YASSAS! Welcome to my wife’s recipe for vegetarian pastitsio.
Marrying into a Greek-American family is like signing up for a new language course.
“Hey, koúkla, bring me my pantoúfles so I can whip up some loukoumades to go with the moussaka and the avgolemono before Yiayia gets here!”
I didn’t mind because it introduced me to what I think is one of the most underappreciated cuisines in western civilization––Greek cuisine. Above all, it introduced me to pastitsio––a pasta dish with ground meat topped with bechamel sauce.
But because I don’t really eat meat anymore, my wife adapted a traditional meat-based pastitsio recipe and made it vegetarian with cinnamon-spiced lentils. It’s become one of my favorite things to eat and sous chef for. So, I wanted to share with you, especially all of my fellow Xenos out there.
Until recently I was what they call a wildly incompetent home cook. I was the guy who’d pour a bowl of cereal and call that cooking. What a catch I was!
But now I love cooking, so I want to start sharing a mix of recipes that are simple enough for anyone to try and recipes that that keep me interested in cooking.
I’m going to start with this burrito recipe, which is the recipe that got me off my ass and into the kitchen. My wife was making it 2-3 times a week. Eventually, I started chopping veggies, and then I wanted to learn how to just do it myself. Turns out, it’s pretty damn easy once you just try.
A quick note on burritos just to acknowledge where they come from… Nobody really knows for sure. But my favorite theory is that it was a street vendor named Juan Méndez in Chihuahua, Mexico who was wrapping up his food in a flour tortilla while traveling during the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century. What was he traveling on? A little donkey. Or, a burrito.
I like having matzo meal in the house for making chremslach, which are categorically better than regular pancakes. Since I’ve had matzo meal around, I started wondering what else I could use it in. That’s when I came up with the Matzo Kasha Black Bean Burger.
Matzo meal can basically play the role of breadcrumbs in a recipe. Turns out, bread crumbs are in a lot of recipes for vegetarian burger patties. So I’m not doing anything complicated here. I’m just taking a veggie burger recipe and subbing in matzo meal for breadcrumbs.
As I was making these matzo patties for the first time, I realized that it’s just a mix of the veggies and flavors you like. Why not put in some kasha? It looked like it’d fit in fine. Plus kasha is healthy. Win-win!
The kasha in this recipe can either be made just like you would rice in a simmering pot of water or veggie broth, letting the grains absorb everything. In some recipes for kasha varnishkes, you’ll see instructions for baking them to give them a bit of crispiness. I’m lazy in making my kasha and just go the water route, which gives it a softer, rice-like texture. But if you want something a bit crunchier in your burger, that’d be a way to go.
Matzo Kasha Black Bean Burger
A vegetarian black bean burger with matzo meal and kasha mixed in.
3/4cupfinely chopped pepper (about half of a pepper)
3garlic cloves, minced
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Rinse out your black beans in a strainer and spread them out onto a baking sheet. Bake them for about 5-10 minutes or until they're starting to get dried out.
While that's going on, put your skillet over medium heat with your olive oil. Sautée the onions, pepper, and garlic until they're soft. That'll take around five minutes or so.
Use your sautéing time to start cooking your kasha. First, fill a small saucepan with 3/4 cup water over high heat until boiling.
While the water is heating up, mix 1/4 cup of kasha with one egg in a small bowl with a dash of salt and black pepper. Stir with a fork until the kasha is covered.
When the water is boiling, pour in the kasha and turn down the heat to low so it simmers. Keep an eye on it, mixing the kasha occasionally, making sure it doesn't burn.
From there, you can use a food processor or put everything in a large bowl with the other ingredients. That's your matzo meal, eggs, feta cheese, horseradish (optional), BBQ sauce (optional), kasha, and spices. Mix everything together. Then, add the black beans and start mashing them. Leave some chunks of black beans un-smashed.
Form your mix into patties using about 1/3 cup of mixture for each one.
Places the patties on parchment paper and bake them at 375°F (190°C). After 10 minutes, flip them over. They can be done after 20 total minutes or you can throw them back onto the skillet for a couple of minutes each side over medium heat.
There’s something inherently special about eating in Athens that I can’t quite put my finger on or find the words to describe. But I think of tucking into a piping hot bite of moussaka in a clay pot with the Acropolis lit up like a movie star ahead of me. This scene, this blend of ancient human history with classic Greek cuisine is objectively extraordinary.
I’ve long been intrigued by Athens, even more so since moving to Germany nearly four years ago. I imagined it would be like any other European capital with exquisite architecture, walkable boulevards and plazas, and omnipresent relics of its history.
Some of that is true but it doesn’t make up for how wrong I was.
I see a lot of Jews talk shit about cholent. I don’t get why. It’s a stew where you get to pick what goes in it. So if you don’t like your cholent, here’s a novel idea, try putting things you like into the pot! Just an idea.