Babu Ji and the Bean Burger

Last weekend Brett and I ate at Babu Ji in New York City.  If there is a way to be killed by curry—and die happily—their tasting menu is it.  If you would like your death to include beer, there is the possibility of that too. 

Be advised if you do select the beer pairing option, which features your server swiping a new bottle out of the beer fridge every two or three courses, your demise will come swiftly.

When you have thirteen items to try—some which could be considered entrée portions in a more buttoned up establishment—the scene becomes reminiscent of a highbrow fraternity team-building exercise.  Like a gaggle of soon-to-be twenty-somethings with small collegiate beer guts working together to take down as many cases as possible, cheering through suds and yeasty burps to victory.  At Babu Ji the staff egg you on.

The contestant will finish his fried cardamom yogurt croquette in a fuchsia beet sauce and the Pork Slap pale ale, only to be greeted by a version of Colonel Tso’s with the rubbery chicken brilliantly swapped out for cauliflower, plus a crisp IPA.  The reward for finishing this is a mutiny of curry and Victory Prima pilsner.

The tasting feels relentless by the time you reach the kulfi.

And this was only one of many outstanding and subversive meals we ate over the weekend. (The counter service at Russ & Daughters Cafe, with a punctuation of tahini ice cream, was another high point.)

Upon returning to Boston I needed restorative dinners that could hold up to the food we recently tasted.  One night this included a sheet pan of Aleppo carrots and a life changing carbonara from Tasting Rome, which I hope to write about soon.

Another evening featured the white bean burgers seen before you and some roasted zucchini (that did not make the camera snap).  The splendor of these burgers—I have made them many times—is that they work with a variety of pulses.  (I would be remiss not to mention my preference for dried beans here, but do not let this stop you.) I should have featured them sooner, but bean burgers are not exactly beauty queens in the looks department.

Unlike many other vegetable patties, they hold their shape during the pan flip and resist collapsing into the bun.  They will take more spice and seasoning, should you push them, and do not apologize for a lack of beef.  And they are made for toppings.

With darker colored beans, like black or even the pinto, blue cheese dressing, red onion, and ketchup is a preferred selection. For the white bean version, avocado slices and a take on this yogurt sauce are recommended. A little barbeque would not be a misstep, either.  But I sense this is really only the beginning for a burger like this.

At Babu Ji there is an image of a white-haired Indian man with crooked aviator sunglasses and an aggressive mustache that extends out in a bushy cloud a couple inches from his face spanning east to west.  He is featured on their wall and website and the vibe he offers is one of adventure and of not taking any shit. He does not promise things will go easily, either.

It is very New York.

These burgers are sort of like that. Born out of necessity but not limited by it. Beautiful in their own way.  And with a little inspired thinking, their possibilities seem endless.

Spiced White Bean Burgers


5 (2 oz) hamburger buns (I use brioche buns)
2 cups white beans (previously cooked or canned), divided
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
1 tbsp minced shallot
1 serrano pepper, finely diced
1 tbsp minced cilantro (about 10 sprigs)
½ tsp kosher salt
1 large egg


Place one 2-ounce bun in a food processor and pulse until it turns into crumbs; transfer to a large bowl.  In the food processor, add 1½ cups of the beans, 1 tbsp olive oil, garlic, cumin, and chili powder and pulse until the mixture becomes a thick paste.

In the bowl with the breadcrumbs, mix in the shallot, pepper, cilantro, and salt.  Add in the remaining ½ cup beans, bean paste, and egg and stir until it becomes a cohesive mixture.

Divide into four equal portions, shaping each into a patty.

Heat a sauté pan on medium heat and add remaining oil.  Add patties to the pan, pressing them down slightly. (Depending on the size of your pan, this may need to be done in two batches.) 

Cook about four minutes or until the bottoms are brown.  Flip and cook three to four minutes more or until the patties are cooked throughout.

Place each patty on a bun and top with choice condiments (recommended: avocado, this sauce, and barbeque).

Serves four


-The patties can be made a little in advance and kept in the fridge until ready to use.