Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries.
I think of Duluth, with its cool fog and hilly terrain, as San Francisco on Superior. The nighttime chorus of bellowing foghorns is my comforting lullaby, in the same way that the frantic call of the loon is my Minnesota-born husband’s. And this is the time of year when my husband, seeing the mist of sweat beading on my brow and knowing that my San Francisco-raised self cannot tolerate St. Paul’s humid summer heat without an occasional de-wilting respite, will say, “Let’s go to Duluth!”
“Let’s go to Fitger’s!” I’ll respond.
I love lounging on the sidewalk patio of Fitger’s Brewhouse with my iced tea and burger and watching the meandering pedestrians. You never know when you’ll see someone wearing a clown nose or a puffy pirate shirt. And my husband is always happy to sample their rotating list of house brews.
But the best part of Fitger’s is their Harvest Moon Wild Rice Burger, either the Classic ($8.49), topped with cheddar cheese, aioli, sprouts, and tomatoes, or the Pub Style ($9), topped with Swiss cheese, sauteed onions, mushrooms, and chipotle pepper sauce. While most restaurants’ vegetarian burger patties seem mushy or uninspired or warmed in the microwave (and often all three), the ones at Fitger’s Brewhouse have a firm, satisfying texture. The bold cheeses and flavorful sauces provide appealing savory notes, and the crunchy fresh vegetables and whole-grain bun allow you to pretend you’re being completely virtuous.
Sometimes, though, as much as you believe the breeze off of Lake Superior is the only solution to the relentless heat, you just can’t drop everything and run to Duluth, where the temperatures are civilized. Things stand in your way: graduations, family commitments, long overdue work projects that won’t die. Why not have your Fitger’s Wild Rice Burger at home? Because they guard their recipe, that’s why. When the Heavy Table asked, they declined, in a Minnesota-nice sort of way, of course: “The Brewhouse Harvest Moon Burger is something we are very proud of. As many times as we’ve been asked, our policy is to hold the old family recipe tight to our vest.”
Curse those vested family secrets.
Not ones to give up easily, we decided to create our own wild rice burger, inspired by Fitger’s, with the recipe below. It’s not the same as an afternoon dining on the big lake, but if you serve these with a cold beverage, close your eyes, and hold your face up to the air-conditioning unit, you, too, can dream of Duluth.
The Heavy Table Wild Rice Burger, inspired by the Harvest Moon Wild Rice Burger from Fitger’s Brewhouse
Yields 8 quarter-pound burgers
Similar to the salmon patties my mom cooked on Fridays when I was growing up, this recipe calls for crushed saltine crackers and whisked eggs as a binder. The shredded cheddar cheese helps, too. For best results, cook your wild rice the day before. We think these would be fantastic on the grill — if yours has a cast-iron griddle — and perfect for serving at your Independence Day cook-out.
1 c (8 oz) Minnesota hand-harvested, wood-parched wild rice, uncooked
3 c low-sodium vegetable stock, homemade preferred (making vegetable stock is another fantastic way to use up some of your CSA’s or garden’s bounty)
3 extra large eggs, whisked
2 rounded tsp Jax Seasoning or other all-purpose seasoning (Jax’s, available at Lunds, includes salt, onion, garlic, paprika, sugar, black pepper, curry powder, and turmeric)
1 tbsp pure olive oil, Canola oil, or other neutral oil
1 c grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 c (3 oz) crushed saltine soda crackers (we used Late July Organic Classic Saltine Crackers, available at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op)
8 slices sharp cheddar cheese
oil to brush on the griddle
8 multi-grain hamburger buns, split
garlic mayonnaise (we used Delouis Fils, available at Coastal Seafoods, but it’s easy to make your own)
roma tomatoes, sliced
red onions, sliced
- The night before, prepare the wild rice according to the instructions on the box, substituting the vegetable stock for the water. Cool in the refrigerator overnight.
- When you’re ready for burgers, prepare the buns and burger toppings. Split the buns, spread a layer of garlic mayonnaise on the top half of the bun, then place a pinch or two of sprouts and two slices of tomato on top of the garlic mayonnaise. Lay out the bottoms of the buns on a serving tray.
- Make the patties. In a large bowl, whisk together the 3 eggs, Jax Seasoning, and olive oil.
- With a rubber spatula, mix in the cheddar cheese until combined. Mix in the cooked and cooled wild rice, then the crushed crackers.
- Scoop out a ½ cup of the wild rice mixture, form it into a patty, and place it on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. The patties are very crumbly and delicate at this stage. Repeat for remaining 7 patties.
- Brush a cast-iron griddle with oil, then heat to medium.
- Using a pancake turner, carefully place each patty on the griddle and cook for 3 minutes.
- Turn each patty carefully with the pancake turner. Cover each patty with a slice of cheddar cheese, then cover with a lid (or close the cover of the grill) to melt the cheese. Cook for another 3 minutes.
- Remove patties from heat and slide each on the bottom half of the whole grain bun.
- Serve with a cold beverage. Situate yourself in front of the electric fan for a Duluth-style breeze.