Warning: If you make this at your next barbecue, your vegetarian friends may want to stand up on the picnic table and leap into your arms, proclaiming forever best friendship. I don’t know this from actual experience, but I can only imagine, after many summers of seeing glum-looking vegetarians skulking from the greasy-smelling fume clouds, nervously glancing at raw ground meat and drippy hot dog packages in the way that one cannot resist looking at a bug after squashing it with a magazine.
At least, that’s what I would do if I were in their situation. I happen to think that most brands of “veggie” hot dogs and hamburgers are some of the worst-tasting, rubberiest and ultimately pointless creations food science has ever produced. They make no sense. Still, they’re a staple at any big barbecue, and I feel so terribly for those who must force them down without having any other main-course options. (Veggie Hot Dog Cook-Off category notwithstanding; there’s an infinite amount of ways to do-up these dogs.)
I never would have thought the combination of ingredients in this “portoburger” would make a very good sandwich. Good, maybe — something about the pesto with avocado part perturbed me slightly. But I had all the makings of it leftover from other, more tightly engineered cooking projects, and they were sitting in my fridge, going, going, and about to go bad. Those avocados don’t wait around for you to cave in and buy a bag of chips to eat guac with. They have a biological clock all their own, and if they’re too far past perfectly soft, you’re stuck with a $2 ball of slime. Pesto has its down days, too, once the surface oxidizes and turns brownish while the stuff underneath is bright green.
Portobello mushrooms cook up in no time on a hot pan, rendering to meaty, mushy and highly chewable hunks of savoriness. I sliced them up first so that the pieces would cook uniformly; I never liked how when cooked whole, the middle of the mushroom is far less cooked than the frayed edges, and not seasoned enough. As a stand-in for lettuce, I added some crunchy watercress to the sandwich (also leftover, as you can probably guess from the last recipe here). This might be just as well be made without the avocado altogether, but it doesn’t hurt to treat yourself to the luxury of combining a few pretty expensive ingredients from time to time. The first bite won me over to this — creamy avocado, chewy mushroom, crisp watercress and pungent pesto. Why not?
Pesto Avocado Portoburger
(makes 2 sandwiches)
2 portobello mushrooms
1 ripe avocado
handful of crisp greens, such as lettuce or watercress
1 tablespoon basil pesto
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Kaiser rolls, halved
Slice the mushrooms into about 1/2″ thick slices, cross-wise. Heat a large sautee pan with the oil. Once hot, add the mushrooms and season with pinches of salt and pepper. Cook for about 1 minute, then flip. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and let cool a few minutes.
Spread the pesto on the bottom halves of the rolls. Divide the mushrooms and arrange them on top. Slice the avocado into about 1/4″ wedges and arrange on top of the mushrooms. Top them with the lettuce or other greens, and the top halves of the rolls. Slice in half and serve.
(for 2 servings)
2 portobello mushrooms (at $3.50/half pound): $3.00
1 avocado: $2.00
1 tablespoon basil pesto (homemade): $0.40
handful of watercress (at $1/bunch): $0.30
2 Kaiser rolls: $1.00
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, pepper: $0.20
Five brownie points: Avocados are dense orbs of potassium, antioxidants, iron and magnesium to name a few vitamins, and sadly monounsaturated fat — 35 grams per cup, which is so outlandish and unreasonable that I find it all too easy to dismiss because I can’t really believe it. But a fact is a fact, so if your cholesterol is naturally high, you’ll want to skimp on them – or better yet, never taste them in the first place. [I stand corrected, avocado fats increase “good” cholesterol levels while decreasing “bad” cholesterol --Ed., 6/1] The portobello, while not as protein-packed as other meat substitutes, is at least low in calories and nutritious, and watercress is immensely so on both counts.
Four maple leaves: I like the fact that avocados are expensive in the States, because they are delicate and difficult to ship from the subtropical areas where they grow. It makes sense and helps keep our avocado-purchasing at bay, unlike with notoriously cheap bananas, for instance. That said, this “Produce of Mexico” was certainly not a green purchase. But the portobellos were locally grown, the pesto made from a Greenmarket basil bunch and some of my windowsill plant, and the puffy Kaiser rolls were bought at the corner store, most likely baked in a huge factory in Queens.