Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers with Homemade Burger Buns

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Our first big trip together was to Portland. We hiked, biked, and drank and ate our way around the city and developed a serious crush for the Pacific Northwest. It was July, a perfect time to leave overheated Florida for lush Oregon.

After dropping off our stuff at Ace Hotel (the kind of hotel our parents would grumble about but we really liked), the first place we went to was Deschutes Brewery. We ordered beers immediately because a drink at lunch is what makes it vacation, right? I forget what else I ordered, but Danny got the beet burger that we’ll never forget. It was perfect. We even went back a second time for that beet burger.

We tried to recreate the beet burger at home, but the recipes we found resulted in burgers that were fine but didn’t hold together. It wasn’t the same. Now, three years after that trip and that first perfect beet burger, we feel as though we’ve struck gold. We finally found a homemade version that measures up to our romanticized memories.

The recipe for these sweet and smoky burgers (sweet from raisins and beets, smoky from paprika) comes from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. This book won Food52’s Piglet cookbook tournament this year, and I couldn’t resist it after a Bon Appetit feature on Persian cooking sparked my interest. So far I have tons of recipes bookmarked and this first one we tried is clearly a winner.

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Such a burger deserves a better bun. I got home from grocery shopping and lamented to Danny that I forgot to buy the burger buns or any kind of bread. Gah, I’d have to go back to the store again. So what, he said. Let’s make our own burger buns! Brilliant.

We used Joy the Baker’s recipe for hot dog buns last year, and this time we used the same recipe to make burger buns. We divided the dough into 3-ounce balls and baked them just a little shy of the hot dog bun cooking time. They were excellent. So much better than what I would’ve gotten at the grocery store anyway. (If you make them, just keep what you need in an airtight container for a day or two. The rest should be wrapped in foil and then placed in an airtight container/plastic bag in the freezer.)

Making your own burger buns is easy! Promise. Kneading is no big deal, and most of the time is spent letting the dough rest and rise. It grows quite a bit in size. At the end of the first rise in the bowl, the dough had risen above the top of the bowl, pushing the tea towel up slightly. Go yeast.

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Something about finally finding the right beet burger recipe seemed to set the tone for the week. I didn’t have cash for the donut cart guy yesterday so he just started a tab for me. I told my dad I’d be looking at wedding venues next week while I’m in Miami, and he immediately said he’d take the day off and join me. Unexpected and wonderful! I also finally had to suck it up and fix the lukewarm air in my car by getting a new compressor (read: $$$). The mechanic fixing my car asked what I did for a living and I mentioned the law firm and my cooking column. When I picked up my car yesterday afternoon, he had a box of bell peppers, carrots, strawberries, and jalapeño for me from his vegetable guy. Little things like that make a normal week seem so much nicer. I hope you all are having a great one! And cheers to the weekend.

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sweet and smoky beet burgers

Feel free to make the burger mixture a day ahead and store in the fridge. The next day just shape them into patties and cook. The beet burgers can be served in a bun or think of it as a falafel and serve with a salad. We topped the burgers with dill, chopped tomato, and thick yogurt whipped with ground cumin and fresh mint. This recipe is from The New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia. We tweaked Joy the Baker’s recipe for homemade hot dog buns and made burger buns to go with these beet patties.

1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil, plus extra for searing
1 cup peeled and grated beets (from about 1 small beet)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup walnuts (toasted)
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
1/2 cup cooked green lentils, rinsed and drained
salt
black pepper
2 cups cooked short-grain brown rice or white sushi rice, at room temperature
1 egg

Add oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat and saute onion until it starts to darken and caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often. Turn heat down slightly and add beets, garlic, walnuts, raisins, and paprika, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.

Transfer contents of the skillet to a food processor and pulse several times until mixture is chunky. In a large bowl, combine the onion mixture with the lentils, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Replace the food processor (without washing) and add the rice and egg; pulse to form a coarse puree. Add the rice mixture to the onion-lentil mixture and mix well with your hands.

Lightly oil your hands and divide the dough into 8 portions (we got 7). Shape each portion into a patty just under 1 inch thick.

Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat and add oil to coat the bottom. Place the burgers in the skillet and cook undisturbed for 5 minutes. (We cooked two or three at a time). Gently flip the burgers and turn down the heat to low. Cover and cook for 10 minutes, until the burgers have a firm, brown crust. Serve hot.

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8 thoughts on “Sweet and Smoky Beet Burgers with Homemade Burger Buns

  1. These beet burgers love fantastic–and I love the idea of topping them with yogurt and dill! So cool and satisfying. And I love Portland so much! This makes me want to go back immediately.

  2. I am absolutely in LOVE with these beet burgers!!!!!!! They look incredibly delish!!!!!!!!!!!! There’s a different joy in recreating recipes that you enjoyed in a restaurant environment ’cause most of the times it’s just so difficult to get them right but when you do it’s the BEST.FEELING.EVER! I can’t wait to try these!!!!! I love the use of raisins… they add such a sweet punch to savory dishes! <3 *-*

  3. I love Portland, too! I want to move there, but for now I settle for watching Portlandia on Netflix. I wanted to try the hop ice cream at Deschutes the last time we were there, but it was so packed we couldn’t get in. Next time we’ll be sure to go and get the beet burger. This one looks perfect, though – can’t wait to make it.

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