This is the second installment of my series of postings on cooking with beets.
Last spring, in a slump with my root vegetable routine, I decided to experiment with beet burgers, or beet “cakes.” Tired of the same old mashed and smashed turnips, sweet potatoes, celery roots — and beets, I was craving texture, and I wanted something I could chew with gusto and embellish with condiments. Thus the beet cake was born.
This holiday season, I decided to revisit the cakes because they are perfect for Hanukkah—they are essentially beet latkes—and because the recipe was a hit with everyone from Alicia Silverstone to my mom. With this “new and improved” version, I’ve added a few more preparation details, adjusted the seasonings, and added walnuts (which get sauteed with the caramelized onions, see photo above) in order to give the cakes more heft. The recipe is still vegan and wheat-free, however you could replace the pureed rice with two whisked eggs and bind the mixture that way.
One important discovery I made with this version of the cakes is that you can make chewy, burger-style cakes by baking the cakes in the oven at 350°F for 45 minutes, and then searing them in a pan or throwing them on the grill. This extra step greatly diminishes what I call the “squish factor” in veggie burgers, i.e., when you bite into a homemade veggie burger and instead of it standing up to the might of your teeth, the burger simply collapses and becomes flat with every bite. Pre-baking the cakes helps to cook the insides, giving them a more solid texture all the way through. If you are making latkes as opposed to burgers, however, simply pan fry the cakes as you would a potato latke, and the texture will be perfect.
On Wednesday December 15, I’ll be making beet cakes at the Union Square farmer’s market between 10:30am-1pm. In keeping with the market ethos, the cakes will be made with all locally grown ingredients, including fresh eggs in place of the rice, sunflower oil from Cayuga Pure Organics (a wonderful product with a neutral flavor that’s good for cooking), and I’m hoping to top off the cakes with a dab of spicy Cranberry-Horseradish Chutney from Beth’s Farm Kitchen. Do stop by if you’re in the neighborhood.
I wish you a healthy and happy last day of Hanukkah!
Simple, Smokey Beet Cakes
Makes 6 cakes
These cakes are very adaptable, and can be served in the style of either latkes or burgers. For latkes, simply sear the cakes in a pan and top with traditional condiments like applesauce, sour cream, or tangy fruit chutney. If you want more of a veggie burger, follow the additional instructions for baking the cakes in the oven, in order to give them a dense, chewy texture.
2 cups grated beets (approximately 1 large beet)
1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
3 tablespoons cooking oil, plus extra
1 yellow onion, diced
1 cup walnuts
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
If you’re making burgers, preheat the oven to 350°F.
After grating the beets, place them in a colander or strainer and squeeze out the excess water. Discard the liquid and set the beets aside.
Heat a sauté pan over high heat and add 3 tablespoons of oil, followed by the onions. After the first minute, reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking until the onions are caramelized, stirring often, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the walnuts, paprika, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook for 1 more minute. Cool to room temperature and set aside.
Place the rice in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture forms a thick puree, about a minute. This will be the “glue” that holds the cakes together. Add the onions and 1 cup of the beets, and pulse just until the vegetables are broken down into small chunks, so the mixture has texture.
Add the rice puree to the remaining beets and mix thoroughly with lightly oiled hands. The mixture should be thick and easy to form into shapes. Salt to taste. Use a lightly oiled 1/2-cup measure to divide the dough into 6 balls, and then shape the balls into patties.
To make burgers, place the cakes on a greased baking sheet, brush the tops with oil, and then bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Continue with the instructions for pan searing the cakes.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little oil and cook the cakes for 4-5 minutes on each side, until they form a light crust. Season each side with a little salt as they cook. Serve hot with your favorite condiments.