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Home on the Range

The abstract burger

Leah Eskin

Home on the Range

April 15, 2012

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The veggie burger offers up the idea of the burger — a disk capable of catching ketchup and snuggling into a bun — without any of the actuality of the burger, like tasting good. And while many a backyard barbecueist accepts this arrangement, it seems to me unfortunate. Why can't the burger be both veggie and tasty?

Toward that end, I got to work in the kitchen. I browned mushrooms, which always put me in mind of the meaty meal, even absent actual meat. Fortified with garlic, emboldened by cognac, they're big and brawny and beefy. I figured my work was done.

Then I remembered I had to compress my mushrooms into burger pose. I added hearty, helpful sticky sorts like bulgar, rice, lentils and garbanzo beans. That's when I came to appreciate the complexity of the veggie-burger postulate.

Because after I'd added bulgar or rice or lentils or garbanzo beans, I had a bulgar or rice or lentil or garbanzo-bean burger. And though I admire grains and legumes for their high-protein, low-maintenance style, I do not admire their work in the burger field. By the time they've been cooked and mixed and compressed and grilled, they acquire that tired, mealy, overworked outlook best summed up as "filler."

After a few rounds of frustration it occurred to me that I could keep the filling and dispense with the filler. I heaped browned mushrooms and crisp onions onto a bun heavy with melted cheddar. I folded, chomped, and knew veggie-burger happiness. Minus the burger.

Sloppy Josephine Sliders

Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Makes: 8 sliders

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, very thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 cups sliced white mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons cognac
½ pound sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
8 soft slider buns (potato are especially nice)

Crisp:
Heat olive oil in a wide, heavy skillet. Add onions, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring often, over medium-high heat until onions are browned and sticky/crispy, about 15 minutes. Pull pan off heat.

Brown:
Meanwhile, in a second wide, heavy skillet, melt butter. Add both kinds of mushrooms, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are richly browned, about 15 minutes. Increase heat to high, pour in cognac and cook until liquid disappears, 1 minute. Pull pan off heat.

Melt:
Split buns; lay them open-faced on a broiler rack. Cover both halves with cheese. Slide under the broiler just until cheese has melted, 1-2 minutes. Set buns on a serving platter.

Stack:
Heap mushrooms onto each bottom bun. Top with onions. Cover. Chomp.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune Newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.