Whenever my friend Nina travels home from Hawaii, we always try to find some time to cook together. Usually she comes back at the end of summer, but this year she came in early June, and even though her trip was brief, we still managed to sneak a day in the kitchen.
Since Nina normally comes home in August, we’re usually overloaded with our favorite vegetables like Jersey corn and tomatoes. But this year, since she was here so early in the season, we had to change up our usual plan of action. To make matters slightly more challenging, Nina, who once introduced me to the most amazing bacon studded potato salad (recipe coming soon!), recently announced that she’s gone vegan. Or, well, “mostly vegan,” as she’ll tell you. In fact, one of the main reasons she had to cut her stay short is because she recently opened up her own little business at a local Hawaiian co-op called Nina Cucina, selling locally sourced, homemade plant-based food.
Our day started off with a tour of my garden, where we picked beets, carrots, celery, herbs and tons of arugula. We decided to improvise on few different plant based salads: one with farro, one with lentils and one with arugula (which, I’m STILL swimming in, by the way). In addition, I showed her how to make these beet burgers, and she showed me how to make this sunflower seed green goddess dressing. It all worked together really well, and it looked even better on a plate.
When I posted a picture of said plate on Instagram, I was flooded with recipe requests. Way more than usual. I fully expect my friends to ask me for ice cream cake and fried cheese recipes, but I have to say, I was surprised to see how many people were begging for this one. It felt good to know there’s such a high demand for sustainable, plant-based recipes in this community. and it encouraged me not only to post this one on my blog, but to post more plant based meals moving forward. After all, we do eat quite a few of them in this house. But lets not get carried away. We still love meat (and fish and eggs and ice cream), and have no plans to stop eating it (in moderation!) any time soon.
I can make these beet burgers in my sleep, thanks to an amazing family I used to prepare meals for every week when I worked as a personal chef. Their diet was completely vegan and gluten free, and these were in heavy rotation on their menus. And it was for good reason: they’re packed with nutrition, they’re freezer friendly, they’re filling and totally delicious.
These lentil beet burgers are hearty, earthy and pack a nice umami punch. I call them “burgers” because “patties” just doesn’t sound as cool, but the idea of putting them on a bun is odd to me. You certainly could, but I just don’t see why you’d want to. With their bright pink center and crispy browned exterior, they mimic the appearance of an actual beef burger, and would totally look the part on a bun. But they’re a bit starchy – with all the oats and lentils and what not – and I think throwing bread into the mix would just be overkill. Plus, I feel that if you’re going to eat something this healthy, should probably just go all-in.
That’s where this lovely little pale green condiment comes into play. Nina soaked sunflower seeds overnight and brought them over to make her favorite green goddess dressing. We had a ton of carrots from my garden, so she opted to make it with carrot tops in lieu of the usual herbs. It tasted good, but carrot tops have a rough texture, and my inferior blender struggled to fully break them down. So the end result was good, but lacked the super smooth texture she was used to. This time around, I made it with a whole bunch of fresh herbs instead, and it tasted even better.
This sauce is rich, smooth and tangy, which is amazing when you consider the ingredients. Soaking sunflower seeds overnight not only makes them easier to digest, it also makes them soft enough to be blended into creamy sauces and dressings like this one. I kept it thick to use almost like a dip or a spread, but it can be thinned out with more water and/or lemon juice to make a lovely salad dressing.
It will keep in the fridge for about a week or so, maybe even longer depending. The fresh herbs will eventually start to turn brown, and even though it will still taste fine, it’s just not the same without the vibrant green hue. The burgers, however, will also last about a week in the fridge, but they freeze really well, too. I love keeping these on hand for a quick, healthy and satisfying lunch. They reheat beautifully in the toaster oven straight out of the freezer. When I don’t have any green goddess dressing lying around, I like to douse them in hot sauce instead.
Now that it’s August, I’m cooking up all the tomatoes, corn, zucchini, eggplant and cucumbers I can get my hands on, while patiently waiting for the figs to arrive. I miss having Neen around to brainstorm new recipe ideas, to teach me all about photography (did I mention she’s a pro??), and to generally encourage me to “get weird,” both in and out of the kitchen. But at least now every time I make this recipe, I think about our fun, wine-fueled day in the kitchen last June, and wonder what we’ll make together the next time… which hopefully, maybe, possibly (fingers crossed!) will go down in Hawaii.
- 1 cup sunflower seeds, soaked in water overnight
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup chives, roughly chopped
- juice of 1 lemon
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste (don’t skimp)
- water, to thin as needed
- Drain the sunflower seeds and rinse under cool water. Shake to remove any excess water, then transfer to a blender. Add the garlic, basil, chives, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend on high, adding water a little bit at a time as needed, until totally smooth and creamy. Depending on your blender, this could take several minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Chances are you'll need more salt. Add more lemon juice as desired for a tangier dressing, and thin it out with more water to achieve your desired consistency. Be sure to taste and preseason after adding more water, as it will dilute the flavor.
- Transfer to a jar or squeeze bottle. Keep refrigerated for up to one week.
- 2 medium or 3 small beets, scrubbed clean
- 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided, plus more for frying
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3/4 cup green lentils
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cups chopped button or crimini mushrooms
- 2 sprigs rosemary, stem removed
- 1/2 cup oats
- 1/2 cup cashews, sunflower seeds, or any other nut or seed you prefer
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the beets on a piece of foil. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then close up the foil to enclose the beets. Roast for about 60-90 minutes, or until they can be easily pierced with a knife. Set aside and allow to cool, then remove the skins and roughly chop.
- Bring the lentils and 1 1/2 cups of water up to a boil, cover, then reduce to a simmer. Cook over low heat until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain any remaining water, then set aside to cool.
- Add the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions, mushrooms and rosemary leaves and cook, stirring occasionally, until they're softened and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Add the oats to a food processor and process on high until they become a fine powder, about 30 seconds to one minute. Add the cashews and process until they're also a fine powder, another 30 seconds to one minute. Add the beets, mushrooms onions, salt and pepper, then pulse to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. When the vegetables are fully incorporated, add the lentils and pulse until a homogeneous mixture is formed. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for about 1 hour. This step can be skipped, but a chilled mixture will be easier to form into patties.
- Heat several tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Divide the mixture into 6 portions. Dampen your hands with water (this will help prevent the mixture from sticking) and gently form a loose patty. Place it in the pan and repeat with 2 more (adjust the amount to fit your pan as needed). Use your spatula to gently press down on each patty to flatten it and shape it into a burger. Cook until browned and crisp, then carefully flip and cook until browned and crisp on the other side. Transfer to paper towels to drain, then repeat with the remaining patties.
- Serve with a green salad and green goddess dressing or hot sauce, if desired.
- This recipe was adapted from one I found on the internet several years ago. I made a few changes to the original and then pretty much memorized it. I searched high and low to find the source, but could not locate it, so if this is your recipe, please let me know so I can give you the credit!