When my dad went gluten-free years and years ago (before the gluten-free movement had developed much steam), we took what was probably the typical approach to switching over to an exclusion diet: straight-up, one-to-one substitution for the now-forbidden foods. My mom searched high and low for palatable (read, edible) gluten-free bread. Gluten-free snacks instead of pretzels (my dad’s favorite). Gluten-free cereal instead of Rice Krispies (another favorite).
For anyone who has been through this, you know the drill. It was a long slog. My dad was 100% committed to his new diet, but not always thrilled with what ended up on his plate.
After he passed (from complications after kidney surgery, not anything having to do with gluten, or inedible gluten-free bread … although honestly, some of the stuff that was out there at the time would’ve done me in), it occurred to me that perhaps we had taken the wrong approach. Not substitution, not trying to twist and mold gluten-free ingredients into something gluten-like.
Not substitution, but rather simply leaving behind items that have gluten as part of their very essence, in favor of naturally gluten-free foods. It would’ve been far easier on my mom, and I think my dad would’ve actually enjoyed his food, rather than lamented about how terrible gluten-free bread was compared to whole wheat.
I had this notion firmly in mind when I began eating a primarily vegetarian/pescatarian diet over a year and a half ago. I resisted the initial impulse to fill my shopping cart with meat substitutes – tofu burgers, tofu hot dogs, tofu chicken nuggets (remember the Thanksgiving episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” with Marie’s tofurkey? The memory of that pale, jelly-wiggly fake bird still turns my stomach).
Instead, I focused on fresh, whole foods — vegetables, grains, nuts, fruit, yogurt, plus the occasional salmon and shrimp — food I already loved. No frustrating (and sometimes downright gross) experimentation to ruin the enthusiasm of the early days.
And I believe that’s why this way of eating still works for me: I went with what tasted great, not what tasted close. (The tofu meat-shaped experiments came later — and there are soy products that I actually like and buy regularly — but I didn’t feel a panicked need to substitute everything on my old shopping list, item for item.)
Whole, fresh foods, prepared with minimal fuss.
Leaving red meat behind has been the easiest of the sacrifices (with turkey being the hardest). I do enjoy a good, flame-grilled, freshly-ground chuck-brisket burger as much as the next girl (and I had my first in quite a while on July 4th, made with beef that I purchased from a local farmer who grass-feeds her cattle). But, it’s not something I crave.
Sandwiches, however, I do crave. And in the case of “burgers,” there are numerous thumbs-up replacements to be had. (I stop short of saying “substitutes” because I’m not looking for a red-meat-flavored alternative, but rather something patty-like that can sit on a toasted bun and accommodate toppings — burgers are must-haves at Casa SoupAddict, beefed or not). I really, really enjoy homemade black bean burgers. And quinoa patties (wonderful on slider buns with a dab of remoulade). And, of course, portobello mushroom burgers.
I would continue to eat them all, even if red meat were still on the menu.
This recipe, from Saveur magazine, steps away from the usual portobello-mushroom-cap-as-burger schtick and instead grinds the mushrooms, along with a few other key flavors, such as garlic, blue cheese and steak sauce, to form a pan-fryable patty.
In typical not-paying-full-attention SoupAddict fashion, this recipe almost got tossed in the trash. While forming the patties, I thought, “Geez, these things really need another 1/4 cup or so of bread crumbs — they’re too mushy. Mushy!” clucking my tongue self-righteously at the Saveur test kitchen.
Then I realized what happened.
Trying to be clever and take a shortcut in measuring out three-quarters of a cup of crumbs, I had reached for the 1-cup measuring cup and filled it 3/4ths full, instead of pouring out 1/4 cup of crumbs three times.
Reached for, that is, but didn’t actually grab, latching onto, instead, the 1/2-cup measuring cup. Trust me when I say that .375 of a cup of bread crumbs is not enough for this recipe.
Just grab the right cup and all will be well.
Portobello blue burgers
adapted from Saveur
1 pound portobello mushroom caps and/or cremini mushrooms, tough stems removed
3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons steak sauce
scant 1 cup breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 wedge (about 4 ounces) blue cheese, thinly sliced
4 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
Make the portobello burgers: place mushrooms in a bamboo steamer over simmering water, or over a steamer insert in a 6 quart saucepan. Cover and steam until mushrooms are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Place cooked mushrooms in a food processor bowl with garlic, steak sauce, bread crumbs, and egg, and season with black pepper. Crumble one or two slices of the blue cheese into the bowl. Pulse just until mixture comes together, about 20 pulses or 30 seconds. Divide mixture into four 4 oz. patties, about 4″ wide by 1/4″ thick. Place on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes or until ready to use.
Heat olive oil over medium-high. Cook portobello burgers, until toasted on each side and cooked through, about 12 minutes (6 minutes per side). Top each burger with blue cheese slices and continue to cook until just melted, about 2 minutes. Divide cheese-topped burgers between toasted buns, top with your favorite condiments, and serve.