Recently, I took a trip to the Seattle Zoo. It seemed as good an idea as any. Maeve was itching to ride around in her Moby Wrap and we had a 3 year old house guest that needed to burn off a little energy. It was a bitterly cold day, but we managed to bundle up and roam around the grounds without too much trouble. It was quite fun to be there again, seeing it all through a child eyes.
It wasn’t until we wandered into chimp territory that things got a bit strange. We were at the orangutan exhibit when I saw her. She looked normal at first glance. A middle-aged woman, well-groomed and clothed appropriately for the occasion and weather, was standing inexplicably close to the glass. Behind the glass, an enormous male orangutan sat looking outward with sad pools of brown eyes. There was a crowd of kids lurking behind the woman. They were fussing and complaining to their respective parents that they could not see past her.
The woman was deaf to their complaints. Well, it was either that or she just didn’t care. She stood there with purpose, enraptured by the beast. And, as I watched, she went through what seemed like a familiar ritual. Slowly, she took several items one by one from her tote bag. Each item seemed significant in its own way and each item was carefully shown to the chimp. First, she revealed a small stuffed orangutan toy and held it up to the window. She jauntily bounced it back and forth before those sad eyes. After doing that for a short time, she carefully put the toy back into her purse and removed a piece of tin foil from the same bag. The foil was folded into a large square and she unfolded it and exposed it to the orangutan. Then, she refolded it. She did this repeatedly in front of the window causing little bits of sunlight to flash at those big brown eyes. It seemed she was attempting to cast a spell or send some sort of message to the beast.
Frustrated, the little ones slowly dispersed and we joined their ranks and moved on to another area of the park.
As we walked away, I asked my friend A if she noticed the woman at the window of the orangutan exhibit. She said casually, “Oh, the chimp’s girlfriend? Yes, I saw her.”
And that’s precisely it. The large male orangutan at the Seattle Zoo has a girlfriend, only she isn’t an orangutan. She’s human.
Now, forgive me, it’s been years since I spent any time at the zoo. However, I do believe inter-species dating is not encouraged. In fact, I’m quite certain it’s a forbidden sort of love. Maybe this woman is bananas? I don’t know anything for certain except that her actions were covert. She wanted time with this animal and there was no other way to manage it without hurling her entire body into a place I can only guess is a hostile environment for humans.
I want you to know, however, I am not here to cast judgment. On the contrary, I understand forbidden love. For years, I hated the hamburger. My mother fashioned poor quality beef into round mounds and cooked them until they were burned into unrecognizable hockey pucks. I found them revolting and a more than a little uncool. Wasn’t it much more chic to dine on tapas or sushi?
It wasn’t until I was pregnant and low on iron that I rediscovered beef. And, so very slowly, I found the hamburger again. It wasn’t the hamburger of my youth, that sad and uncouth meat round, it was an extraordinarily flavorful vehicle for protein and iron.
Suddenly, I wanted hamburgers all the time. I hid this passion at first. I was embarrassed. After years of complaining to my friends that I wasn’t interested in that pub grub, I realized I missed out on many many good burgers in this town.
Today, I join forces with that sad woman from the zoo. Forbidden love be damned. I will sing the praises of these Portolbello beef cheeseburgers from the mountaintops. This burger is fantastic and I’m proud to say I made it at home. There was no need to travel to this restaurant or that restaurant to satisfy my forbidden craving. I now know it’s possible to create a world class burger at home. In fact, it’s easy.
I highly recommend you try out this recipe if you enjoy a good juicy hamburger. The portobello mushrooms add a wonderful depth of earthy flavor. The sharp cheddar and sour apple slaw are the perfect accompaniment adding just the right amount of savory flavor and tart tang.
And, if you think burgers are uncool, I encourage you to be brave and join us. You won’t regret it.
Portobello Beef Burgers with Sour Apple Slaw
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
10 ounces portobello mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 pound ground lean beef
2 medium celery ribs
1/2 Granny Smith apple, cored (left unpeeled)
1 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon sugar
Accompaniment: 4 hamburger buns or kaiser rolls, split and toasted, 4 thick slices of sharp cheddar cheese
Pulse onion and mushrooms in a food processor until finely chopped. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Add mushroom mixture, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and rounded 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to brown and liquid has evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to warm, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut celery and apple into 2-inch-long thin julienne strips.
Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, oil, mustard, sugar, rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add celery and apple, tossing to coat. Let stand 15 minutes to develop flavors.
Mix beef into cooled mushroom mixture with your hands until well combined. Form into 4 (4-inch) patties.
Heat remaining 2 teaspoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Cook burgers, turning once, about 8 minutes total for medium-rare.
Serve burgers, topped with slaw and cheddar cheese (optional), on buns.
Adapted from Gourmet.