Afghanistan is a meat loving country; its people embrace all manner of animal protein so long as it's halal/kosher. Pork is of course the exception since as Muslims, Afghans abstain from anything of the porcine persuasian. And unlike neighboring India where entire swaths ofthe population are devoted vegetarians, you'd be hard pressed to find an Afghan eager to give up her carnivorous habits.
At the same time, Afghans are thrifty people. This is a poor country and meat is considered quite dear, often reserved for special occasions. But Afghans have longfound innovative ways to have their proverbial meat and eat it too.
Beans, legumes and grains of many varieties are a significant part of the Afghan diet. These inexpensive staples are eaten on their own but also used as extenders for meat dishes. For example, chick peas are ground and added to chicken kebabs for flavor and to minimize the amount of chicken needed in the dish.
Substituting beans and grains is a smart thing to do not just for economic reasons, it's also a healthier way to eat that treads a little lighter on the earth. This concept is heartily embraced in Almost Meatless, a new cookbook I recently discovered by Tara Matazara Desmond and Joy Manning. Tucked in the pages of the chapter titled Beef in Moderation is a recipe cleverly named the B4 Burger (beef bulgur bean burger). The recipe is a very American take on what Afghans have been doing with meat for centuries.
I tinkered with the recipe just a bit -- adding a few classic Afghan spices, making the patties a little smaller, more akin to a kebab, and serving them in mini pita breads toasted on the grill. I also used a cucumber yogurt sauce instead of ketchup. Cilantro sprigs took the place oflettuce leaves. The result was wholly satisfying with a flavor that is decidedly more Middle Asia than Middle America.
The B4 Burger with an Afghan Twist
Serves 4 to 6
1 cup cooked black beans (1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed)
1 cup chicken stock or water
1/2 cup bulgur wheat (coarse or medium grind)
1 clove garlic, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3 scallions, white and green parts, minced
1 tbsp. whole grain mustard
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
8 ounces ground beef
8 mini pita breads (or 4 regular pitas cut in half)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, rinsed and dried
Preheat grill to medium-high and oil the grates.
Pulse the black beans, garlic paste, scallions, mustard, cumin, coriander and turmeric several times in a food processor until a chunky paste forms. (Alternatively, mash the beans well with a fork or potato masher). Transfer the beans to a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Bring the stock to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in bulgur wheat, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste and let cool slightly.
Add the egg, bulgur and ground beef to the beans and stir to combine the ingredients evenly. Form into 8 equal patties, 1/2-inch thick each.
Grill burgers over medium-high flame for about 5 to 6 minutes per side. Meanwhile, make the yogurt sauce by combining the yogurt and cucumber in a small bowl. When the burgers are almost done, quickly heat the pita bread on the grill. Tuck the cooked burgers into the pita, add a large spoonful of yogurt sauce and a few sprigs of cilantro. Alternatively, the burgers can be cooked in a pan coated with non-stick spray.
Reprinted with permission from Ten Speed Press and the authors
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