It’s about time I told you all about my friend Bill. I’ve mentioned him before, but never by name. Bill is a badass. He’s a cancer survivor, a true fighter. Bill has survived leukemia, rhizopus (a horrific fungal infection) and a stem cell transplant. After all that, he endured a total knee replacement surgery and taught himself to walk again. Oh and he managed to graduate from college in the process. Total badass.
Bill lives near Seattle; we’ve never met in person. We have a unique relationship. I know him now because I donated my stem cells to him a little over two years ago. He was a sick 21-year-old then, the same age as my brother, a stranger whose antigens matched mine on a perfect 10 out of 10 scale. Since then, my immune system has taken over his and I’m so pleased that it’s working well for him. I’m glad to be a part of this guy’s recovery and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Want to hear something crazy about stem cell transplants? Along with my immune system, Bill “inherited” my seasonal allergies. He texted me for advice on how to stop the sneezing last fall. Even crazier, we like to think that some of my food preferences transferred over to him along with the stem cells. Bill started craving spicy Thai food (I LOVE spicy Thai food) after the transplant, which he had not cared much for before treatment. He was shocked to read on my blog that I prefer my food “extra spicy.” Maybe it was the chemo, but it still seems like quite the coincidence!
I’m not sharing a spicy Thai recipe today, though my stomach growls at the prospect. I’m sharing a spicy sweet potato and black bean burger that I found in a cookbook recommended by Bill, the Cafe Flora Cookbook. Cafe Flora is a popular vegetarian restaurant in Seattle that specializes in beautiful, creative vegetarian meals that aren’t full of meat substitutes. I’d love to go there someday, but for now, I have a copy of their cookbook. The book contains very few photos but the names of the recipes speak for themselves. I’m eager to cook more from it now that these veggie burgers turned out so wonderfully.
These burgers are better than any restaurant veggie burger I’ve ever tasted, and not one patty fell apart during the cooking process. They contain sweet potatoes (my favorite) and some smoky spice to impart a hint of grill flavor. As an added bonus, they are vegan (eggless!) and gluten free. They’d be perfect to serve at a get-together with friends who follow special diets. I’m not sure how well they would hold up on an outdoor grill, though, since I’ve only tried panfrying them. Although the recipe is a long one, I promise that the ingredients are common and the steps are simple. Hope you love them as much as I do (I bet Bill would!).
You can join the registry here (I’m so glad I did). It’s as simple as swabbing your cheek and mailing it back. Odds are you’ll never be asked to donate, but you can be there in case someone needs you.
- 1½ pounds sweet potatoes (smaller potatoes cook faster)
- ⅓ cup uncooked millet or quinoa (or 1 cup cooked)
- 1 cup old fashioned oats (use certified gluten-free oats if you are avoiding gluten)
- 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (or 2 cups cooked black beans)
- ½ small red onion, diced
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons cumin powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon chipotle powder or smoked hot paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional, to taste)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- High quality vegetable oil for cooking burgers (or coconut oil, if you don't mind the coconut taste, olive oil may burn)
- 8 whole wheat hamburger buns (optional)
- your favorite burger fixings (avocado or guacamole, tomato or pico de gallo, lettuce, sprouts, ketchup, hot sauce, mustard, pickles, cheese)
- Roast the sweet potatoes: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice the sweet potatoes down the center lengthwise. Place the sweet potatoes cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until they yield to a gentle squeeze, 30 to 40 minutes or longer. Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skin (it should pull off easily) and roughly chop the insides. Set aside to cool completely.
- Cook the millet: In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of water to boil. Stir in the millet, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tender (about 25 minutes). Drain off any remaining liquid and set aside to cool. OR cook the quinoa: Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh colander, then combine with ⅔ cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to boil, then cover and reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and let the quinoa steam with the lid on for 5 minutes. Then drain off any excess water and set aside to cool.
- Grind the oats: Use a food processor or blender to grind the oats until the flakes are broken up, but not as fine as flour.
- Mix the burgers: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the cooled sweet potatoes and millet, black beans, onion, cilantro, cumin, chili powder, chipotle or paprika, cayenne (optional, add to taste for spicier burgers) and salt. Use a potato masher, big mixing spoon or the paddle attachment of your mixer to mix really well. It's ok if the black beans get smashed in the process.
- Mix in the oats: Sprinkle the ground oats over the mixture and mix well with a big spoon until the mixture holds together when you shape a portion into a patty. If possible, cover and refrigerate the mixture for best results (the patties will hold together better during cooking if they are chilled first).
- Shape the burgers: Use a measuring cup to measure out ½ cup of the mixture. Gently shape it into a patty about 3½ inches in diameter. Use your hands to gently flatten the burgers and smooth out any jagged edges. Repeat the process for each patty; you should end up with 8. If you would like to toast your hamburger buns, preheat the oven to 350 degrees now.
- Pan fry the burgers: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large cast iron or non-stick skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, place several burgers in the pan, leaving enough room to flip them. Cook each patty until browned and heated through, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet for each pan of burgers you fry.
- Toast the buns (optional): Place the buns on a baking sheet, cut sides up, and bake until lightly toasted, about 2 to 3 minutes.
If you'd rather bake the burgers: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush the patties liberally with extra-virgin olive oil, then place them on the baking sheet and bake until the patties are deeply golden on the outside, about 35 minutes, flipping halfway.
Freezer storage: These burgers freeze well in a sealed freezer bag. To defrost, thaw in the microwave for about 1 minutes or in a 400-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until warmed through.