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.