It is, to me, a decidedly bizarre question: What would your last meal on earth be?
When we could so easily say, “What is your dream meal?” or “What is the absolute best meal you can possibly imagine?” we instead, bring death into the equation. Kind of like when people say, “I swear on my kids’ LIVES.” or “I love you to DEATH.” or “I would KILL for this, that and the other.”
It’s a strange thing we do.
In its figurative sense, the question is meant as fun – it carries a playfully dramatic tone and is designed to drive us right to the point of BEST. MEAL. EVER. I get it. But I’ve been pondering it a lot lately in the literal sense, saddest of truths be told, because someone I know is set to be asked that very question in less than two months. For real. At least I think he is, if it really is a thing. Regardless though, my heart is broken for him and his family, and for everyone who was involved in the gruesome chain of events that led to this current reality, the details of which are unnecessary at this point. That chain of events, though, has led to a sentence of death. It’s nearly unfathomable to me that someone I know – someone I grew up with – is facing this truth in his life. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently … the families involved, the friends, the victims, the people who decided his fate, and what he could possibly be thinking. A mind gets to reeling when thoughts wander down a scary road like that. But mostly, I just can’t stop thinking about all of the lasts.
last conversation. last book. last hello. last goodbye. last good dream, daydream and very bad dream. last joke told. last joke laughed at. last best day. last worst day. last sunrise, sunset, and snowstorm. last adventure. last friend. last pet. last great movie. last song. last meal.
Most of us have no earthly idea when all of these lasts are going to occur. That’s what keeps us sane, keeps us keeping on. A generous helping of mystery is crucial lifeblood for us all, the unknown giving comfort when the knowledge itself could very well break us. If you were to know the precise time that your last meal was going to occur, I cannot imagine how that would feel. It is a uniquely macabre thought, I’ll admit, but to know someone who is grappling with that very bit of knowledge, the knowledge of their last meal – their last everything – is quite a disturbing thing and has been impossible for me not to think about.
When that meal comes and goes though, and is followed by last hours, minutes and the very last second, I hope that there is calm on the other side in the all seconds to follow, and for everyone involved. I can only hope that somewhere inside all of those after-seconds, there is peace. At long last.
Alright then. Now you know why I’ve been chewing on the question. Let’s say I were to pose it to you (in a figurative sense): do you have a “last meal on earth” meal? Would it be a table filled from end to end with bad-for-you treats, fried foods and sugary sweet confections? Or maybe you’d select the finest, rarest foods … the extravagant delicacies and the sought-after gems typically reserved for the most special occasions. Or would it be one single thing? Your most favorite thing … alone and unadorned, unaccompanied and unsullied by anything else.
Hard to say, really, for me … kind of like choosing a favorite child. But I suppose it would have to be a cheeseburger and french fries. Boring perhaps, but that’s not the point in this particular hypothetical situation now is it? For me, a really good cheeseburger and some crispy, salty french fries is where it’s at – and it’s also a meal that I tend not to eat with much frequency, because as it turns out, it will do you no favors in the health department.
Unless, of course, it is THIS burger. My Red Earth Burger. A beautifully healthy concoction made from ruby red beets, basmati rice, and red beans, this is the best veggie burger I have ever made. The secret to its success, in addition to the fetching hue, is the fact that it’s a marinated burger. Yes. Yes! We marinate our steaks, chicken and pork, so why not our veggie burgers? In this case, it transports such great flavor into the veggie patties, and really helps these burgers stand out above the rest. Plus it helps to create a wonderfully crispy crust on the outsides of the burgers, a personal favorite part. I nestle them in between a homemade sesame seed bun and top them with fresh veggies and what I call “superfood sauce.” It’s basically a pesto of sorts, and I’ve started keeping a small jar of it in my fridge because it goes so nicely with just about anything upon which you choose to use it. It’s like adding a shot of nutrients and healthy benefits to your food, not to mention bright, fresh flavor.
The Red Earth Burger
A healthy marinated veggie burger with superfood sauce. Store-bought buns and a great pesto sauce can be subbed in place of the homemade versions here. Or just ketchup and mustard … or mayo, or guacamole. Just top them however you like!
INGREDIENTS (makes 6 burgers)
4 scallions, trimmed
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted (toast them in a dry skillet for 4 – 5 min over medium heat)
1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
14.5 oz can dark red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup cooked brown basmati rice (regular brown rice is fine as well)
3/4 cup thoroughly mashed canned beets plus all of the juice
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp coconut sugar (brown and/or granulated sugar work great as well)
3/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus extra for brushing
Whole wheat hamburger buns, halved
Superfood sauce (recipe follows)
Toppings of choice: (I like fresh tomatoes, mixed greens, and sliced red onion. You can also add cheese for cheeseburgers, if you like)
Heat a large cast iron (if you’ve got one) pan over medium-high. Cook the scallions until they begin to char, turning occasionally, about 5 minutes. Coarsely chop them and set aside.
In a food processor, pulse the toasted walnuts and oats until a coarse meal forms. Add the beans and process just until a thick paste forms – you still want to see pieces of the beans. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl. Add the rice, mashed beets and juice, and the chopped scallions. Season generously with salt and pepper (taste a bit to see if it tastes seasoned) and then mix to combine. I like to use my hands for this! Form into six 3/4-inch-thick burger patties and arrange them side by side in a large baking dish.
In a medium bowl, combine the lime juice and zest, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, sugar, and 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Pour this marinade over the burgers in the baking dish, and marinate for 5 minutes prior to cooking.
Set your large skillet over medium heat again. Brush a bit of olive oil on the cut sides of the buns. Working in batches, toast the buns in the skillet until browned, about 1 to 2 minutes, and then transfer them to a work surface. Add 1 more tablespoon of oil to the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Add the patties in batches, adding more olive oil in between if needed, and cook until browned, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. (This would be a good time to add cheese, if you want to turn them into cheeseburgers). Transfer the patties to a baking sheet and let them rest for 5 minutes (they’ll firm up a bit during this time, as they cool slightly).
Build the burgers with the bun bottoms (toasted, if you like), a schmear of superfood sauce (see below), burger patties, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions and bun tops.
2 cups baby spinach, washed
2 cups baby kale, washed
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1 garlic clove
1 tsp turmeric
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
2 Tbsp tahini
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
In a food processor, process the first 8 ingredients until a smooth paste forms. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. When a smooth sauce forms, transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in the yogurt. Season with a bit of salt, if desired.
Homemade Hamburger Buns
(makes 8 buns)
* adapted from Chef John on allrecipes.com
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
3.5 cups all purpose flour, divided
1 cup warm water (around 105 degrees F)
2 eggs, divided
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons white sugar
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Place the yeast into the bowl of a stand mixer, and whisk in 1/2 cup flour and the warm water until the mixture is smooth. Let this stand for about 10 minutes, or until it looks frothy (the yeast will cause things to bubble and foam up a bit).
Into this yeast mixture, whisk one egg, the melted butter, sugar, and the salt. Add the remaining three cups of flour.
Using the dough hook on your mixer, knead the dough on low speed until well combined, soft and slightly sticky (about 4 or 5 minutes). Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. If the dough seems too sticky (as in, it sticks to your finger when you poke it), you can add a bit more flour to get it to come together in a ball.
Transfer the dough onto a smooth, lightly floured work surface. Form the dough into a smooth, round ball. Clean out the mixer bowl and add the teaspoon of olive oil to it, rubbing it around with your fingers to evenly coat it. Add the ball of dough to this oiled bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.
Transfer the dough back to your floured work surface and cut it into 8 equal pieces. Form each piece into a round ball, tucking the ends underneath as you go. Use your hands to gently pat the dough rounds into flatter disc shapes, about 1/2″ thick.
Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Arrange the buns about 1/2″ apart on your prepared baking sheet and drape a sheet of plastic wrap over the buns (don’t seal them or wrap tightly) and let them rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg with the tablespoon of milk. Brush this egg wash gently onto the buns, being careful to not deflate them. Sprinkle each bun with some sesame seeds.
Bake the buns until golden brown on top, about 16 – 17 minutes. Let them cool completely once they’re out of the oven (it’s okay if they stick together). Tear the buns apart from one another if they’re stuck together and slice them in half, crosswise to serve.