Almond Chickpea Burgers with Baba Ghanoush

First, let me apologize to all vegetarians out there because I have never liked veggie burgers. Never. As a kid it was simply because anything labeled vegetarian was immediately known to be yucky – except my carrot sticks slathered in Ranch dressing, of course. As I matured and my pallet became a little bit more adventurous I discovered I liked things such as: avocado, olives (black not green), spinach (cooked into things – not by itself just yet), and mushrooms (on pizza).

Jump ahead to the present and there are very few foods I don’t care for and even fewer I will politely pass on if offered. I love all kinds of olives. Spinach is my best friend, especially since I have chronically low iron. Tofu is regularly substituted for meat if I can’t confirm the meat’s origin; and I’ve added such grown-up foods as: fennel, figs, watercress, and squash of all kinds to my diet. I even enjoy a few roasted Brussels sprouts every now and then (le gasp!). The only items I will dare to refuse are peppers, raw tomatoes, and veggie burgers. I’m getting better with the tomatoes and peppers. Thick, beefy tomatoes without the slime are fine and green peppers I can even enjoy in moderation…veggie burgers, though, I won’t touch.

So it was a lucky thing that the recipe I read about a month back said nothing about a “veggie burger”. The dish was called “Almond & Chickpea Burger With Chipotle Mayo”. Well, you might say, a chickpea burger is obviously a veggie burger – that’s what most veggie burgers are made of after all! Yes, but you see, that would require a bit of logic and at the time I guess all my brain cells were devoted to mastering stereochemistry in chiral molecules; I completely missed the association and decided I liked the recipe. I had already collected the ingredients for a baba ghanoush I had wanted to make that evening and when I realized I had everything on hand to whip up the “almond chickpea burgers” as well, that sealed the deal.

Almond Chickpea Burgers with Baba Ghanoush

(Adapted from Women’s Health and Andrea Meyers)

Ingredients:

For the Baba Ghanoush…

1      medium eggplant (about 12 oz. / 375 g)

¼    C   fresh lemon juice

2     T   tahini paste*

2      cloves of garlic, minced

1½   t   salt

2   T  and  1  t  EVOO, separated

*Note: the source recipe calls for 1/3  C  of tahini paste. As much as I like the flavor, I found the original amount overwhelming in the final product. I reduced the amount to 2  T in my next batch and thought it was a significant improvement. Different brands of tahini paste may have stronger or weaker flavors. This was my first time ever cooking with the stuff myself, so it was a learning experience. I recommend adding only a few tablespoons to start and, after tasting, adding more if desired.

For the Almond Chickpea Burgers…

2   garlic cloves, unpeeled

½   C   slivered almonds (2 oz.)

1   19 oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

¼   C   chopped fresh thyme or herbs of choice

1     t   ground cumin

½   t  chili powder

generous pinch of salt

1   large egg

4    t   EVOO

2    T   mayonnaise

½   t   minced chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, or to taste

2   C   baby greens or shredded lettuce

1   beefsteak tomato, coarsely chopped*

4   whole-wheat pitas (6″)

*Note: now while I generally pass on tomatoes, I honestly did want one here – especially a lovely beefsteak one – if for no other reason then to add a pop of color. The tomato I pulled out of my veggie drawer had gone unused for a tad too long, I’m ashamed to say, and I had to toss it, otherwise you would have seen tomato in my photo! As long as you don’t a terrible aversion to the fruit, I suggest you add it in. It will give the burgers a juicy cool flavor amongst the crunch and heat of the burgers themselves.

Procedure:

For the Baba Ghanoush…

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Pour 2 T of EVOO into a 9 x 9 glass baking dish. Pierce the skin of the eggplant with a fork in a few places around the surface and cut in half lengthwise. Place the eggplant halves skin-side-up in the baking dish, the green tops of the eggplant may need to be removed. Roast the eggplant for about 30 minutes or so, until the insides of the eggplant have turned soft – but not mushy – and slightly opaque. The skin will be a bit wrinkled.
  2. Allow the eggplant to sit until cool enough to handle, then skin the warm eggplant. If the veggie is fully roasted the skin should peel off relatively easily. The tricky part is getting a good grip. Coarsely chop the eggplant flesh and drain for a few minutes in a colander if needed (mine was never all that wet).
  3. Add eggplant to a food processor and puree it. Add lemon juice and tahini paste and pulse a few times to incorporate. Add freshly-minced garlic and salt. Pulse to fully mix and taste: add more lemon juice or salt if desired.
  4. Add EVOO and process until well mixed. Serve with pita strips, crackers, or on Almond Chickpea Burgers. Will keep in the fridge for 3 days.


For the Almond Chickpea Burgers…

  1. In a small pan of boiling water cook garlic for 3 minutes or so to soften. When cool enough to handle, peel and transfer to a large bowl. Mash garlic with a fork until relatively smooth.
  2. Meanwhile, in a skillet, toast almonds for 3 – 5 minutes until lightly browned and fragrant. Transfer to (cleaned) food processor and pulse a few times to grind into a fine meal (be careful not to make paste!).
  3. Add chickpeas to garlic and continue to mash with a potato masher or fork until no whole chickpeas remain. Add almond meal, herbs, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Stir/mash to blend.
  4. Add the egg and mix well. Shape the mixture into 4 patties. In a large nonstick skillet heat EVOO over medium heat and add the patties. Cook until browned and crisp on the outside and heated through (about 5 min per side). Take care to only flip burgers once, more flipping could crumble the mixture.
  5. As the burgers are cooking, blend mayonnaise and chipotle pepper in a small bowl. When burgers are done, spread a rounded teaspoon of chipotle mayo on each and place in pitas.
  6. Mound a generous tablespoon of Baba Ghanoush on the top of the burgers in the pitas and finish with greens and tomato chunks. Serve immediately. Will keep for 3 days in fridge.


Beezer’s Notes:

Please excuse the horrible lighting in the above photo, I snapped it later that night when I came back for seconds and decided to try the baba ghanoush on top of the burger. The result was delicious: the perfect blend of both recipes. Unfortunately the fluorescent light above my stove creates terrible photos… back to the flavors though: while not originally paired together, the histories of both the lowly veggie burger and exotic baba ghanoush can explain their complementary nature.

My recipes came from entirely different sources and are normally enjoyed in very different circles (vegetarian soccer-mom’s griddle vs. Egyptian restaurant), but both have Arabian roots. Baba ghanoush is a popular Arab dish that takes a fire-roasted eggplant and purees it with tahini and spices (technically, because we oven-roast our eggplant here, it doesn’t have the smokey flavor and would be considered a mutabbal and NOT a baba ghanoush…but I won’t tell if you won’t). Balls of chickpeas mixed with herbs and spices are traditionally made as falafels – another food quickly becoming popular in the West. The Copts of Egypt claim to have made the first falafel as a meat substitute for Lent.

So there you go! These Almond Chickpea Burgers with Baba Ghanoush take traditional Egyptian foods and rework them into a Western meal. These were the very first veggie burgers I can say I’ve enjoyed! They are packed with different textures and flavors, a big bonus is that they’re healthy too. I served one to my mother the following day and she loved it. Don’t let any unfamiliar ingredients stop you, give them a shot – you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 🙂

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

Browned Butter Almond Cake

I know what you’re thinking: finally, a recipe with some substance! Haha. It’s true, I’ve been busy lately and have been attracted more and more to quick (but delicious!) snacks and treats. With school starting in a week I find myself running around town, nervously trying to tie up loose ends, square away a clear financial plan, and smoothly transition from “real world” work back to academia. The start of a new school year is busy for everyone, but I think it’s especially exciting and terrifying for me because I’ve been out of the game for so long.

By some miracle (and countless all-night study sessions) I graduated with my B.Sc. in Physics in 2006. I had planned on taking a year off to rest my muddled brain and travel, but – as you all know – time accelerates exponentially as you age and suddenly I find myself four years out of the field. I’m very happy to finally be working towards my graduate degree, I’m just nervous at discovering just how rusty my school-skills have become. There’s also more to it than my ability to cram. If years away weren’t bad enough, I’m also jumping subjects: from my Physics background I’m hoping to bridge the way to a Biochemistry future. It could be worse I suppose; they’re both science concentrations. I haven’t had a Chemistry course since my undergrad freshman year, though, so we’re looking at eight years since any real experience. It’s going to be tough.

Cooking, baking, and – of course – eating are always good stress relievers and when I read about Sugar High Fridays on 17 and Baking I really wanted to participate. The theme ingredient this time is Browned Butter, something I had never made before but have always thought it sounded delicious. Apparently, browned butter is known in France as beurre noisette and is described as being nutty, toasy, and/or slightly caramel-like.

I immediately reached for my favorite dessert book: Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor. Inside I found the perfect recipe, one that combined the key ingredient with almonds for a dense but not terribly rich cake – the kind that goes well with nearly anything you can imagine. Being an almond fan I had to try it.

Browned Butter Almond Cake (from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey by Jill O’Connor)

Ingredients:

1   C   unsalted butter (2 sticks)

1 3/4   C   all-purpose flour

1 3/4   t    baking powder

½   t    salt

½   C   sliced almonds, finely ground*

7   oz.   almond paste (1 roll)

1     C   sugar

1      t   pure vanilla extract

3   large eggs

2   large egg yolks

½   C   powdered sugar, for dusting

* Note: When I initially read this ingredient, I understood it to mean ½ C of almonds finally ground (as in, once ground, measure out ½ a Cup). Because I love almonds almost as much as I love cheese, I measured out a full Cup of ground almonds – which required nearly 2 Cups of sliced almonds to make. Now that I’m rereading this, it turns out that I used about  four times as much ground almonds as called for! Oops! The cake was delicious despite my mistake (see Beezer’s Notes below), but if you aren’t such a fan of almonds or prefer to stick to the source recipe make sure to measure out only ½ C of sliced almonds to grind.


Procedure:

  1. Read How To Brown Butter on Simply Recipes. I didn’t and wish I did.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over low heat. When melted, increase the heat to medium and whisk gently but constantly.
  3. Continue cooking and whisking the butter until the solids at the bottom of the pan begin to brown. As these solids begin to caramelize, the butter will begin to smell nutty and sweet. As soon as you smell this delightful aroma, remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. The butter will continue to cook and brown off-heat so it is important to remove it from the burner as soon as the process begins. Let the butter cool completely.
  4. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Grease a 9″ round cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper.
  5. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the ground almonds and set aside.
  6. Break the almond paste into small pieces and, in a second bowl, toss with the sugar. Now, here the source recipe calls for an electric beater but, let me tell you folks, I tried that and it was a MESS! Even after microwaving the combined sugar/paste mixture for a few seconds to help soften the pieces my electric beater was unable to blend the two together. Instead, I highly recommend using a food processor if you have one. Just a few pulses on low and bam: beautiful sandy mixture. Even a pastry cutter would probably be more affective than electric beaters here, in my opinion.
  7. Once you have blended the almond paste and sugar together to form a crumbly, sandy mix you may go back to your electric beaters. Use them to beat in the vanilla and then the whole eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating one before moving on to the next. Beat in the egg yolks, again one at a time, beating well between each addition.
  8. Carefully fold the flour mix into the batter until just incorporated.
  9. By now your browned butter should be room temperature*
  10. *Note: traditional “browned butter” should require no straining. If you accidentally cook it too long – as I did – and have small dark brown particles in your butter you’ve probably made buerre noir instead. You then have a choice: you can either strain the particles out and use the butter anyway – as long as it’s not too badly burnt it will still be delicious – or you can save it for a pasta dish and attempt the brown butter again. Elise, the author of the “How to Brown Butter ” article says she dumps it! Either she has very seriously blackened her butter in the past or I’m thriftier than I realized, haha.
  11. …gently fold your browned (or darkly browned – as I’m going to call mine) butter into the batter. Spoon the batter into the prepped cake pan and spread evenly.
  12. Bake the cake for 10 minutes before reducing the heat down to 350°F. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean – about 30 minutes.
  13. Once the cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and allow to completely cool (I know it’s hard) before removing it from the pan.
  14. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

Beezer’s Notes:

This cake – while possibly made with butter a tad bit too brown – was delicious! As I usually mention with every recipe of this sort that I am not really a cake fan. I’ll pick a pie or tart over cake most of the time and it’s only the more unique and non-traditional ones that grab my attention (see my Irish Cream Pound Cake, Sticky Pear and Walnut Upside Down Gingerbread, or Blueberry Almond Cake). Well, I’m proud to add this yummy dessert to my list!

My only regrets with this recipe are as follows: first, I really wish I had had some sort of a side to compliment the cake, especially because there are so many tasty possibilities. Vanilla ice cream is an obvious choice, but also berries, a compote, whipped cream, maybe even a light pudding would all be fabulous. I quickly put together this dessert in between trips, though, and simply wasn’t prepared (on the bright side, I can truly say this cake freezes very well!).

Regret #2 is only that I would like to try this cake with perfectly browned butter next time. My butter did smell exactly as described – deliciously nutty and sweet – but the fact that I had to strain away darkened bits makes me think I accidentally made buerre noir instead and I’d like to taste the difference.

Overall Enjoyment: ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

 

 

Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie

I like ice cream. I like pie. I like ice cream with my pie….but somehow, I had never before encountered – nor even considered – an ice cream pie. I suppose it’s not all that different from an ice cream cake, that easy fall-back for countless birthdays across the America, and yet the idea of a crunchy shell supporting two yummy flavors topped with a generous drizzle of caramel sauce was too good to pass up. Especially when the caramel sauce mentioned was advertised as “easy” and I had never before made caramel sauce in my life (sadly, melting caramel candies with cream doesn’t count). Plus, how can you go wrong with Ree’s wonderful step-by-step photo instructions?? I tweaked it a bit for my own tastes (and laziness) but barley enough to mention; see Beezer’s Notes below if you’re really that curious. I promise I won’t be offended if you skip directly to Ree’s site and work from her pictures – that woman could publish a photo-book of recipes that would still be perfectly functional without a single  typed word.

Double-Layer Ice Cream Pie (adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Ingredients:

For the Crust…

3     egg whites

¼   t     salt

½   C    sugar

1     C    almonds, finely chopped

For the Filling…

2    Pints of ice cream, one each of different flavors

For the Caramel Sauce…

4     T     butter

1      C     brown sugar, packed

½    C    heavy cream

1      T    vanilla

pinch of salt

For Chocolate Ganache…

1     C     dark or semisweet chocolate chips

1     C     heavy cream

Procedure:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Add sugar and salt and beat again until stiff and glossy. Gently fold in nuts and spread mixture over the bottom and up the sides of a non-glass pie pan – make sure the sides are adequately coated. Bake for about 15 minutes or until a light golden brown. Allow crust to cool completely.
  2. About ten minutes or so before crust is completely cool, remove the first of the ice cream pints from the freezer and allow to soften while waiting on the crust.
  3. Once crust is completely cool and ice cream has softened, spread the first pint across the bottom of the crust and smooth the top. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 10 minutes or so to harden a bit. At the same time, remove your second ice cream pint and allow to soften on the counter while the first layer hardens.
  4. Remove pie from the freezer and spread the second pint of ice cream on top of the first. Smooth the top and return the completed pie to the freezer to solidify one last time. While waiting, prepare the sauces.
  5. Mix all caramel sauce ingredients except the vanilla in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5 minutes or so until thicker. Add the vanilla and cook a minute more to thicken further. Remove from heat and transfer sauce to a jar. If not serving the same day, refrigerate the sauce til needed.
  6. To make the chocolate ganache, mix chocolate and cream in another small sauce pan over med-low heat until smooth. Remove from heat and transfer to another jar. Again, if not serving the same day (or if you prefer your sauce cold) store in the fridge.
  7. When ready to serve, slice pie (meringue crust will stick a bit to the pan, that’s normal) and drizzle sauce(s) of choice over the top. Yum! 🙂

Beezer’s Notes:

Mmmm, this pie was everything I expected it to be. The crunch of the almond-filled meringue was a great base for the ice cream and the sauces added an extra layer of flavor on top. Plus, if you’re like me and pour the sauces on warm, you’ll end up with a slowly melting mound of deliciousness you can scoop up around chewy meringue blobs. Desserts taste even better when they soften into fun textures – don’t deny it!

I didn’t intend to tweak much in this recipe, I just didn’t want to measure out egg whites. I decided to use three eggs’ worth instead and bumped the sugar in the meringue up to ½ Cup to compensate. I also used almonds instead of pecans since I had them on hand. The addition of a chocolate sauce was simply because one of my ice cream pints was flavored caramel (it was on sale!) and I thought that a caramel ice cream with caramel sauce might be a bit too much for some folks. Lastly, I divided up the procedure a bit in how I layered my ice cream.

To be completely honest, it wasn’t some grand plan of clean layers or impressive presentation I had in mind when I changed the filling process. I ended up freezing my first layer because I was convinced the second pint of ice cream wouldn’t fit on top! It wasn’t until the first layer had frozen solid that I decided, what the hell, and gave it a shot. Lo and behold: two whole pints fit perfectly! Of course. Why do I always doubt?? Anyway, the two-part freeze did result in lovely divided layers, though, so I decided to keep the procedure. I’m sure your pie will be delicious any way you choose to fill it. Especially with all that sauce. 😉

Overall Enjoyment: ♥    ♥    ♥    ♥

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