Tiburón -Shark- Žralok

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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spanish Hamburger

I'm not really a vegetarian. R's stepmother was the first to point this out to me during a rather tense dinner during a rather tense trip to Bali. My sweet, charming "mom-in-law," who I got along with as famously as territorial cats get along with each other, said she didn't see how only eating fish qualified me as a vegetarian because she also only ate fish and didn't call herself a vegetarian. I decided to give her match point and ordered the filet mignon. I try not to be a sore loser.

But she did make a point and I think many "vegetarians" such as myself have tried to cover up the ifs and buts and onlys of their diet by inventing all sorts of terms like "pescaterian" and "locavore." At the end of the day, you're still killing an animal for food and crowning yourself humane just because its not a cow. So why did I, and to an extent still do, call myself a vegetarian?

As I  discovered, when it comes to meat, if I can, I do. So calling myself vegetarian is almost like saying I have a food allergy, except its voluntary and to me that's the beauty of it. When I tell people I'm vegetarian I'm off the hook in a way. I can turn down chicken, meat, pick the ham out of a stew, and no one will say anything to me because its been discussed already-- I'm vegetarian. But I also love meat and every so often I want a steak or a roast beef sandwich or a croqueta de jamón so on those special occasions "I'm making an exception." OK, so this seems a really roundabout way of saying I eat meat occasionally.

Well, I'm Puerto Rican. If you ever saw My Big Fat Greek Wedding you know the whole schtick about how the fiance is vegetarian and crazy auntie goes, "Is OK, I make lamb." That's pretty much how it is here, except switch lamb for pork. But the idea of me being vegetarian doesn't just keep my relatives in check, it keeps me in check. I already tried not calling myself vegetarian and I ended up eating a chicken fried steak bigger than my torso.

Basically, this works for me, so leave well enough alone because when I want to eat a burger with you, I'll let you know. And trust me, it'll be a good burger.

Which leads me to the title of the posting (sort of), Spanish Hamburger. Even back when I actually thought I was a vegetarian, there was always one dish that would turn me carnivore: my friend Lisa's Spanish Hamburger. The first time I had it, we were roommates in college and every few weeks we'd try our hand at something in the kitchen. One of the first recipes she made was this incredible casserole, Spanish Hamburger, that involved macaroni, ground beef, bacon, green pepper, corn, tomatoes... the list is long. It was her grandmother's recipe, written down in a journal that was falling apart with the words fading and smudged. Paired with a Yellow Tail Shiraz (and followed with some Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Therapy, oh, college) it was amazing. It had a wonderful balance of flavors and textures: saltiness from the bacon, sweetness from the corn, crunch from the green peppers, chewiness from the macaroni. Ground beef and cheese held everything together. She made it again a few months ago during my non-vegetarian phase and after I moved to Austin (before that chicken fried steak) I finally got the recipe for it and made it for my aunt when she visited me. It never fails to impress, we each had two helpings even though neither of us was actually that hungry. Its one of those.

 Lisa has kindly allowed me to share the recipe with you saying "good recipes should be shared!" So next time you have company over or, you know, feel hungry, make this.

Spanish Hamburger
by Lisa Romagnoli

8 oz, elbow macaroni (if you're like me, that means a little more than half the box)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 can sweet corn kernels, drained
1 small can tomato paste
1 14-16 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
4 strips bacon
1 lb. ground beef (if you're vegetarian, you could use Trader Joe's soy chorizo, let me know if you try it)
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Paprika, for garnish (optional, my addition)
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Place rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Season the ground beef with salt and pepper. Parboil the macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente (they are going to finish cooking in the oven). Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan, add onions and sweat until softened. Add garlic and allow to sweat for another minute or so. Raise the heat an add the ground beef. Brown as much as possible and allow to cook through. Remove from heat and set aside.

On another frying pan, fry bacon until crispy. (**Note: If you're more daring than me you can invert these steps, fry the bacon first, drain some of the fat, and cook the onions, garlic, and beef in the bacon fat. I didn't try it so do as you see fit.) Cut into bits.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients minus half cup of the cheddar cheese and the parmesan cheese, seasoning with salt and pepper. Pour mixture into a casserole dish and top with remaining cheese and sprinkle paprika over it, if using. Place casserole, uncovered, in the oven for 20-25 minute or until bubbly.

If possible, let sit in fridge overnight but since this isn't usually possible, at least let cool before devouring half of it then let the rest sit in the fridge overnight.

**Original recipe also calls for Italian seasoning, though it doesn't say when or where to add it. When I made it, I added a splash of red wine to the beef while it cooked, which worked nicely.

1 comment:

  1. Holy snap! I've always wanted Lisa's recipe! Going to try it this weekend. Thanks Dre! --Uribe