Summer is cookout season, and have I got a doozy of a cookout menu for you. Lots of omnivores seem to think that a vegan summer cookout would be all healthy bird food that would leave them craving some kind of meat. This meal will surprise them and might actually change a few minds about the need to have a cow slaughtered in order for them to have a satisfying burger. Behold, the newest invention by the geniuses at Field Roast:
I've tried many versions of meatless burgers, both homemade and store-bought. Most of them make what I think is a fatal error: trying to be like meat while trying not to look or taste like meat. Most veggie burgers are pretty decent, but they all start to taste the same to me after a while. And getting your meat-eating friends to even consider a veggie burger is nearly impossible. The term "veggie burger" is an instant turn-off to some people. This new burger solves that problem surprisingly well. Here they are, pre-grill, with some Daiya cheese slices:
I put these on the grill and then went back into the kitchen to get something. Almost immediately, I could smell that familiar aroma of summer and thought, "The neighbors are grilling burgers." It was unmistakably a "real" burger being grilled that I smelled. But no. That smell was coming from my grill. Yeah, they're that convincing. Look, smell, taste, it's all there.
This burger needed a bun that was worthy of it, so I opted for a homemade pretzel bun. Pretzel buns are very "in" right now at restaurants, for good reason. They sound labor-intensive, but they're not at all. Try to make these the day of your barbecue as they're much better fresh. I made mine so that they were ready 45 minutes or so before we ate, which was perfect. Your guests will be ooh-ing and ah-ing over these, when they're mouths aren't full of pretzel and burger.
The other star of the show: onion rings. These are my veganized version of the out-of-this-world onion rings at Red Mill burgers here in Seattle. Admittedly, these do take some time and some effort, but it really shows in the finished product. I always use Walla Walla sweet onions for these onion rings. Walla Walla sweets are a staple at our house during the summer months. If you've ever made onion rings before, you might have had a problem with the breading slipping off after they're cooked. This was happening to me for the longest time. The answer is to chill your peeled and sliced onions in the fridge overnight to release the moisture that "sweats" out of the onions and causes the breading to slip off after they're cooked. These are best when they're made right at the very end and served fresh and hot.
The last part of this cookout menu is grilled watermelon. I'm not a raw-watermelon kind of guy. I love the flavor of watermelon, but the consistency is weird to me. Grilling it changed all that for me. The sugar caramelizes and the consistency changes just a bit. Just brush a wedge of it with some olive oil, sprinkle it with salt and pepper and grill it up. I probably could've let these go a little longer on the grill, but they were still delicious:
For the pretzel buns:
1/4 warm water (around 115 degrees)
1 package yeast
1 tbsp evaporated cane sugar
1 1/4 cups warm beer (I used an IPA)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup baking soda
coarse sea salt or pretzel salt
For the onion rings:
2 large sweet yellow onions
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups plain, unsweetened soy milk
3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup medium-grind yellow cornmeal
1/4 masa harina
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tsp dried thyme
fresh ground pepper
vegetable or peanut oil for frying
Make the pretzel buns: Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl (or use a stand mixer and dough hook) and let it go until it's foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the beer, oil and salt and stir it in. Add the flour one cup at a time, mixing all the while, until a soft dough forms. Knead it for 5 minutes or so, either with the dough hook or on a floured surface. Form it into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rise for an hour.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Press your dough down and put it out onto a flour surface to work it a bit (but not too much). Slice your dough ball into 8 equal wedges.
Roll each wedge into a ball shape a little smaller than your fist. It doesn't have to be precise, though. Some will be bigger than others.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Once it's boiling, slowly (and I mean slowly) add the baking soda to the water. Be careful, as adding it too fast will have it boiling over and causing a huge mess (trust me on that). A little controllable fizz is what you want. Boil the balls of dough, two at a time, for about 30 seconds each. They will get noticeably tougher and more dense-feeling after this, which is what we want.
Fish them out of the water and onto the parchment-lined sheet pan. With a sharp knife, cut an X slit in the top and sprinkle the tops generously with the coarse salt.
Bake them in the 425 degree oven for 12-14 minutes or so (15 seemed to be a bit too long). They should come out looking, well, like a pretzel.
You have two options with the buns: you can split them like regular hamburger buns or you can use two full buns for one burger. Yeah, you heard me. We ate them that way and have no regrets.
Make the onion rings: Peel and slice the onions into thick slices. Separate the layers onto a sheet pan and spread them out. Ideally, this should be done the day before you're making the onion rings. If that's not possible, just do them as early as you can the day you're going to be making them. The longer they have in the fridge (up to a day), the better.
To make the batter and breading, you'll need three bowls. Put 2 cups of the flour into the first bowl. In the second bowl, make your buttermilk by pouring the apple cider vinegar into the soy milk. Whisk it around for a bit until it starts to thicken. In the third bowl, combine the other 2 cups of flour and all your other dry ingredients. This is where it'd be nice to have bowls that were any color other than white:
Using one hand for dry ingredients and one for wet, dredge the individual onion rings in the flour then dunk them into the buttermilk and then toss them in the cornmeal mixture. Place them gently on a sheet pan or large baking dish, staggering them to keep them from sticking to each other.
Heat a straight-sided pan with at least 2 inches of oil. Once the oil is about 350 degrees and starts to shimmer, start frying your rings by putting them into the oil gently. Don't crowd them up in the pan or they'll be difficult to turn. After a few minutes, check the bottoms of the onion rings for a golden color. Gently flip them and cook the other side. Lay them on a plate or pan lined with paper towels (a good way to reuse that original sheet pan). You can keep these warm in a 200 degree oven, but not for long. They will lose their crunch the longer they sit around. But if you make them right at the end, they won't be around for long.