Vegetarian Main Dish Challenge: Mexican Black Bean-Millet-Corn Burgers

I have to be honest: WalMart meat scares me.  I am not a vegetarian or an environmental activist, but the more that I learned about the modern factory farm system so vividly portrayed by Food, Inc., the work of Michael Pollan, and by many others, the more uneasy I became.  News of things like the ammonia-treated “pink slime” disguised as hamburger was really the last straw for me.  I am no longer comfortable trusting my family’s health to Frankenstein Food, particularly when it comes to meat, so we now buy meat almost exclusively from the local farmers at the ASN Local Food Club.

But, as Jennie pointed out, a pasture-raised, grass-fed animal is not cheap meat.  And no matter what source you use, meat is certainly one of the biggest grocery budget busters.  So we’re always looking for ways to have either a meatless main dish or one that uses meat as a flavoring rather than the star.

When you’re making the sometimes-bumpy transition to regular meatless meals, I find it helps if the unfamiliar ingredients are in a familiar form. This led to my challenge entry: Mexican Black Bean-Millet-Corn Burgers.

Mexican Black Bean-Millet-Corn Burgers

This recipe is very flexible.  I used millet because I like the polenta-like texture and I happened to have some left over.  You can substitute uncooked rolled oats or almost any cooked grain: rice, quinoa or bulgur would all work. Once you get more comfortable, you can also vary the amount and type of beans and vegetables in the recipe or add some nuts (almonds, walnuts, raw pumpkin seeds) for crunch. If you do substitute, keep an eye on the mixture–you may need to add an egg to help bind it together or a little more grain if it’s too mushy. Makes 10-12 patties.

  • 1 cup cooked millet
  • neutral-flavored oil for frying
  • 1/2 cup mild onion, minced
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 t. chili powder
  • 1/2 t. smoked paprika (pimenton)
  • 2 t. sweet paprika (or 1 T. if you omit smoked paprika)
  • 2 t. ground cumin
  • 1 can of low sodium black beans, rinsed or 2 c. cooked
  • 1 c. corn, preferably fresh but frozen is ok
  • up to 1/2 c. cornmeal

In a large heavy skillet (12 in. cast iron is perfect) over medium heat, saute onion in 1/2 T. oil until softened.  Add salt and spices and cook, stirring, until the spices begin to toast, 1-2 minutes.  Transfer to a large bowl, and add beans, corn and cooked millet.  Mash together with your hands, breaking up any large clumps and incorporating all ingredients into a uniform mixture.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding pepper and/or hot sauce, to taste.  Add up to 1/2 c. cornmeal, a little at a time, until the mixture holds together when gently squeezed.

Reheat the skillet with 2 T. oil over medium-high heat.  Form the mixture into 2 in. balls–I find it’s easiest to use an ice cream scoop.  If you form the balls by hand, they will stick less if you wet your hands first.  Put the first batch of balls in skillet, gently flattening them into a patty.  Do not press hard or they will crumble! Fry 3-4 minutes per side or until browned, turning very carefully.  Fry the second batch, adding more oil if needed.  You can also bake them in the oven (about 20 minutes at 375) rather than skillet frying but they will have a much softer texture.

These are good dressed and served however you ordinarily eat regular cheeseburgers–for my son, lots of ketchup–with oven baked sweet potato fries.

Happy Boy

If you happen to crumble any in the cooking process, they are also great in a Mexican style wrap with guacamole, jalapenos, salsa and/or sour cream.

* Recipe adapted from Clean Food, by Terry Walters