This burger recipe cuts your meat intake in half to reduce both calories and your carbon footprint.
I grew up in the kitchen, with Giada de Laurentiis on TV in the background and my dad forever at the helm, knife in hand. He paid his own way through college by working in kitchens and later taught me everything I now know about food. I knew how to mince garlic and marinate a flank steak well before I hit puberty. My favorite trick was learning to poke the palm of my hand to test the doneness of a burger. My dad’s burgers were a weekly Jones family staple—always a perfect medium-rare, no more, no less, no exceptions.
My dad’s famous burger begins the way most dad things do: a trip to Costco. For these burgers, he buys the family-size package of ground beef, the massive tub of pre-minced garlic, the monstrous bag of yellow onions, the colossal block of Tillamook cheddar cheese, the pillow-sized sack of potato rolls, and the gargantuan container of Montreal steak seasoning. And that’s it. We’re ready to make burgers for a family of four.
Unfortunately, my dad’s tried-and-true burger recipe is at odds with my moral sensibilities. I’m not happy about it, but that’s what I get for studying sustainable agriculture in graduate school. Every cow looks like a smoke stack, every slice of swiss cheese like a hole in the ozone. I know that cattle are responsible for nearly 10% of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. I know that cattle can use up to 19 times more land (Peters et al.) and water than other livestock animals to produce one serving of meat. I know that the corn and soy grown to feed cattle require obscene amounts of fertilizer and pesticides; that they’re planted in monocultures, which wreaks havoc on ecosystems. I know that feedlots can be inhumane, and slaughterhouses induce bovine stress. But you know what? I also know that cows taste really good.
For the sake of rectifying my qualms, I suppose I must bastardize an emblem of American culture. Health- and climate-conscious consumers have been cutting back their meat intake as a way to reduce the amount of saturated fats in their diet and greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. Their ways have inspired my morally acceptable version of my childhood staple. Behold the Hybrid Burger.
My more nutritious and sustainable reinvention of a classic begins the way most millennial things do: a trip to Trader Joe’s. For my burgers, I bought a one-pound package of organic, grass-fed ground beef, a can of black beans, white button mushrooms, one bunch of cilantro, and goat cheese because I’m fancy. The onions, garlic, rolled oats, and spices are staples in my kitchen, so those were waiting for me at home.
What I also had waiting for me at home was a fresh batch of homemade Kaiser rolls, courtesy of my Tartine-inspired boyfriend. To assemble these planet-saving patties, I dumped the garlic, onions, and mushrooms into a food processor because I wasn’t in the mood for mincing. The black beans, rolled oats, seasoning, and a modest splash of soy sauce were added next. I whirled it all together just enough to mix it, but not enough to mush it. Then with my bare hands, I incorporated this lovely umber mixture into the ground beef.
From here, I treated my millennial burgers like my dad would have treated his classics. He recommends forming them into third-pound patties, but admits that his “were half-pounders—if you wanna go big, go big baby!” My dad was also a fan of the heavy sear. Two to three minutes on medium-high heat does the trick, then flip and cook it low and slow for another four to five. He taught me so well that timers have become obsolete. And just before they were done, I went rogue and plopped a gluttonous mound of that fancy chèvre on top to let it warm against the hybrid mixture and ooze through the cracks.
After all this, I must admit that my burgers lacked the crucial juiciness one gets from a full-beef burger. Had I forgone the crucial goat cheese, I think my Hybrid Burger would have been a tad too dry. But aside from their slightly mushy texture, which I wasn’t mad about, I could barely tell that I was eating 50% less meat. The trick, I think, was maintaining some umami. Umami is that je ne sais quoi, that savory, elemental warmth in a bowl of pho. The lack of umami is what makes veganism so unappealing. Red meat is chock-full of umami, but so are mushrooms. And therein lies the secret to this fool-your-taste-buds, unclog-your-arteries, save-the-planet, save-a-penny, homemade burger. Mushrooms.
The other key ingredient, beans, are a magical fruit (well, legume) for more reasons than how they affect your digestive system. Not only do they cost 7.5 times less than beef, contain 15 times less saturated fat than beef, and qualify as a complete protein when combined with the oats, but they also give back to the environment. Black beans emit nitrogen through their root systems into the soil whereas cows emit methane through their derrieres into the atmosphere, which is over 25 times more heat-trapping than CO2.
With a daughter studying sustainable agriculture, my dad has heard all of these statistics many times over. He has been surprisingly receptive to my ramblings over the years, switching to all organic sources of produce when he can and even cutting back his meat consumption. After teaching me how to grill, mince, marinate, and sauté, my dad finally gets to be the student. I am now the one teaching him everything he knows about food, where it comes from, and how it impacts our planet. He is proof that you can teach an old dad new tricks, especially if those tricks still taste really good.
The Hybrid Burger
- 1 lb. organic, grass-fed ground beef
- 1 clove garlic
- ¼ cup onions
- ¼ cup mushrooms
- 1 cup black beans, fresh or canned, and seriously drained
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- Montreal steak seasoning*
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- Kaiser rolls, or whatever bun you prefer
- Goat cheese, or whatever cheese you prefer
- Arugula, tomato, and grilled onions, or whatever toppings you prefer
- Put the garlic, onions, and mushrooms in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
- Add the black beans, rolled oats, seasoning, salt, pepper, and soy sauce to the food processor and blend until just mixed.
- In a separate bowl, mix the ground beef and the black bean mixture by hand until thoroughly combined.
- Separate the mixture into roughly one third-pound balls. Flatten the balls into patties and set aside on a separate plate.
- Meanwhile, heat oil or butter in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the patties to the pan. Cook them on one side for 2-3 minutes, until they get a nice sear. Then, turn the heat to medium-low, flip the burgers, and cook for another 4-5 minutes.
- If you are adding grilled onions to your burger, toss them in the pan with the patties after you flip the burgers.
- If you are adding a meltable cheese to your burger, add the cheese on top of the patty with about a minute or two to go and cover the pan with a lid.
- Meanwhile, slightly warm the buns in another pan so they are nice and soft, but not toasted or crispy.
- Remove burgers form heat. Immediately serve and assemble to your liking and enjoy.
*Montreal steak seasoning = 1 tbsp paprika, ½ tbsp coriander, ½ tbsp granulated garlic, ½ tbsp granulated onion, ½ tbsp red pepper flakes, 1 tbsp pepper, 1 tbsp salt, ½ tbsp dill
Sam Jones is a second-year AFE student and co-editor of The Friedman Sprout. She has worked on various farms across the country, interned at Culture Magazine, and hopes to one day have a garden and a magazine of her own. You can find her on Instagram @samikay.jones
Peters, Christian J., Jamie A. Picardy, Amelia Darrouzet-Nardi, Timothy S. Griffin. “Feed conversions, ration compositions, and land use efficiencies of major livestock products in U.S. agricultural systems.” Agricultural Systems 130 (2014): 35-43.