If you happened to pop into the Santa Monica Whole Foods on Saturday – the one with the underground garage so tightly packed it's hard not to feel like Hugh Grant walking into a mobster meat freezer – you probably bumped into Rod Rotondi.

The chef-owner of Culver City's Leaf Organics was staked out by the deli counter with samples of his new raw “burgers.” Four varieties are now available for take-out at several Los Angeles area Whole Foods. They're really more like variations on a falafel pita, only the patty is made from raw seed and nut patties. They include a coconut-curried lentil, walnut-sun dried tomato, and falafel (chickpea) patty. Each is sandwiched between a “bun” of thin, unbaked sprouted grain mango bread.

It's the seed versions, including the chickpea-based falafel, that are the trickiest to convert into raw foodists.

Mayonnaise jar lid as burger mold; Credit: Photo credit: Jenn Garbee

Mayonnaise jar lid as burger mold; Credit: Photo credit: Jenn Garbee

“We typically make falafel in this country by mashing cooked chickpeas and frying them,” says Rotondi. “For Bedouins, raw is the original falafel.”

Rotondi spent eight years at the helm of a scuba resort in Dahab, a small village on the Red Sea with a large Bedouin population (the Arabian nomads, not the coffee shop squatters.)

To make his raw falafel, Rotondi soaks the seeds until they sprout, then mashes the germinated seeds before mixing them with parsley, salt and seasonings. “The Bedouins then scoop the mixture into balls and dry the cakes in the sun for pack trips.”

Apparently, sun-baking is expensive this side of the Red Sea. For the $9 price tag of one of Rotondi's burgers, I picked up a pound and a half of ground sirloin to test the thumb dimple technique in my weekend quest to grill the perfect bovine burger.

Maybe not quite as good as the cheeseburger at Comme Ça,

but the mayonnaise lid meat-shaping trick is a keeper. And rare is only a few degrees from raw, or at least a raw bacon bra, right?

LA Weekly