Thursday, July 23, 2015

Veg burger smackdown on Capitol Hill

Photos courtesy Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Equinox chef/owner Todd Gray created four new sauces and toppings for his FLOTUS burger, in honor of Capitol Hill vegetarians, including Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.


Proceedings on Capitol Hill can be dry, but the inaugural Congressional Veggie Burger Smackdown that took place yesterday brought some levity to the serious subject of the correlation between food and health.

The nonprofit Physicians Committee teamed up with the bipartisan Vegetarian Caucus to host the smackdown for Hill staffers looking for a healthful alternative to the North American Meat Institute’s annual Hot Dog Lunch that took place the same day, just ahead of today, designated National Hot Dog Day.

Equinox chef Todd Gray’s vegan FLOTUS burger was topped with a new caramelized black pepper-pineapple topping to honor the Hawaii state fruit, and vegetarian Congresswoman Rep Tulsi Gabbard.

Chef Gray found inspiration in the state’s fruits and vegetables, including the pineapple for his Hawaii burger, created in honor of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Gray also prepared a slow-cooked tomato sauce to honor Gabbard’s fellow Congress vegetarians Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.); roasted corn and sweet pepper salsa for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and a savory blend of shredded carrot and orange jam for Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.)

The FLOTUS burger comprises a mix of mushrooms, black beans and quinoa. It is a veggie version of chef Spike Mendelsohn’s Prez Obama Burgers. Members of Congress and their staff were able to sample the FLOTUS burgers and vote on their favorite sauce.

When the votes were tallied, New Jersey took first place with 36 percent of the votes, followed by Hawaii with 35 percent of the votes, then Florida, with 15 percent of the votes.

Noting that personalities like Beyoncé and former president Bill Clinton dramatically improved their health by opting for vegetarian fare, the Physicians Committee wants to extend this trend by calling attention to other individuals who embrace a plant-based diet, and showing that healthful foods can taste delicious.

 The event was staged to provide a healthier alternative to the annual American Meat Institute Hot Dog Lunch that took place the same day.

The physicians group also wanted to educate attendees about the dangers of hot dogs and other processed meats, warning that studies show that processed meats are linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and that ingestimg hot dogs, bacon and sausage may increase colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

A panel of America’s top nutrition experts recently warned against processed meat products and encouraged the U.S. government to exclude them from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The panel also found that 89 percent of Americans fall short on daily vegetable consumption.

While Democrats and Republicans rarely see eye to eye, Neal Barnard, M.D., Physicians Committee president, said in a press release statement: “I think both sides of the aisle can agree that fruits and veggies should replace disease-causing hot dogs on Capitol Hill and in the American diet.

“It’s never too early or too late to plant the seed about foods that have the power to transform your health, and in many cases, transform your life.”

The Physicians Committee was founded in 1985, and comprises more than 12,000 doctor members. The organization promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

A salad and fruit kebabs accompanied the vegan FLOTUS burger.

Votes for the best sauce were cast with marbles, with Hawaii’s pineapple burger taking second place.

Here is the recipe for both burger and pineapple topping:

Chef Todd Gray’s FLOTUS Burger
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, and sliced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 cup cooked or canned no-salt-added black beans
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1/2 cup rolled oats (do not use instant)
2 cups plain panko
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons egg replacer, such as Ener-G
1 cup water
5 multigrain vegan buns, toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and garlic. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, then add the mushrooms; cook for 5 minutes, then add the chili, onion and garlic powders, and the smoked paprika; cook for 2 minutes, stirring to distribute evenly.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the black beans, quinoa, oats, and 1/2 cup of the panko; pulse to a coarse-paste consistency, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper; stir to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

Whisk together the egg replacer and water in a medium bowl.

When ready to cook, form the chilled burger mixture into 4 equal-size patties. Spread the remaining 1-1/2 cups of panko on a plate. Whisk together the egg-replacer and water in a medium bowl to form a smooth slurry.

Briefly dip each patty into the egg replacer slurry so it’s coated on both sides, then gently press into the panko until evenly coated on all sides. (Discard excess slurry and panko.)

Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Generously grease with cooking oil spray, then add the burgers. Cook about 5 minutes on each side, reducing the heat as needed to avoid scorching, until a nicely browned crust forms. Use more cooking oil spray as needed-including on the burgers themselves-to keep the burgers from sticking or becoming too dry.

Place the burgers on the bottom buns. Top each burger with equal portions of your favorite sauce and condiments. Makes 5 servings.

Caramelized Pineapple with Cracked Pepper
1 pineapple, cored and sliced (1/8-inch thick)
Sugar, for dusting
Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat broiler to 500 F.
Place sliced pineapple on cookie sheet. Dust with sugar and top with cracked black pepper, and place under preheated broiler until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes).
Place rings on veggie burger. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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