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"This is my partner in cafeteria, chef JJ Johnson," says Rach. Why cafeteria? She and JJ are setting out with a group of like-minded food professionals to create scratch-cooked, plant-based and culturally relevant recipes for the New York City Department of Education's Office of Food and Nutrition Services. The New York City school district serves nearly one million meals a day, and Rach, JJ and their team are working hard to help raise the quality and availability of food for the students all year long. 

Here, JJ—the James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning chef behind the "rice bowl concept" restaurant Fieldtrip in Harlem—shares one of the recipes he developed for the program. The burger, made with quinoa, black beans, chickpeas, and peppers and topped with a creamy cilantro-avocado sauce, is healthy and super tasty. Rach calls it "the bomb!" 

For more recipes by JJ, check out his Fried Sweet Plantains and Island Wings


For the Sauce:
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 ripe avocado, halved, pitted and peeled
  • 3 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ cup olive oil
For the Burgers:
  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed
  • 4 sprigs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped
  • Vegetable oil, for sauteing
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 1 poblano pepper, roasted and diced
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups chopped cremini mushrooms, sauteed
  • 2 ears corn, husked and charred/roasted, then cooled and kernels removed
  • 1 large red pepper, roasted, seeded and roughly chopped
  • One 14-ounce can black beans
  • One 14-ounce can chickpeas
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup panko
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
To Serve:
  • 12 burger buns
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced tomato


Serves: 12


For the sauce, in a blender, combine all the ingredients except the oil. Drizzle in the oil with the motor running and blend until smooth, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside. 

For the burgers, bring the quinoa, thyme and 2 cups cold water to a simmer in a small saucepan with lid over medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes.  

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and toast, then add the onions, poblanos and a pinch of salt, stir and cover. Cook until onions and poblanos soften, about 8 minutes. Uncover, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring often and scraping up any browned bits from the pan, until onions caramelize.  

In a large bowl, stir together the onion mixture, mushrooms, corn, red peppers and cooked quinoa. Pulse the black beans and chickpeas in a food processor until the mixture resembles quinoa grains. Transfer to the large bowl, add the egg, panko, lemon juice, cumin, curry powder, Dijon mustard, smoked paprika, cayenne, and salt to taste. Stir until well combined. 

Shape mixture into 12 thin patties and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Working in batches, cook on both sides in a well-oiled nonstick pan over medium heat until browned and heated through. Serve each patty on a burger bun with lettuce, tomato and cilantro avocado sauce. (If you don't want to serve all the patties at once, they freeze well.)