There are few occasions where being a vegetarian is particularly depressing, and most of them involve social gatherings around a grill. I don’t know from experience of being one. But I have dealt with the annoyances of having to cook for one in less than ideal, carnivorous circumstances like the Fourth of July.
In college, the vegetarians always stood out at a tailgate like the one token bisexual male in a women’s studies seminar. They’d come bearing a package of partially thawed Boca burgers in their book bag and patiently hover by the grill with hungry eyes, waiting for a spot to open up that wasn’t completely contaminated with burger residue. These frozen veggie burgers are a sad affair in the best of circumstances – like, at 3am after all the pizza places are closed and you’re thanking the campus Gods that there is one last garden vegetable patty in your roommate’s fridge. But next to thick beef burgers causing flare ups on the fire because they’re dripping with authentic juicy goodness, no amount of char marks will make your meal feel less like cardboard.
Last year on the 4th we had one vegetarian and one pescatarian in our midst. The big patriotic dinner was held at Charlie’s in Rhode Island, and since it was before we were dating and our relationship only bore a few chia-sized seeds of infatuation, I didn’t even get sous chef status. I remember looking on with one part awe and one part horror as the boys attempted to cook 25 lobsters on a 4 burner stove. I’m pretty sure dinner officially happened on July 5th, since it was almost midnight when we finally sat down to eat.
My one vegetarian friend won’t be there this year, and the pescatarian has now transitioned into becoming a beefatarian, after trying a few bites of my pulled brisket and then segueing into ordering her own burgers at restaurants. Because of this, and thanks to the fact that I’ve been weaseling my way into the heart and kitchen of the man in charge, I’m lobbying for a traditional July 4th cookout, complete with dogs, corn cobs, and some patriotic potato salad. And since you never know when a vegetarian will accidentally walk into your backyard, I’ve been working on a much better alternative for the anemic Boca burger of BBQ’s past.
These grilled Portobello mushroom burgers are the next best thing to the real deal. They’re juicy, meaty and full of umami flavor. I even served one to Charlie who’s a staunch mushroom skeptic, and he ate (almost) the whole thing. I topped my mushroom caps with young manchego cheese, which is an excellent melter, and then continued the Spanish theme with some romesco sauce and peppery arugula. My favorite gluten-free hamburger buns are these ones from Canyon Bakehouse – as you can tell from the pictures they look (and taste!) like the buns from my college tailgating days.
The best part about these Portobello mushroom burgers is that they actually look like a real burger, so even if you’re a lone veggie in a sea of beef cake loving BBQ-ers, you can fit into the party like a 250 pound line backer does in a Rocks For Jocks class.
- 4 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 slices young manchego or mild cheddar cheese
- 4 burger buns (I used Canyon Bakehouse Gluten-Free rolls)
- 1/2 cup romesco sauce
- 1 handful baby arugula
- Fire up a gass or charcoal grill or indoor grill pan.
- Brush the mushroom caps with olive oil and season with salt. Grill over medium-high heat until soft and nicely browned, about 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside under foil.
- Brush the onion slices with the oil and season with salt. Grill over medium-high heat until charred and soft, about 3 minutes. Set aside under foil.
- Grill the burger buns until toasty, about 2 minutes.
- When ready to serve, return the mushrooms to the grill over medium-low heat and top with the cheese slices. Cover with the hood so the cheese can melt. Alternatively, if cooking indoors, place the mushrooms on a baking sheet and melt cheese under the broiler for 1 minutes.
- Assemble the burgers: Slather the romesco sauce on both buns, top the bottom half with the mushroom cap, followed by the arugula. Sandwich together and serve with the remaining sauce on the side.