Mexican Black Bean Tortas with Tomato Jam, Pickled Onions, Avocado, and Cilantro-Lime Crema

Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty

While the ingredient list is long, this is a veggie burger even the most carnivorous will enjoy, so it’s worth the extra trouble. Crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, it’s topped with all the flavors of Mexico. You can also serve these burgers on a fried corn tortilla as a tostada, or even over a bed of tomato-enriched Mexican-style rice. The instructions below involve cooking dried beans from scratch, using the incredible black beans from Charlie Baer’s South Hamilton, MA farm, but as a shortcut you can certainly use canned ones. Just use two cans’ worth, and be sure to rinse and drain them well before proceeding with the recipe.

Makes 6 burgers

For the beans:
1 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds

For the burgers:
3 cups cooked (or 2 cans) black beans, well-drained
2 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 bunch scallions, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ of a Serrano chili, minced (seeds removed if you don’t like too much spice)
1 small bunch cilantro, stems minced and leaves coarsely chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lime, juiced
½ cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten

For crema and serving:
1 small red onion, sliced into ¼-inch rings
1 cup rice vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
pinch sugar
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, sliced
olive oil
1 container VT Creamery crème fraiche
1 clove garlic, grated
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ remaining Serrano chili, minced
½ lime, juiced and zested
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
hot sauce, to taste
6 slices Monterey Jack-style cheese (Pineland Farms from Maine makes a nice one)
6 Iggy’s black pepper brioche rolls, split and buttered
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup cilantro leaves
6 leaves red Boston lettuce, washed and well-dried
lime wedges, for serving

To cook the beans, place them with the garlic, bay, salt, cumin seeds, and olive oil in a large saucepan and fill with water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, 1-1¼ hours. Taste a few beans to check for doneness; they should be still slightly firm, but not hard, and definitely not mushy. Drain well and set aside (this can be done 1-2 days in advance, but store cooked beans in their liquid).

Heat a large skillet and add the oil, scallions, garlic, minced chili (reserving the remaining ¼ of it for the crema), and minced cilantro stems. (NOTE: if you’re using canned beans, add ½ teaspoon cumin seeds to the pan now.) Sauté until lightly browned, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the drained beans. Continue to cook, drying out the beans a little, 3-5 more minutes, until there’s no liquid in the pan. Remove from the heat and scrape into a flat-bottomed bowl.

Using a fork or a potato masher, mash the beans into a paste (but not so fine as to be a puree). Stir in the lime juice, bread crumbs, and eggs, and form into 6 flat burger-shaped patties (the Iggy’s brioche rolls are pretty big, so press out the bean burgers to be large enough to fit them). Set aside on a platter in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit while you make the toppings, at least one hour and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Submerge the sliced red onion under the rice vinegar in a small bowl and stir in some salt, pepper, and sugar. Set aside to “quick-pickle.”

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, toss the halved cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the sliced garlic. Roast until collapsed and jam-like, about 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the crème fraîche with the garlic, cumin, remaining minced chili, lime juice and zest, minced cilantro, and few shakes of hot sauce if you like. Set aside.

Preheat a charcoal grill or cast iron skillet. Brush the burgers with a little olive oil and grill or pan-fry, flipping carefully, until crispy on the outside and heated through, topping with the cheese as soon as they’re flipped. Remove the tomatoes from the oven and mash with a fork into a “jam.”

Grill or toast the buttered sides of the brioche rolls and assemble the tortas: stack a bean burger on the bottom of a bun, spoon some crema over the top, layer on a spoonful of tomato jam and some sliced avocado, then a few pickled onion rings, cilantro leaves, and a leaf of lettuce. Finish with a squeeze of lime and some hot sauce, if you like, before closing the torta with top bun. Serve immediately.

This recipe appeared in the Summer 2015 issue.