While I do enjoy meat every once in a while (mostly to test and develop recipes I want to blog about), most days I stick to a vegetarian diet, so I'm a pretty big fan of vegetable protein sources. Maybe it's because of my semi-vegetarianism, but I've always been a little skeptical of meat-substitutes that are trying really hard to taste and look like meat. I say, if you're going to eat a steak, just eat a steak! And if you're going to eat vegetables, why would you want or expect them to taste anything like a steak? That's why I've always preferred bean burgers to the faux-beef "I can't believe it's not real meat!" burgers. And this kebab recipe is no exception. Instead of using a fake-meat protein, I've chosen bulgur and black beans, which form a complete protein when eaten together.
While this recipe shares some features with another bulgur-based dish, kibbeh (look out for a kibbeh recipe later this summer!), it's more of a vegetarian kebab than a vegetarian kibbeh. But what makes this dish a kebab if it contains absolutely no meat? Well: while traditional kebabs are made almost entirely of beef, I don't think that's the essence of what makes them so delicious. At least the way my family makes them, the thing that really makes a kebab a kebab is the herbs.
But as everyone who's ever made a bean burger knows, crumbling is the main thing you need to worry about. And I've found that loading bean-burgers up with lots of herbs and other mix-ins tends to exacerbate their crumbliness. That's why, in this recipe, I've asked you to finely mince the herbs instead of just chopping them; so, even though they take up less space volumetrically (compared with my recipe for traditional beef kebabs), you're using almost the same amount by weight, and the herbs' flavor is more accessible since they're chopped so well.
In addition to the finely minced herbs, this recipe also asks you to really pack the kebabs tightly when you form them, after which you rest the formed kebabs in the refrigerator for a while. This really helps them hold together when you go to fry them. This recipe also includes a protein binder, which you just can't do without. If you want to make them vegetarian, you'll add two eggs, but if you want to make them vegan, you'll need a couple tablespoons of chia seeds.
Chia seeds are about the size of poppy seeds, and they kind of look like dinosaur eggs up close (the photos above are enlarged to show off the chia seed's quirky pattern. Feel free to click one for an even closer look!). They're a great vegan egg replacement because they have some similar nutritional properties, but also because they bind everything together in a similar way. To make a chia "egg," you grind chia seeds into a fine powder, then you mix the ground seeds with a little water until they thicken (see the detailed recipe below). While this vegan egg substitute totally does the trick, it doesn't provide quite as much binding power as an egg, so you'll need to be extra careful handling the vegan kebabs while they cook.
black bean bulgur kebabs
Yield: 12 kebabs
Total Time: 3 to 5 hours
Active Time: 40 minutes
For the kebabs:
3/4 cup burghul #1 (extra fine bulgur)
1 1/4 cups room temperature water
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup minced green onions (use both the white and green parts)
1/2 cup minced cilantro
2 eggs, or 2 vegan eggs*
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
Neutral-flavored oil for pan-frying (e.g., peanut, canola, olive oil, but not extra virgin)
12 samoon rolls or another bread (optional)
Diced tomatoes and thinly sliced cucumbers
For the Dry Salsa:
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 tablespoons za'atar
- Combine the burghul #1 with the water and let soak for 1 hour, stirring once about halfway through. If you're using another coarser bulgur, cook it according to the package instructions.
- At the end of an hour, the bulgur should have softened considerably and should no longer be crunchy. Once it's soaked to this point, drain the bulgur through a fine mesh strainer, and wring it out by pressing it against the strainer with a wooden spoon or with your hands, until there is no excess water.
- Pulse the black beans in a food processor until somewhat puréed, but still chunky.
- Combine the chunky puréed beans with the wrung-out bulgur, green onions, cilantro, eggs (or vegan eggs), red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Once it's combined, roll some of the mixture into a ball. If the ball immediately crumbles apart instead of holding together, add a tablespoon of water at a time, until the mixture can form patties. Do not add too much water or they will fall apart when you cook them.
- Shape the bean mixture into 12 1-inch-thick oval patties with flat tops and bottoms (see above photo). Firmly pack the patties, cupping them in your hands and putting pressure on them. Since bean burgers do not shrink up like beef burgers, make them thicker than you would make a beef hamburger patty.
- Rest the patties in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, closer to 3 hours if possible. If you're using vegan eggs, it's especially important that you let the patties rest. This prevents them from falling apart.
- Prepare the dry salsa by combining the parsley, green onions, sea salt, and za'atar.
- Once the patties have rested, fill a non-stick or cast iron skillet with about 1/4 inch of oil and heat over medium heat. Touch the end of one patty to the oil to see if it is hot enough; if it sizzles, it is ready. Carefully add the patties to the pan, working in batches and being careful not to over-crowd the pan.
- Once the first side has browned nicely (about 5 minutes), use a flexible spatula to carefully flip the kebabs. Only flip them once, to handle them as little as possible.
- Once they have cooked completely (about 5 more minutes), remove from the pan to a paper-towel-lined plate.
- Serve immediately on a roll with the dry salsa, tomatoes, and cucumbers, or re-heat in a toaster oven.
* For the vegan eggs (optional):
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon water
Grind the chia seeds into a fine powder in a clean coffee or spice grinder. Combine with the water and mix until smooth. Let it stand for about 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes very thick.