A turkey, sage, thyme and mushroom slider with cranberry ketchup requires less meat than a tradition burger. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

What do eating fake meat and painting picket fences have in common? Well, me. While I’m not a fan of either, both have given me the opportunity to view the prospect of eating less meat from a different angle.

Hours before the first blast of Arctic air hit the midcoast in mid-November, I applied the final coat of Benjamin Moore high-build, low-luster paint onto the last of the 216 pickets that constitute the fence that runs along the south side of our home. During the 100-plus hours it took to scrape, patch, prime and paint the ornamental barrier, my iPhone fed me Louise Penny mysteries, Toni Morrison’s masterpieces and podcasts exploring the ecological, psychological and economic drivers for processing vegetables so that they bleed like meat.

Plant-based meat alternatives are everywhere. Beyond Meat is in the refrigerated meat case at Hannaford. Impossible Burgers are on the menu at every Burger King in America. Meat-conveying companies like Hormel, Smithfield and Tyson are buying or building the tools to extract protein from plants and fashion it into something that looks, smells, tastes and cooks like meat. And lobbyists are in Washington pushing for labeling laws that make it perfectly clear what’s real meat and what’s not. Overall, fake meat sales in North America have grown 37 percent from 2017 to 2019, according to data published by retail market research firm Spins.

Since the mid-1900s, meatless burgers, sausages, deli slices, crumbles and nuggets derived from tofu, tempeh and seitan have been sold to vegans and vegetarians to replace the center-of-plate meat. But those products were not necessarily designed to have the exact appearance, flavor or texture of real meat because folks making those lifestyle choices weren’t interested in eating animal flesh, real or mimicked.

No, folks, these new meat alternatives are targeted squarely at real meat eaters like me who, for health and/or sustainability reasons, are looking for palatable ways to eat less meat.

I buy the fact that factory farming of animals for their meat is responsible for 15 percent of global greenhouse gases, but I don’t buy fake meat. Well, I have spent some money on these products, but only for research purposes. I find the cooked chicken grainy in texture and the plant-derived blood in the burgers sticky and sour smelling. I’ll concede that the ground beef-alternatives do brown like real meat does. But I concur with my children’s assessment of the Impossible Whopper: It tastes like a Whopper, but is that really a good example of a burger?

For the good of the planet, says the Canadian large animal veterinarian and podcast host Cody Creelman, I must keep a more open mind about stuff like this. While I was painting, I listened to Creelman compare the disruption fake meat presents to the meat industry to the home refrigerator’s effect on the ice-cutting industry. There is no way the guys making their living cutting ice in the late 1800s could have possibly predicted that ice makers would become a standard feature for a home kitchen appliance. Disruptions like these meat alternatives move the ball forward, whether we like it or not, explained Creelman, because they give us the opportunity to examine the solution to a problem from a different angle.

I see his point. And raise my thankfulness for every reducetarian option available to any eater.

 

Turkey, sage, thyme and mushroom slider patties fry in a cast-iron skillet. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

 

Turkey, Sage, Thyme and Mushroom Sliders with Cranberry Ketchup

These burgers require half the meat of straight turkey ones and are an umami bomb.

Makes 8 sliders

For the ketchup

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1 cup apple cider

¼ cup white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom

⅛ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

For the sliders

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

10 ounces mushrooms, finely chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage

Kosher salt and pepper

1/2 pound ground turkey

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1 large egg, beaten

8 dinner rolls

To make the ketchup, place the cranberries, onion and cider in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the cranberries are soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth. Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir in the vinegar, honey, cinnamon, cardamom, salt and pepper. Simmer until the mixture is thickened, about 20 minutes. Let cool. Store, tightly covered, in the refrigerator.

To make the sliders, add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until it starts to soften and turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms, stir and cook until soft and slightly browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in thyme and sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer mixture to a plate, spread it out and cool completely before forming the burgers.

Combine cooled mushroom-onion mixture, turkey, breadcrumbs and egg in a medium bowl. Divide the mixture into 8 even portions and form them into patties to be just a bit bigger than the dinner rolls.

Coat the skillet used to cook the onions and mushroom with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and set it over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, place the patties into the pan. Cook the patties for 3 minutes, flip them over and cook until done, 3-4 minutes more.

Sandwich with your chosen bun and toppings. Slice in half and eat.

CHRISTINE BURNS RUDALEVIGE is a food writer, recipe developer and tester and cooking teacher in Brunswick, and the author of “Green Plate Special,” a cookbook from Islandport based on these columns. Contact her at [email protected]


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