Vegan Vegetable Stock, Polenta, Spicy Cherry Tomato Sauce & Lentil Burgers

By making your own vegetable stock, you are opening the door to a million other dishes you could use it to make. The fate of my vegetable stock was uncertain until I was done making it and conferred with my stomach about its demands. Originally I had planned to use the stock to cook our black lentils into some sort of lentil soup. After the stock was done, I had already eaten a few hearty cups of it in the “sampling” process, so I wasn’t in the mood for a soup any more. I already had the lentils soaking though, so I thought, “hey, I’ve always wanted to make lentil burgers, now I have everything I need!”

And thusly history was made and people without dinner plans for the evening suddenly had dinner plans for the evening.

Let’s begin the dinner-assembly-dance, shall we? (All well-made meals start with a proper soundtrack. For my hearty cooking I like a hearty tune, so I listened to Elvis Costello, Nikka Costa and The Rolling Stones. You can listen to whatever garbage you like, but just know, your guests will taste your poor taste in the meal.)

Pre-prepare your Amazing Vegan Vegetable Stock
Anybody with vegetables, a soup pot and a working faucet can make a delicious vegetable stock. All you need is:
Mixed diced vegetables (onion, carrot and celery traditionally make the best base, but I used kale & yam & mushrooms too. You can seriously use whatever flavor you want the broth to reflect.)
olive oil
spices (I used a couple bay leaves, thyme, oregano & dill seed)
salt & pepper
water
a big fuckin’ pot

Saute the onion, celery and carrot in the olive oil until they are tender. Then just add a shit ton of water, let it boil for a few minutes. Turn it to medium or med/low and let it simmer for a half hour to an hour, which you can do while you take photos of all your ingredients and slam dance.

Vegan Polenta
The polenta should probably be the first dish you make since it takes a half hour to bake in the oven.

For the polenta you will barely need anything:
your amazing vegetable stock
coarse corn meal
onion
garlic chopped into large chunks
salt
a baking dish
Earth Balance to grease the baking dish (thanks guys!)

Preheat the oven to 350 and invite all your friends over for dinner, they should be over by the time this is done. All you have to do is saute the onion on med/low until it sweats, then add the garlic last so it doesn’t cook much. Add 2 or 3 cups of your vegetable stock to the mix, and when it begins to boil, stir in the corn meal while stirring until it’s all in there but don’t stop stirring. Once the cornmeal is bubbly and starting to thicken, pour it into the greased baking pan and smooth it out evenly. Pop it in the oven for about a half hour covered with tin foil.

Vegan Spicy Cherry Tomato Sauce
For the tomato sauce you can start with whatever tomato base you want, marinara, a can of stewed tomatoes, or you can copy what I did. Since I make so much god damn fucking salsa all the time, I decided this would be a good way to use it while adding some spice to the dish. This sauce is really just to make sure the polenta and lentil burgers aren’t dry and uninteresting. This sauce goes over everything and keeps it warm, moist and flavorful.

I used about 2 cups of roasted tomato salsa and heated it in a small sauce pan on med/low. I chopped up a cup of cherry tomatoes and added them in to simmer. I also added some extra sugar, salt and just a touch of cinnamon to taste and simmered everything until the cherry tomatoes were tender. This sauce should be kept on low until everything is ready to be served, then you just slop it all over everything!

Vegan Lentil Burgers
These should be made at the same time as the tomato sauce, or afterwards. Lentil burgers can be pretty flavorless if you just depend on the lentils themselves. There need to be other elements to add some complexity and different flavors. For my version I used some of the vegetables from my stock to add color, texture and richly spiced flavor. Fresh herbs are also a great way to lend flavor, mashed potato can also be used, as well as other soaked grains or beans.

For the lentil burgers you will need:
lentils (brown/red/black soaked overnight or even cooked to adequately soften them)
bread crumbs (fresh ones are the best, just crumble up old bread or stuff it in a food processor)
olive oil
herbs & spices (whatever you like, I used curry powder & salt but you could use parsley, thyme, etc.)
oatmeal
cooked brown rice
chopped cooked vegetables (I used cauliflower, celery, carrot, yam & a bit of kale)

The oatmeal and brown rice help to bind the patties together, since these are vegan and don’t have egg. You don’t HAVE to put them in there but they do help. For me, the olive oil helped the most, to add a stickiness and make them stay in patty form. Brown lentils tend to soften up the most and add to a doughy texture so I like using them, but the black lentils add a firmer texture and I like the variety. I chop the cooked brown rice, oatmeal and vegetables up kinda fine so big chunks don’t break the patties apart.

Then you just mix everything up together in a bowl with the olive oil and spices, form into thin patties and fry them in olive oil until they are brown on both sides. Couldn’t be easier!

When your polenta is crispy on the bottom, pull it out, cut out a section and put it on a plate with your lentil burger. Chop up some spinach if you want a bit of crunch, to put on top of the polenta. Slather that in your spicy tomato sauce and it will blanch the spinach nicely. Really, just spoon the tomato sauce on everything, that’s what I did and let me tell you, it was a good decision.

I also oven-roasted a bit of cauliflower w/ olive oil, salt & pepper. This sounds like it’s no big deal but it is totally a big deal because it is totally delicious. Serve with whatever you like to whomever you like, but just let them know, they are very lucky.

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