4 cup of sunflower seed oil or olive oil in a large skillet over medium/high  heat.  Add the patties and cook, turning only once, about 3 minutes on each side until a crisp brown crust forms on both sides.  Serve on buns with desired toppings.  We enjoyed the bean burgers warm the first evening with just Westbrae Natural’s fruit sweetened tomato ketchup.  At a picnic the next day in the Albany region’s beautiful Thacher Park in the nearby Helderberg Mountains, we enjoyed the bean burgers, which had been refrigerated, chilled with a topping of Organic Divina’s Kalamata Olive Spread.

All the other recipe ingredients, except the home-grown dried beans, were purchased at my local food co-op, the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY.   The Arrowhead Mills  tahini, which added a tangy, nutty flavor to the bean burger, is made from organic dry roasted hulled sesame seeds.  Sesame, an annual flowering plant requiring 100 days to mature and a hot climate, is grown for its little seeds.  It is “quite possibly the oldest spice known” according to a fascinating description in Edible, An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (National Geographic Society, Washington, DC, 2008).  Noting that it was first cultivated for its oil and that Egyptian tomb drawing dating back 4,000 years show bakers adding sesame seeds to bread, the entry in Edible on sesame credits the ancient Greeks and Romans for first making a paste of sesame seeds.  How wonderful in 21st century America to cook with this ancient food, which added the perfect tangy flavor to the bean burger.

The organic rolled oats sold at the co-op come from the Canadian plains of Saskatchewan.  Although oats are being grown, once again, in upstate New York, they are not easily found, but when I’m in the vicinity of the Wild Hive Café  in Dutchess County, NY, I stock up on Hudson Valley oats when available.  The egg used in this recipe was a high-quality, local egg.  At the Honest Weight, there is always a choice of organic eggs from a variety of small farms.  For this recipe, I used an egg from Eight Mile Creek Farm [] in Westerlo (Albany County, NY).  These eggs at $6.99 for a dozen are pricey  but worth the expense.  The egg’s yolk is firm and a deeply vibrant orange, with whites that are not runny.  From past egg scrambling, they are almost sweet tasting.  Here’s the small farm’s description of its eggs on the carton:
“Free to roam in the mountain air, the chickens of Eight Mile Creek are fed a lot of culled organic veggies from the farm supplemented by organic feed and flax meal. Enjoy knowing you’re eating the highest quality local organic eggs.”

The organic paprika ($1.36 per ounce in the bulk spices section of the Honest Weight Food Co-op) was an easy way to add color and sweetness to the flavor of the bean burger.  Made from finely ground dried red, sweet peppers, paprika is a versatile spice to have at hand. The Honest Weight also sells the organic, cold-pressed local sunflower oil produced by Stolor Organics in Cazenovia (Madison County) [] used in this recipe.

The breadcrumbs were homemade.   I used a “price reduced bread” from the Honest Weight Food Co-op, which marks down 50% the cost of stale baguettes.  The heat of the day deterred heating up the oven and preparing breadcrumbs the easy way, as described in the reliable  Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (New York, NY: Scribner, 1997), succinctly as follows:  “Breadcrumbs are best made from good, stale bread.  Place the slices on a baking sheet in a warm oven (about 200 degrees F) for an hour or two tro dry out; do not let them brown.  The dry bread can be ground into crumbs . . .with a hand grater (pg. 1071).”  Although it took a little extra time, I was able to produce breadcrumbs by grating the stale baguette without further heating in the oven.  (Later in the week, I enjoyed toasting slices of the remaining stale, but delicious, high quality “Made By Hand, Each and Every Day” Bread Alone baguette made from organic grains.)

The bean burgers were served warm, as well as cold on the following day’s picnic, on delicious Food For Life Sprouted Wheat Burger Buns.  These buns are prepared by adding “just the right amount of water to healthy whole organically grown grains” which activates “beneficial enzymes . . .which cause the grains to sprout and become a living food.”
(Frank Barrie, 06/03/12).

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