I was fully prepared to pan this recipe- to say that the flavors were good, the component textures varied and interesting, but the overall product decidedly blah. Indeed, had I written this post after the first night we had these spinach patties for dinner it would have been the sort of post you stop reading after two lines in the realization that the cook is telling you not to repeat her mistake, to simply move on. Plate in hand, Dylan remained mute as he ate while my 12-year-old sister-in-law proclaimed unconvincingly that they were delicious, all the while poking at one of the patties half-heartedly with her fork. As for me, perhaps more accustomed to vegetarian fare than she, I ate them contentedly enough- they were fine, after all, but were certainly nothing I’d recommend to others or ever try again.
As someone who often chooses recipes more by the titles than the ingredient lists or the descriptions, I had been expecting a very different beast- perhaps something like a sauteed spinach burger with spices for flavor and a few bread crumbs or an egg to hold it together. In fact this was something entirely different- more of a lentil and bread crumb-based veggie burger with hints of spinach as well as almond bits and bell pepper chunks for crunch. Tasting the combination as I started to form them into patties to pan fry, I was relatively pleased- they seemed promisingly tasty and appeared to have enough integrity to hold together through the cooking process. So what went wrong? Following the recipe, from Didi Emmons’ Vegetarian Planet(one of my absolute favorite cookbooks, as regular Superspark readers may know), I skeptically started to use just the tiniest bit of olive oil to fry the patties- a mere 1 1/2 tsp of oil for what ended up being 11 substantial patties. Something seemed very wrong. Trying to stick to the otherwise very healthy theme of the recipe, I added only the slightest bit more as I proceeded, ending up with patties that were warm, perhaps slightly browned, but still soft and frankly, sort of mushy. On top of that, a finger quickly dipped into the raita, a cooling yogurt sauce, revealed that it was practically bitter with orange peel, cumin, and minced onion.
Having thoroughly ripped the recipe apart now, I hope you’re still reading, because on the second day, determined to eat the leftover patties for dinner and to enjoy them this time, goshdarnit, we decided that even Ms. Emmons herself, a devotee of healthy cooking, wouldn’t have wanted us to eat those soggy, lack-luster burgers. No, instead, we broke out the bottle of oil and with a heavy hand, poured perhaps a 1/4-inch of oil into a small frying pan. What was once mushy turned crispy, what was once pale (and dare I say it, floury, as you may have noted in the photo), turned a gorgeous golden brown. Suddenly the raita made sense, a cool, creamy counterpart to the crispy crunch of the burgers. Success!
So would I recommend the recipe? Yes, with reservations. The ingredient list clearly makes it most suitable for those who like cooking with whole grains and fresh veggies, but the end product really demands a cook who isn’t afraid to fry, to pack on some extra calories and added fat in the search of deliciousness. If you’re that rare individual (and I admit that I usually am not), then you may well find this an interesting alternative to a more traditional veggie burger.
Spinach patties with cumin-orange raita (serves 4-5)
For the spinach patties:
1/2 cup dried red or brown lentils
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
8 slices stale or lightly toasted sandwich bread
2 garlic cloves, minced
12 oz fresh spinach, larger stems removed, rinsed and still damp (or 10 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed)
20 whole almonds
1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/2 tsp salt, or more, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
For the raita:
2 tbsp finely chopped shallot or onion
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds or 1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp grated orange rind
3/4 cup plain yogurt
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tbsp flour
olive oil for frying
1. In a small pan, cover the lentils with about 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover the pan, and summer the lentils until they are tender (generally 25-30 minutes for brown lentils, 10-20 minutes for red). Drain the lentils and set them aside.
2. In a large skillet, heat 1 1/2 tsp of olive oil over medium heat and add the onion. Saute it for just 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the cider vinegar and stir for 10 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
3. Tear the slices of bread into pieces, place them in a food processor, and run the machine until they form crumbs. Place the skillet over medium heat again and add the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and bread crumbs. Cook them over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are crispy, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the toasted crumbs to the large bowl of sauteed onion.
4. If using fresh spinach, place the skillet over medium-high heat again and add the damp spinach. Let cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes or until wilted. Transfer spinach to a cutting board and chop well. Add to the large bowl of onion and bread crumbs. if using thawed frozen chopped spinach, press out excess water and just add straight to the bowl of sauteed onion and crumbs.
5. Add the lentils and almonds to the food processor and run the machine in pulses until the lentils and almonds are chopped fine. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of onions. Add the chopped red pepper and the salt and black pepper to the bowl. Mix all ingredients in bowl well.
6. Make the raita by combining all of the ingredients in a bowl.
7. Put 3 tbsp of flour on a plate. Form eight (or more) patties from the spinach mixture and dredge them well in the flour on both sides. In a large skillet heat olive oil (how much you use will determine how browned and crunchy they get- the book recommends 1 1/2 tsp of oil, but that isn’t nearly enough to get them crispy!). Pan-fry the patties well on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Serve them hot with raita on the side.