Hunkering down to watch sports on TV usually involves grabbing the traditional grub — chicken wings, sliders, nachos, that sort of stuff.
But with the Olympics in Russia looming, I thought it might be fun to turn instead to a classic of Russian cuisine, namely, beef stroganoff. A rich dish with a noble birthright (scholars disagree about which particular Count Stroganov the dish is named for), beef stroganoff was a staple at America's tonier restaurants during the '60s and '70s.
The standard recipe calls for thinly sliced beef with a sauce of sauteed mushrooms and sour cream. But I've engineered a healthy version that delivers luxurious flavour using lean ground beef and low-fat sour cream. The obvious appeal of lean ground beef is that it cuts the fat. And if you can find 100 per cent grass-fed ground beef, you'll be using an ingredient that's good for the environment, too.
Either way, you'll need to do something to counterbalance the tendency of lean ground beef to turn into a dry burger. My usual solution is to reach for sauteed onions or shredded carrots or cabbage. But this time, out of respect for traditional stroganoff, it made sense to go with mushrooms.
My first pass, using sauteed fresh mushrooms, resulted in burgers that were crumbly. The second pass, using soaked dried mushrooms, worked out much better. Dried mushrooms — soaked in chicken broth, water, or wine — bring two assets to any recipe: the mushrooms themselves and the instant (and deeply flavourful) sauce provided by the liquid in which the mushrooms are soaked.
Teamed up with some caramelized onions, the mushrooms made the burgers nice and moist. The veggies also added bulk. Now the burgers weren't just moist, they were plump and substantial, qualities that don't apply to the standard quarter-pounder.
Truthfully, though, the burgers are just an excuse for the sauce. Made of caramelized onions, fresh cremini mushrooms and the mushroom soaking liquid, then finished with low-fat sour cream and Dijon mustard, this sauce is a mushroom lover's dream. When it is added to the burgers, you have a dish luxurious enough for a king, let alone a count.
BEEF STROGANOV BURGERS
Start to finish: 50 minutes
1 ounce dried mushrooms (porcini, shiitake, chanterelle, oyster, button or a mix)
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound 90 to 95 per cent lean ground beef
In a small saucepan over medium-high, combine the dried mushrooms with the broth and bring to a boil. Cover, remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are soft. Reserving the broth, strain the mixture through a strainer lined with a wet paper towel. Clean the mushrooms if you see any dirt on the edges, then finely chop them and set aside.
While the dried mushrooms are soaking, in a large nonstick skillet over medium, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer half of the onion mixture to a medium bowl.
Add another tablespoon of the oil and the fresh mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms give off all their liquid. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the reserved mushroom broth in a stream, whisking, then bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Whisk in the sour cream and mustard, then season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to a saucepan and keep warm.
Wash the skillet and return it to the stove.
Add the chopped reconstituted dried mushrooms to the onions in the bowl along with a hefty pinch of salt, ground black pepper to taste, and the ground beef. Mix well and form into 4 burgers.
In the cleaned skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium. Season the burgers lightly with salt and pepper, then add them to the skillet. Cook the burgers for 3 to 5 minutes per side depending on the desired degree of doneness (3 minutes for rare and 5 for medium-well).
Transfer the burgers to each of 4 plates and spoon some sauce over each portion.
Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories; 210 calories from fat (55 per cent of total calories); 23 g fat (6 g saturated; 1 g trans fats); 80 mg cholesterol; 13 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 28 g protein; 300 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."