If the word ‘torta’ doesn’t send a shiver of delight coursing down your spine, you need to either a) try your first torta or b) try your first REAL torta.
If you are in the sad camp of people who have not experienced the pleasure of eating a torta, allow me to explain. In Mexico, a torta simply refers to a sandwich that has been built on a bolillo – a crusty-on-the-outside, pillowy-on-the-inside bun that can stand up to any number of toppings without losing its structural integrity or becoming a soggy-bottomed mess. This is a sandwich that can (and regularly does) stand up to such hearty fillings as milanesa, meat that has been pounded, breaded, and fried. As with most sandwiches, they taste even better when eaten during a state of intoxication.
This burger is an ode to the torta in that it essentially IS a torta. The line between burger and sandwich was already quite blurry, right? Although have you heard that some lunatics are claiming that poptarts are a class of sandwich? The world truly is devolving into chaos before our very eyes.
Anyway, as with any good “sandwich” (now I feel like I have to use that term judiciously given how it’s getting bandied about so recklessly), this burger comes to life with the right toppings. A hit of acidity from the pickled red onions. A smear of fatty, creaminess from the avocado and queso fresco. A smudge of heat from the spicy mayo. Let’s stop arguing over semantics and agree that this torta/burger deserves our undivided attention starting right NOW.
Black Bean Torta Burger
Adapted from Audrey Alsterberg & Wanda Urbanowicz (ReBar Modern Cookbook)
7 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided
1 small red onion, diced finely
3 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp cumin
¼ cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
2 19-oz (540 ml) cans black beans, drained and rinsed under cold water
½ cup cooked brown rice, cooled
1 tsp salt + more to taste
1 can chipotles in adobo (these are always by the Mexican foods, right beside the canned jalapenos)
¼ cup masa harina + more for dredging (this is the flour that tortillas are made with – it can be found in Latino – or sometimes Asian – supermarkets)
¾ cup fresh breadcrumbs (just blitz crustless pieces of bread, stale or fresh, in the food processor or blender until finely ground)
6 bolillo-type buns, such as soft Portuguese buns
1 stick (8 tbsp) soft butter
½ red onion, slices into thin half-moons
1 cup red wine vinegar
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp preferred hot sauce
2 perfectly ripe avocadoes
1 block queso fresco, crumbled (this cheese is becoming readily available outside of Mexico, but if you can’t find any, substitute a soft, crumbly cheese such as Macedonian feta)
Make the burger patties first (and refrigerate for up to 3 days before cooking if desired). Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Sauté the red onion until translucent and lightly golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic, chile powder, and cumin then sauté for another minute. Transfer to a small bowl to cool. Wipe out the pan, set it back over the heat, and pour in the pepitas. Toast the seeds, tossing every minute or so, until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a small plate to cool.
Once the pepitas are cool to the touch, place them in the bowl of a food processor, and blend to a fine powder. Pour the ground pepitas into a small bowl and set aside. Into the bowl of the food processor (don’t bother wiping it out after the pepitas), add 2 cups of drained black beans, salt, brown rice, 2 tbsp juices from the chipotle can, 1 whole chipotle, and the cooled onion mixture. Pulse to VERY coarsely grind the mixture. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and stir in the masa harina, ground pumpkin seeds, and breadcrumbs. Gently stir in the remaining whole black beans.
Lay a large piece of parchment paper out on your workspace. Divide the bean mixture into 6 equal lumps on the parchment paper and shape into oval patties (a bit smaller than your buns). If not cooking immediately, cut the parchment paper around the patties into large squares and stack the patties atop one another in a lidded container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Take a burger-making break to prep some of the toppings. For the pickled onions, combine the sliced red onion in a jar with the red wine vinegar. Submerge the onions as best you can, then let sit until ready to use. In a small bowl, mix together the hot sauce and mayo. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Once you’re ready to start cooking the burgers, place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and set it aside. Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. While the oil heats, lightly dredge each burger patty in a dusting of masa harina. Gently place 2 burger patties in the pan. Sprinkle a pinch of salt onto the patties and turn over after about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the other side with salt. The patties take about 5 minutes to cook and should have a golden-brown sear on each side. Cook for longer if you have not achieved a good crust on the outside. Transfer the patties to the prepared baking sheet and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Repeat with remaining burgers, adding 2 more tbsp of oil for every 2 patties. In-between batches, slice your avocadoes.
Split and generously butter the buns. Wipe out the burger pan and cook the buns, butter side down, until lightly toasted (about 2 minutes). To assemble the burgers, spread spicy mayo on the bottom half of the bun. Top in the following order: burger patty, avocado slices, pickled red onion, queso fresco. Spread more mayo on the top half of the bun and proudly crown your burger with it. Carefully cut the burger in half with a serrated knife. Try to ascertain if you can simultaneously eat 2 burger halves at once.