Happy Mesut-Ra, everyone!
Happy what now? – You’re probably thinking. Mesut-Ra means “birth of Ra,” or better known as the Ancient Egyptian opening of the year.
This is why I’d bring up a game called SMITE. This multi-player online arena game allows you to battle for glory in the arena or battlefield as the gods and other immortals from pantheons all around the world including Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, Japanese, Mayan, Norse, and Roman. Whether you feel like putting your enemies on the deep freeze as the frost giant Ymir, or slicing and dicing them into oblivion like Kali, the cast of 78 immortals has someone for everyone.
What I really love about this game is that not only does it strike gold with mythology obsession I’ve had since the age of five, but it also constantly ups the ante with humor and creativity. There is a kawaii cat-girl costume for the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. The winged Egyptian goddess Isis will perform the chicken dance for her dance emoticon. There’s even a horrifying Easter Bunny version of the rakshasa Bakasura. Then there’s this:
That’s right, folks. You are looking at Ra in the skin Ra’merica — or “‘MERIC-RA!!” as I prefer to call it. Now it may be coincidence on the game-makers’ part, but it’s actually pretty clever as the falcon-headed god of the sun shares a birth month with our country. The specific day may not be recorded, but it’s still pretty fitting. Heck, I would certainly know with the highs in Atlanta being in the nineties every single day this month!
So to celebrate Ra’Merica’s birthday, I wanted to make up an Ancient Egyptian version of a hamburger and fries. I used ground beef to remind Ra where he came from — his mama the celestial cow goddess Mehet-Weret. Also, American Independence Day without bovine muscle sizzling on the grill is like eating macaroni without cheese — you could do it, but you would be disappointed.
To this, I added a spice rub of cumin, coriander, thyme, and kosher salt — all of which popular in Ancient Egyptian cuisine.
Then I whipped up a risotto of red lentils, sliced leeks, and diced dates. I cooked them in honey and Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Being the bringer of the light that grows wheat, beer is also considered sacred to Ra. This beer is a wheat ale with natural lemonade flavor, and it so happens that the first recorded instance of lemonade was found in Egypt in 1000 AD — the fruit believed to have been brought over from Asia around 700 AD. Being that lemonade is considered a staple of summertime in American youth culture, you’re also getting a taste of good old Ra’merican sunshine. You might end up with more risotto than you need in this recipe, but the leftovers are fantastic on salads.
This pile of deliciousness is served open faced on a whole wheat pita and bed of romaine lettuce and then is topped with feta cheese crumbles. Another fun fact: the Egyptians were the first human society known to cultivate lettuce as a culinary ingredient. Though first produced for its seeds to press into oil, this agricultural experiment created the edible softer leaves we see today. Romaine still resembles its 30-inch tall ancestor.
Now a burger without fries is just plain heresy, and since it wouldn’t do to blaspheme Ra on his own birthday, I made some with sliced lotus root. The lotus flower, known to close and sink under the water at night, was symbolic of birth and the sun in Ancient Egyptian culture as it would rise and bloom with the dawn. I used a package of presliced and poached root to save some time cooking, and they are usually available in most Asian supermarkets. After deep frying, I then tossed them in some spice rub with toasted sesame seeds.
So fire up the stove top (or grill if you have one), and pop open a bottle of beer. It’s the Ra’merican way.
Ra'merican Burgers & Lotus Fries
Equipment: Stove top, medium skillet, digital thermometer, large saucepan, tongs, paper towels, two plates.
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground thyme
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1.3 – 1.5lbs 80% lean/20% fat ground beef
- 4 rounds wheat pita bread
- 1/2 heart of romaine lettuce, sliced into ribbons
- 1/4 cup feta cheese crumbles
- 4 medjool dates, pitted and diced
- 3/4 cup sliced leeks
- 5/8 cup red lentils
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 12 oz bottle Leinenkugel Summer Shandy
- salt to taste
- 3-4 cups vegetable oil
- 1 lb package presliced and poached lotus root
- 1/ cup sesame seeds
- Take ground beef out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes to an hour while you prep your other ingredients.
- Drain package of lotus root. Line a plate with paper towels and place slices in a single layer. Place two paper towels on top and add another layer of lotus root. Repeat until you run out of root and cover the final layer with paper towels. Place another plate on top, and weigh it down with something heavy-ish like a full baking canister or a two-liter bottle of soda.
- Mix up the ingredients for the spice rub in a separate dish, set aside.
- Heat the skillet over medium heat and add the sesame seeds. Cook 3-5 minutes while stirring them occasionally, until lightly browned. Transfer seeds to a mixing bowl.
- Return the skillet to stove top and heat a tablespoon of olive oil until it shimmers. Add the leek and dates and cook until softened. Add the lentils and stir to coat with oil. Pour in the honey, four teaspoons of the spice rub, and a quarter of the bottle of beer. Stir until liquid has absorbed. Pour in another quarter bottle of beer and repeat until all the liquid absorbs — this should take 15-20 minutes. Stir in salt to taste, then scrape the risotto from the skillet into a bowl and cover it with a plate to keep warm.
- Start heating the vegetable oil for the fries in a saucepan on the back burner. Clean the skillet, then form four, 3/4 inch thick patties with the ground beef. Rub 1 teaspoon worth spice rub onto each side of the patties. Prep your serving plates by adding a pita topped with a bed of lettuce on each one.
- Heat up the skillet on the front burner again on high heat with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. When it shimmers, add the burgers. Cook 3 minutes on one side, and about 4 minutes on the other. Set each burger on a pita with romaine.
- When the vegetable oil in the saucepan has reached 350° F, use tongs to drop about half of the lotus root slices in. Fry for 3 minutes and transfer to bowl with sesame seeds. Repeat until you are out of lotus root. Add two to three teaspoons of spice rub to the bowl and rapidly swirl the bowl around to coat fries with sesame and spice mix. Distribute fries between the plates.
- Scoop a few tablespoons worth of risotto onto each burger, top with a tablespoon of feta crumbles, and serve.