Spicy Tofu and Vegetable Burgers

IMG_2178As you may know from earlier posts, I have a love and hate relationship with tofu, but I am happy to tell you that these tofu burgers definitely fall into the ‘love’ category. A crispy outside, a soft, but not mushy, inside and great flavours. I was eating these alone and found myself saying ‘Wow, these are good!’ out loud. And I don’t normally talk to myself. 😉

These burgers are based on a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. I have simplified the preparation a bit and scaled it down to fit the tofu blocks I usually buy. I have also made the burgers slightly unhealthier by shallow-frying them instead of using only a few tablespoons of oil but it really gives them a much better texture, in my opinion.

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I don’t know about you, but I write in my cookbooks. Ratings of recipes, tweaks, what to do differently next time, what to serve it with, etc. If I didn’t, I would probably just forget I ever cooked a recipe, my memory is that bad.
After the first time I made these, I wrote: ‘good but a LOT of work for a burger’. The vegetables, mushrooms and herbs that go into the burgers all have to be chopped very finely, which is a labour of love. I must have written my comment while standing right next to the obvious solution, the food processor.

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Yes, it all looks much prettier on the chopping board when you’ve cut everything in neat little rings and cubes but it won’t make any difference to the finished burgers. And unless you’re entertaining food critics, no one is going to look at the inside of your burgers and humph.
Using the machine turns this into a relatively quick recipe (excluding tofu draining and fridge time, but why not put your feet up and have a glass of wine while you wait?).

IMG_2158If you can get them, I would recommend using small green bird’s eye chillies in these burgers. They pack a punch without adding much moisture. If they are not available, use one green jalapeño and add some more breadcrumbs to the burger mixture, if necessary.
I used ‘strong’ tamari here, which is quite salty. If you are using normal soy sauce, you may want to add a bit of salt to the mixture.

A note on draining tofu. I use the kind of tofu blocks that come floating in water. Once it’s out of the package, I first squeeze the block gently to get some of the liquid out. I then put a layer of kitchen towel on a chopping board, lay the tofu on top, cover with another layer of kitchen towel and another chopping board. Then I fill up a vase-type thing with water and put this on top of the second chopping board and leave for about an hour (see photos below).

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Well, this is the kick-off of my Quest for the Ultimate Vegetarian Burger and I have to say these are pretty close to being ultimate. As I said in my post about the Quest, one of the criteria by which I judge a veggie burger is how it keeps or freezes and reheats. These freeze very well after they’ve been fried and cooled, and heat up nice and crispy when you put them in a preheated oven (200°C) for about 8/10 minutes. Turn them halfway through.

 


 

IMG_2183Ingredients
– 375 g block tofu (net weight 325) drained (see above) and crumbled into a bowl.
– 2 spring onions, roughly chopped
– 50 g shiitakes, roughly chopped
– 70 g carrot, peeled, roughly chopped
– 2 small, green bird’s eye chillies, roughly chopped
– 2 tbs leaf celery, roughly chopped
– 3 tbsp fresh coriander, roughly chopped
– 2 tbsp tamari or regular soy sauce
– 1 egg, beaten
– 5 tbsp dried breadcrumbs plus more for covering the burgers.
– Enough oil to shallow-fry in. I used groundnut oil.

Preparation
– Put spring onions, mushrooms, carrot, chillies and fresh herbs in the food processor and pulse (don’t just let it run) until everything is chopped finely but not turned into a paste.
– Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan on a medium heat and fry the contents of the food processor for 3 minutes.
– Add this to the bowl with the tofu, and also add the tamari (and some extra salt, if necessary). Mix well.
– Sprinkle a generous amount of breadcrumbs on a plate.
– Add 5 tbsp of breadcrumbs and the egg and mix well, using your hands.
– Shape the mixture into 6 burgers, adding some more breadcrumbs to the mixture if they do not hold their shape.
– Dredge the burgers through the breadcrumbs on the plate to cover them well, including the sides.
– Chill the burgers in the fridge for at least one and up to four hours.
– Pour enough oil into a low pan to shallow-fry (don’t go overboard, 1/1,5 cm should be enough). Heat the oil well.
– Fry the burgers for three minutes on one side, turn over, and cook for another three minutes. They should be golden and crispy.
– Drain on kitchen towel and serve. They are great in a bun but also as part of a larger meal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Quest for the Ultimate Vegetarian Burger

Join me on my Quest (yes, the capital is deliberate) through the exciting world of meat-free sliders, patties, cutlets, burgers, and anything vaguely disc-shaped that would taste good in a bun or pitta. The journey may sometimes be fraught with danger (look out for those falling rocks!) and will be long (there will be enough to eat, though) but our aim is worth it; to find that elusive thing of legend: The Ultimate Vegetarian Burger (Cue bombastic choir music). And any semi-ultimate burgers we might find along the way, of course.
So, are you wearing your sturdy shoes and travel cloak? Let’s go!

Until the Vegetarische Slager (the ‘Vegetarian Butcher’) started selling their products in Dutch supermarkets not so long ago, I struggled to find a decent shop-bought vegetarian burger. They were always just not right. Or, in some cases, downright horrible. So I started making my own, with similar degrees of success. Too dry, not dry enough, not enough flavour, the wrong flavours, not firm enough to hold together while cooking, holding together while cooking but rubbery, etc, etc. I did make some good ones but never found the Ultimate Vegetarian Burger I was after.
Needless to say, I was very happy when a tasty commercial burger became available. And I have to say the Vegetarische Slager burger really IS tasty. Bit on the salty side but otherwise very good. A handy solution for those (rare) days when I eat the traditional Dutch meal of potatoes, ‘meat’ and veg.

But after eating these burgers for about a year, I’m a bit sick of them. The thing about processed foods is that they always taste exactly the same, which makes me go off them rather quickly. (To be honest, I did eat quite a lot of them). Plus these burgers don’t come cheap, another incentive to get back to making my own and to find the Ultimate Vegetari… well, you know what I am looking for, by now.

But what would make a vegetarian burger the UVB (let’s just shorten it, shall we?)? Well, I’ve decided to be scientific about it, so I’ve drawn up a few criteria. If you would kindly look at the blackboard while I put on my lab coat, I will talk you through them.

Flavour. Obviously the most important criterion. Of course it all depends on how you will be serving the burgers. Meat burgers taste of meat, unless they are heavily spiced. Although the flavour of beef is distinct, it is not overly strong. A meat-free burger will have more flavour because it is a mixture of several ingredients. For a ‘stand-alone’ burger, served in a bun, I would go for bold flavours, whereas I would tone it down a bit if I were serving it as a side dish. I’m hoping this will start to make sense as our Quest progresses.
Flavour is very closely followed by…

Texture, or ‘let there be bite’. No matter how great the flavour of a burger, it could never be the UVB if the texture wasn’t right. I’ve described the problems I’ve had with vegetarian burgers, and one of the things I’ve learned is to not use tinned beans or pulses. I am not a dried bean snob at all, and will go for tinned beans whenever I can but they don’t work for me in burgers. Aside from that, vegetarian burgers tend to have texture issues, so it’s important to keep an eye on that.

How does the burger keep and reheat? I’m stating the obvious here, but making your own vegetarian burgers takes more time and effort than buying them. I suppose the fact that I have a cooking blog indicates that I love cooking, but that doesn’t mean I want to give myself more work than necessary, even if it is in the kitchen. Having good food in the freezer is like having money in the bank, so ideally the UVB would freeze, or at least fridge, well and not fall apart or go rock hard on reheating.

So there you have it, the Quest in a nutshell. If you were expecting a recipe, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. But not for long! I’ll be posting the first burgers tomorrow. The buzz is tofu, but I don’t listen to rumours. 😉 See you tomorrow, hopefully.

Oh, a bit of an aside, but I was ‘t sure what to call my Quest at first. ‘Vegetarian burger’ seems to imply that meat (the hamburger) is the norm and that there are vegetarian substitutes or alternatives. While actually a hamburger is nothing more than one of many types of patties, which just happens to be made of meat. To be honest, the longer I don’t eat meat, the more annoyed I get by words like ‘substitute’, ‘replacement’ and ‘alternative’, when applied to vegetarian food. And by blurps of vegetarian cookbooks that tell us that the recipes inside are also fit for consumption by carnivores. You know, people who eat real food. Vegetarian food is food, full stop.
Well, I think that’s enough ranting for one post. I honestly don’t know how vegetarians got their reputation for being sour and preachy.

Spicy Spinach and Coconut Soup

IMG_2107-0It’s a good thing I am so food-obsessed that I take a photo of almost everything I cook, or this would have been a very sober post indeed. As it is, there is one pic. 😉

I had no intention of blogging about this soup, you see. It was more a matter of having a bag of spinach that needed using up and craving something warm for lunch. But as I was eating it, I realised I did not want to keep this from you. So here it is, in a very short and snappy post.

This is an adaptation of a recipe from the Dutch Allerhande website (the site that accompanies the complementary supermarket food magazine of the same name).
It is zingy, interesting and a doddle to make. Plus it has a gorgeous jade colour.


 

Ingredients

olive oil
3 shallots (or one small onion), chopped not too finely
piece of ginger, chopped not too finely
1 clove of garlic, chopped not too finely
1 red chilli, chopped not too finely (deseeded, if you prefer)
200 ml coconut milk (you could use half of a 400 ml can and freeze the rest)
750 ml vegetable stock (I use stock powder or cubes)
300 g fresh spinach
2 tbsp soy sauce

Preparation

– Fry the shallots, ginger, garlic and chilli in the oil for a few minutes until golden and fragrant.
– Add the stock and coconut milk and bring to the boil.
– Stir in the spinach leaves and let them wilt.
– Let simmer for 3 minutes, lid on.
– Blend the soup, using a (stick) blender.
– Add the soy sauce as you gently reheat the soup.

 

Boerenkoolstamppot or Kale and Potato Mash

IMG_1650I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask ten random people in the Netherlands what the Dutch national dish is, at least nine of them would answer ‘boerenkool met worst’. A good second would be ‘hutspot’ or ‘andijviestamppot’.
These people would probably be wrong, because I have a strong suspicion that chips and take-away pizza are in first position, but we like to believe these things.

If you are not from the Netherlands you are probably wondering what on earth I’m on about. Let me explain.

‘Stamppotten’ form a large part of traditional Dutch cuisine. A stamppot in its most basic form is any vegetable, mashed with boiled potatoes. The potatoes and vegetables are cooked in one pan, the veg usually on top of the potatoes so it is steamed rather than boiled. You then drain the contents of the pan, season well and mash (‘stampen’, hence ‘stamppot’) it all up with milk or butter, although I am sure a flavourless oil would work too. I am going out on a limb here but I think it’s safe to say that boerenkoolstamppot (kale and potato mash) and hutspot (carrot and potato) are the most popular stamppotten, with boerenkool being the best-known, and my personal favourite. But the sky is the limit: you can use endives, sauerkraut, Brussels sprouts, parsnips and even shredded lettuce to make stamppot.

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A stamppot is traditionally served with meat, usually a (smoked) sausage, but in itself it is a vegetarian dish. I’ve added ‘bacon’ bits here but any vegetarian meat sub would do, and gherkins on the side are a must. It may sound like a strange combination but trust me, it works.

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Now, vinegar. I think boerenkoolstamppot needs vinegar, or mustard, because it brings out the slightly tangy flavour of the kale. My Eastender doesn’t agree, however (never mind that I made it countless times WITH vinegar before he saw me put it in one time, and never mind that he has no qualms about ruining perfectly good chips with vinegar). You can add the vinegar later, on your own plate, but ideally you would add it when you mash the potatoes and veg.

One last thing, the all-important ‘kuiltje voor de jus’, or hole for the gravy. Now you could of course simply drizzle gravy over your finished stamppot, but you’d be doing it all wrong. 😉 The Dutch make a hole in the middle of the stamppot and pour the gravy in. This used to be the best bit of eating stamppot as a child because I got to ‘pierce the dykes’ to let the gravy run out (see what living below sea level does to people?)


 Serves 2/3

IMG_1648Ingredients

300 g kale, stalks removed and leaves chopped finely (Cleaned weight. I cheat and buy ready-chopped kale)
600 g potato, peeled and halved, if necessary
175/200 ml hot milk (I use the microwave on high)
pepper and salt
splash of white wine vinegar or 1 tsp of mustard (optional but recommended)
150 g vegetarian bacon strips
gravy powder or granules (I use Bisto beef gravy, would you believe it’s vegan?)
gherkins

Preparation

– Put the potatoes in a large pan and add enough water to just cover them.
– Lay the kale on top of the potatoes (see why you need a big pan?).
– Bring to the boil, put the lid on the pan, and cook on a low heat for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked.
– In the meantime, prepare whatever you’re having with the stamppot. I like vegetarian bacon with this.
– Drain the potatoes and veg, reserving enough cooking liquid to make your gravy with.
– Mash up the potatoes and kale, milk, seasoning, and vinegar or mustard, if using.
– Mix (don’t mash) through the ‘bacon’, if using.
– Serve the stamppot with the gherkins and the gravy in the ‘kuiltje’ or hole.