Meat-Free Grilling Series #1: Veggie Burgers & Brioche Buns

Have you noticed it's a little warmer outside these days? Things are looking a little greener and I keep hearing more and more little birdies chatting it up outside my kitchen window. It's really starting to feel like spring! In honor of this lovely weather, I'm launching a "Meat-Free Grilling Series", which will include my favorite vegetarian and/or vegan recipes suitable for the grill. Over the next four weeks, I'll share tips, drink pairings, and more - so stay tuned!

Veggie Burger: Brown Rice, Mushrooms, & Almonds

First up, of course, has to be the veggie burger. This is one of my favorite recipes and is modeled after the best veggie burger in the entire universe, which I originally found at Hillstone in Denver, CO but can also be found at R+D Kitchen in Santa Monica, CA. The patty is made from brown rice, almonds, mushrooms, fennel, and other veggies - the toppings and the brioche buns certainly add to the decadence, too! Side note: this veggie patty is gluten-free. 

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Ingredients

1 cup uncooked brown rice, cooked according to package instructions and cooled
2 tbsp. olive or avocado oil
3/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/2 cup fennel, finely chopped
1/2 shiitake mushrooms, finely chopped
1 jalapeño (or 2-3 tbsp. bell pepper), finely chopped
1/4 cup almonds, lightly toasted and chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
~2 tbsp. rice flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. + 1 tbsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly-ground black pepper
1/3 cup fresh chives, thinly sliced

Toppings (optional): Mayonnaise, arugula, lemon juice, avocado, tomato, Monterey Jack cheese (or your favorite mild white cheese)

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Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (I do this in my toaster oven, but if you don't have one then your wall oven is fine). On a sheet pan, spread rice into one layer and bake for about 10 minutes, being sure to turn it about every 2-3 minutes. The point of this is to toast/dry out the rice so the patty isn't a soggy mess. You should notice the rice becoming a little bit drier every time you toss it around. If it still feels extremely moist, bake it an additional few minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.

2. Heat oil in a large skillet over med-high heat. Add the onion, fennel, carrot, mushrooms, and jalapeño or bell pepper. Sauté until golden brown. Drain veggies on a kitchen towel or paper towel (to drain the excess moisture and grease). Set aside and allow to cool. 

3. In a small heat-proof bowl, add the raisins and 1/2 cup boiling water. Allow to soak for at least 5 minutes, or until raisins are softened and slightly plumped. Drain. 

4. In a large bowl, mix the rice, vegetable mixture, egg, rice flour, almonds, raisins, chives, 1 tsp. vegan Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. Mix thoroughly, preferably with clean hands. Form the mixture into a small ball - if it holds together well, it's done. If it's too soggy and falling apart, add a little bit more rice flour. 

5. Form into 4 large patties or 8-10 slider patties. If grilling, it is best done on a sheet of aluminum foil sprayed or brushed with oil. Or simply cook in a cast-iron skillet on med-high heat. Ensure that a nice golden brown crust has formed before flipping - otherwise you may lose some of the patty in the flip. Don't forget to top with your favorite mild white cheese once you flip it over!

I love to top the burger with a light drizzle of the Worcestershire sauce - it adds a great depth of flavor, fresh arugula that has been lightly dressed with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and some black pepper, sliced avocado, and sliced red onion. On a homemade brioche bun, YUM!

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Sesame Brioche Buns

I love baking bread, but serious bread baking also includes serious recipe testing, which is best left to the yeasty experts...like Tartine Bakery's recipe for my favorite crusty country loaf (still the best bread I've ever baked at home!) or this recipe, found in the New York Times, for heavenly brioche burger buns. Sorry, vegans. 

Ingredients

1 cup warm water
3 tbsp. warm milk
2 tsp. active dry yeast
2 1/2 tbsp. sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tbsp, sesame seeds, optional

Method

1. In a glass or ceramic measuring cup, combine the water, milk, yeast and sugar. Let it stand for about five minutes, or just until you see it becoming foamy. 

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, and salt. Add the butter and, with your fingers, break the butter into small pieces, forming crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and one beaten egg. Mix together until a dough forms. 

3. Using a dough scraper, scrape dough onto an unfloured surface and knead for about ten minutes, or until it's smooth and elastic. 

4. Form the dough into a ball and place it a medium-large bowl that you have lightly sprayed with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size - about 1-2 hours. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a silicone baking sheet like a Silpat, 

5. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and form each piece into a ball. Arrange these balls on the baking sheets 2-3 inches apart and then let them rise, covered loosely with a kitchen towel, again for 1-2 hours. 

6. Fill a large and shallow baking dish or pan with water and set it on the bottom oven rack. Place another rack in the center of the oven. 

7. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly beat the remaining egg with 1 tbsp. of water and brush this egg wash on the buns. If using, sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over buns. Bake the buns for about 15 minutes, or until nicely golden brown. Rotate baking sheet halfway through the baking time.