We all have our individual ways of tracking our collegiate memories.
For some, those four years are measured in the number of all-nighters pulled, group projects loathed or close encounters with residence life whilst something non-dorm kosher was unfolding. Others may remember critical turning points: like when you first urinated in front of your friend in a frat house bathroom because the door wouldn’t stay shut on its own and there was also some highly important social news that needed to be expounded on, or when you fell on your ass (twice) in the flooded communal laundry room in front of unchivalrous bystanders.
Like most other chapters of my quarter life, however, I recall those years through a meal-time lens.
How can I forget the (ashamedly) numerous calls to Domino’s because they were the only place that would deliver to campus after 2 a.m. (and everyone needs to try pasta in a bread bowl and live to tell about it.) Or how the dining hall would always serve the stickiest, most unnaturally-colored take on General Tso’s chicken every Sunday night without fail. Or the biscuits I devoured every Tuesday and Thursday morning for breakfast (with previously frozen berries) that, without question, contributed to my midsection’s sophomore slump.
In between Nacho Fridays and 11 p.m. personal pizzas and the occasional self-made Cherry Coke float, I did attempt some healthy eating. Some time around junior year, after Monday evening classes and the weekly radio station executive board meeting, I started diving mouth first into black bean burgers – the first real vegetarian alternative to a meat dish that I’d ever consciously anticipated hours before dinner.
Like so many moments in college, I’ll never be able to recreate the satisfaction of sitting down to a black bean burger and sweet potato fries (with truckloads of mustard and black pepper to cut the sweetness) with a bunch of friends before going our separate weeknight ways to the library/gym/a cappella rehearsal.
But whenever I’m feeling bloated from a post-graduate weekend of particularly fried eating and drinking, or just miss Monday night radio station meetings, these offer a comforting dose of protein and nostalgia.
Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from Saveur; makes ~5 patties.
1/4 c olive oil
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and mashed with a fork
1/3 c corn (optional)
3/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 poblano chile, finely chopped (don’t put your fingertips in your eyes/nose after chopping this, unless you’re into that sort of “hurts-so-good” thing…to each his own)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp adobo seasoning (I know, spices are $$$. The ROI of adobo is undeniable though. You can use it on almost anything for a little bit of added warmth.)
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 c breadcrumbs
1/4 c ground cornmeal
Salt and pepper to taste
Guacamole (in lieu of regular condiments)
Mash the drained beans in a large mixing bowl to start. If you’re adding frozen corn, get it out of the way early, cooking per the bag’s instructions (I typically just nuke it.) Add the cooked kernels to the bean bowl.
Once your onion, garlic and poblano is chopped, heat 1.5 tbsp of olive oil in a pan until glistening. Sauté the vegetables for 5 minutes or so (totally optional to add pinches of my love drug – brown sugar – to offset the warmth of the chile). Add the paprika, oregano and adobo and let cook for another minute. Add this mixture to the bean bowl.
In the large mixing bowl, add the egg, breadcrumbs (any kind will do; I can attest to Panko and Italian working equally well), salt and pepper. Stir until everything’s incorporated, especially the egg. Make sure the mixture is cool enough to handle w/your hands before shaping the patties. This typically yields around 5 patties, 3/4-1 inch thick. (Side note: this dish is a perfect baby step for those of us squeamish about manhandling raw meat and chicken. Like many things I’ve irrationally feared in life though, do it once and you’ll probably never stop.)
Put the patties on a plate and refrigerate for at least 20-30 minutes (plenty of time for a segment of Jillian Michaels’ Kickbox FastFix…or last week’s episode of Community.)
Once chill time is up, heat the remaining oil in a pan. “Dredge” (read: lightly dunk and coat on all sides) each patty in a bowl of the cornmeal before placing in the pan. Flip once, letting each side cook for around 3-4 minutes.
HIGHLY IMPORTANT: Since these are still bean burgers, they’re not as toothy as red meat. To avoid feeling like you’re gumming an entire meal, take your buns of choice, butter the top and bottom’s insides and lightly toast to add that necessary crunch.
Slather guacamole (homemade or otherwise) on the bottom bun, stack on the patty and devour.