Saying Yes, Meaning No [Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt]

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I’m a yes girl. 

Saying no has always been a task that stirred my anxiety (surprise, surprise). I don’t like to disappoint people and for some strange reason, saying no made me feel like I was letting someone down or hurting their feelings. It didn’t matter the invitation, I felt wholly obligated to say yes lest I disappoint the host, the organizer, my peers or even my family. 

As I travel the bumps and rockier roads of adulthood, I’m realizing more and more than “no” has a valuable place in my vocabulary. Saying yes to everything may mean meeting more people, some of them truly wonderful, attending events that I take precious information away from, experiencing things I wouldn’t have known otherwise, and catching up with old friends, but it leaves me wondering: where in all those yes’s do the invaluable people and things that are already in my life fit in? The ones who have seen me through the highest of highs and some very dark lows. Shouldn’t my yes’s be reserved for them more often than strangers and
events I have no interest in? And for the people and things that I love? 

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Saying yes constantly had been leaving me heavy with agitation. I knew I didn’t want to say yes to all these request but I said it anyways. I was frequently disappointed in myself for cowering behind my inability to stand up for what I wanted, and I felt angry that I now had to attend or work on something that didn’t interest me in any way. It was a double-whammy of frustration and who got to feel the brunt of it? Those nearest to me. The ones who had to listen to me bitch and moan about having to attend this or do that even though was the one who agreed to it in the first place. 

With a certain reluctance, I’ve started saying no. At first, it tumbled awkwardly off my tongue and left a bitter taste, but the more I practiced the more confident my no’s became and the lighter my shoulders got. In the end, I’m the only one who’s accountable for the decision I make - not the people who asked in the first place or my poor friends who had to lend an ear to the protests. I’m learning to save my yes’s for the people and things that bring me joy - and there are so many. If I want to say no to an event that everyone is attending so I can sit at home curled into Al watching 4 episodes of Game of Thrones - I’m going to. And I’m not going to feel badly about it, either. If it means I miss events, that’s alright too. The great thing about events is that there will always be more. Always. There is no guarantee that there will always be more nights spent on the porch with my best friend, our laughs keeping the neighbours up, or more dinners in my mom’s backyard by the pool, margaritas with my sister, baseball games with my dad or dinner dates with Al. Those are what my yes’s should be reserved for. That, and doing just this. Coming here and having the time to talk, for real, about what’s going on. Time to focus on creating dishes and photos I’m proud of. Things I was missing by being too afraid to say no. 

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Of course, life comes with obligations and there are times when yes is all I can say. Likewise, there are times when I do really want to say yes to the events and the dinners. And that’s ok, too. I’m learning, albeit slowly, to go with my gut and trust what it’s urging me towards.

And today, my gut urged me towards veggie burgers. Ones that I made on the fly and used what I had for. Nutty Japonica rice, a blend of medium-grain black and short-grain mahogany rice, and earthy mushrooms speckled with a Turkish baharat blend. Topped with a cool garlic cucumber yogurt that I tried relentlessly not to scoop up with a spoon and eat before the burgers were ready. These are good. You should probably say YES to them. 

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Black Rice and Mushroom Burgers with Cucumber Garlic Yogurt
makes 8 sliders, 4 large burgers

2 cups diced button mushrooms
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp baharat spice, recipe follows
1 cup cooked black or mahogany rice (brown rice is fine, too)
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 tbsp lemon zest (1/2 large lemon)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or more if you like it hot)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt and pepper, to taste
Vegetable oil, to pan-fry

Ideas to serve: 
4 large (8 small) buns of your choice
avocado slices
sliced radishes
cheese
sprouts (I used pea shoots)

Drizzle a heavy skillet over med-high heat with vegetable oil and add the mushrooms and onions. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until liquid has released and evaporated and the mushrooms and onions are starting to brown. Add the garlic and baharat spice and stir to combine. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes. 

Mix the cooked rice and mushroom mixture with the carrot, cayenne, egg, bread crumbs, parsley and a few generous pinches of salt and pepper. If the mixture is a bit wet, add more breadcrumbs or a bit of flour to help dry them out a bit. Form into patties and pan fry on a heavy skillet drizzled with vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes or until golden brown on to bottom. Flip and brown the other side. Place on a bun slathered with yogurt sauce and topped with whatever you like most. 

Cucumber Garlic Yogurt Sauce
makes 1 cup

3” piece of english cucumber, grated
1 cup Greek yogurt (must be Greek)
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic

Squeeze as much moisture from the grated cucumber as you can. Place in a food processor (or bullet/blender) with the yogurt and garlic and blend until smooth. 

Baharat Blend
makes about 1/3 cup

"Baharat" literally means "spice" in Arabic. There are many different varieties but I prefer this Turkish style blend. If you have the time, toasting your coriander and cumin and grinding them fresh makes a huge difference in the flavour here. 

1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint 
1 tablespoon dried oregano 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight jar. 

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(un)Comfortably Spiced (Turkish Kebabs, Pomegranate Relish, Tahini Yogurt)

 
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve officially branched out. Not too far, now. I’m not building cakes out of mashed potatoes and meatloaf or drinking turtle’s blood sakes. Oh no, I’m not branching out that far. Maybe twigging out would be a  more appropriate phrase.  I’m just slowly poking my head out of the hole that is my culinary comfort zone.

I grew up on a fairly ’plain’ diet. Somewhat bland, typically spice-free, keep-the-flavour-to-a-dull-roar type of diet. Mashed potatoes and chicken strips, hamburger helper, pasta with jarred sauce… you know the diet I’m talking about. I should mention, in case either of my parents are reading, that this was the type of food I chose to eat. I bet my dad would have loved if I were to sit down and ask for a big plate of liver and onions, as we so often joked about as kids.

As I’ve learned to cook, and become more comfortable with different flavours and textures, I’ve tried to incorporate a bigger variety of spices, vegetables, oils and vinegars to my food. However, I’ve done so in a very comfortable way that hasn’t forced me to stray from the foods I’m used to. Until now.

Eating healthily is not always exciting or flavourful, but if you learn to use spices in place of butter and salt, you’d be surprised at how much flavour you can get out of your food without any added fat/sodium.

My best friend, Amanda, is Lebanese and comes from a family with a very dedicated and talented mother who cooks extremely health conscious, fresh, delicious meals everyday. She has a giant garden that she cooks from in summer months and tends to preserve everything the season’s bounty has provided her with. I’ve been privileged, on more than one occasion, to eat her food and have never tried anything I didn’t like. I have to say that her steak tartare is one of the best I’ve had. Full of flavour and such a nice texture. She knows how to make the best of the spices and ingredients she has.

When I saw Ana Sortun’s recipe for a middle-eastern inspired dish in this month’s Bon Appetit, I knew if there was anytime to branch out and cook a style of cuisine I was unfamiliar with, it was now.

These kebabs are good. I’m not usually a huge fan of chicken breast but when soaked in a marinade of grated onion, baharat, oil and lemon juice, it becomes moist and full of flavour. The colourful pomegranate-pistachio relish and cooling tahini-yogurt sauce were the perfect accompaniment to the perfectly spiced chicken.

 

Turkish-Style Chicken Kebabs with Pomegranate-Pistachio Relish and Tahini-Yogurt Sauce
Recipe from Bon Appetit

Baharat Seasoning
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint 
1 tablespoon dried oregano 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 
1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Tahini yogurt:
3 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon Baharat seasoning
1 large garlic clove, pressed 
1/2 cup plain whole-milk Greek-style yogurt 
1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste) 

Pomegranate Relish:
1 1/4 cups pomegranate seeds 
2/3 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios, coarsely chopped 
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley 
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 


Chicken:
1/2 cup coarsely grated onion 
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 
2 tablespoons olive oil 
2 teaspoons baharat seasoning
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, each halved lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 3 pieces 

Warm pita breads  (optional)

Baharat Seasoning:
Using pestle or blunt end of wooden spoon, mash all ingredients and 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper in mortar or small bowl 2 to 3 minutes. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill.

For tahini yogurt:
Combine lemon juice, Baharat Seasoning, and garlic in medium bowl; stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes. Whisk in yogurt and tahini. Season tahini yogurt to taste with salt. DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.

For pomegranate relish: 

Mix all ingredients in medium bowl. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.


(the best way, in my opinion, to get the seeds out. Place a mesh sieve in a large bowl, cut pomegranate in half, face cut side down in your hand, rap on the back with a big wooden spoon until seeds are released. Great for anger management, too!)

For chicken:
Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Add chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Marinate at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 2 hours.

Preheat broiler. Thread 6 chicken pieces onto each skewer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place on small rimmed baking sheet. Broil chicken until cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes per side. Arrange kebabs on platter. Serve with tahini yogurt, pomegranate relish, and warm pita breads.  

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