I ate my last beef burger when I was twelve-years-old. The mood was ripe for enjoyment, which is to say it was summertime and I was mosquito-bitten and sweaty after a raucous game of capture the flag at my friend Katherine’s house. I’m sure I had skinned knees and I’m sure my training bra was unwashed, in case you needed a more complete picture of a barely teenaged girl in her bliss. But one bite into that burger and I decided I was done. I didn’t like burgers. Why was I eating one?
For all the other stuff involved, of course.
Sometimes a girl just wants a sandwich that includes a crunch of pickle and a slab of melty cheese, a bite of red onion, and a bed of greens. Cover it in mayonnaise or mustard, or preferably both. If there’s ketchup to be had, I want that, too. And don’t forget about the bun. It should be soft and pillowy. (Do not give me a burger on an English muffin, in other words.)
Since that fateful summer day, I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers. I’ve eaten the kind that masquerade as meat and can be found in the frozen food aisle. I’ve made my own from chopped up grains and veggies and beans. I’ve eaten more than my share of the ones served by a certain establishment that also serves crinkle fries and milkshakes. I’ve enjoyed some of the very best that New York City has to offer. I’m still waiting for someone to take me on date to eat this other one that costs a small fortune.
Lately, I’ve been taking the absolute simplest veggie burger route possible and making weekly portabello burgers at home. We get our mushrooms from the mushroom farmers at the local greenmarket and they’re always delicious and a fraction of the cost of the caps you’ll find shrink-wrapped in plastic at the grocery store.
Before I go on, I’ll pause to say what some of you are thinking and admit that a portobello mushroom burger can be a bit like the Caprese salad of vegetarian sandwich options: truly delicious when done right and disappointing when not. A flavorful marinade will make your mushrooms sing, none at all will make them go rubbery. Don’t let that happen.
Here’s a recipe whipped together nearly as quickly as this weekend lunch is gobbled. Marinated in a base of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, they sizzle satisfyingly on a grill or cast iron skillet and they’re toothsome and hearty enough to stand up to the requisite toppings. Depending on the size of the ‘bellas that you find (we’re on a nickname basis), you might want to do two mushrooms per burger. The toppings are up to you, but please don’t disappoint me by choosing a lackluster bun. (For local folks, Stinky Brooklyn has the truly delicious brioche buns shown here, but I’m also partial to the seeded buns at Caputo’s.)
What you need:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
Condiments of your choice
What you need to do:
+ Remove the mushroom stems and clean the caps of any debris. (I sometimes scrape some of the gills with a spoon, I sometimes don’t. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference.)
+ Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic. Pour mixture over the mushroom caps and toss. Set aside for twenty-minutes, or longer if you’d like to do this step in advance.
+ Place the marinated mushroom caps rounded side down on a hot grill or cast iron pan. Season with salt and pepper and cook for ~6 minutes until they begin to get juicy. Flip them over and cook for another ~6 minutes. If you’re a cheeseburger kind of person, melt a slice of cheese on top before taking off the pan. (I used Manchego here because we had it, but just about anything you love will work.)
+ Serve on a toasted bun with lots and lots of toppings.