Black Bean Burgers made with ‘Ingredient X’

IMG_1974So the veggie burger quest finally continues. I could say I was building up suspense but the truth is that I was simply too busy to post, plus I was developing RSI-like complaints from too much typing. Luckily, technology has intervened and I am dictating this post to my laptop, which neatly types it out for me. Nice bit of digital slavery going on there.

Anyway, back to the quest. It seems we have struck gold at the first inn (I do apologise for the fantasy novel imagery, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons), the first “inn” being Veganomicon, the brilliant vegan cookery book co-written by Isa Chandra Moskowitz of the Post Punk Kitchen blog. I love this book, both the recipes and the style of writing. I find that vegan food writing tends to be a bit self-satisfied (even slightly smug, in some cases) and moralistic, while this book is simply a humourous cookbook that happens to be vegan.

I was intrigued by the recipe for black bean burgers, because it uses an ingredient I had only ever heard of. Yes, I am talking about ingredient X, which is… wait for it… vital wheat gluten. Over here (the Netherlands) it’s not something you can buy in the supermarket, so I ordered a 5 kg bag from a mill and let me tell you, that’s a lot of wheat gluten. Luckily, it is a brilliant ingredient, especially for making vegetarian burgers, because it binds all the ingredients together, which solves the biggest problem with veggie burgers: the fact that they tend to fall apart. These burgers are about as firm as meat burgers and, in my opinion, taste better (granted, it’s been a while since I’ve actually eaten a meat burger.)IMG_1965

Thanks to the wheat gluten, I can now let go of a prejudice I harboured regarding veggie burgers: you can actually make tasty burgers with tinned beans, provided you use wheat gluten or a similar binding agent.

I’ve not changed much in the way of ingredients but I have simplified the cooking method, so they really are a doddle to make. Now, this is a recipe from a book I own, and as far as I know the recipe is not available on the Post Punk Kitchen website. Normally I would not share a recipe like that, but reading the Veganomicon, I got the impression that the authors do not mind their recipes showing up on blogs, and even welcome it. Naturally, I would take it down immediately if there was a complaint.IMG_1969

This recipe is very versatile. I’ve made it several times now, using different types of beans and various fresh herbs and I’m sure you could also turn the mixture into into little “meatballs” or vegetarian sausages.

So far, I’ve cooked these burgers and then frozen the ones that were left over for later. They heated up okay in the oven (about 25 minutes on 175°C) but I made a batch with black eyed beans last night and have frozen those uncooked, to fry after thawing. I will report back on them later, via my Facebook page. For now, I can say that, as far as I’m concerned, these burgers tick all the boxes.IMG_1970
I have given grams for the dry ingredients but I actually find it easier to measure them out in cups (never thought I’d say that).


Ingredients

310 g tin of black beans (or beans of your choice), drained and rinsed, then roughly mashed with a fork
1 tablespoon tomato purée
¼ cup (60 ml) water

3 cloves of garlic, peeled
4 tablespoons of fresh coriander (or any herb you prefer)
1/2 of a small onion

1/2 cup (60 g) vital wheat gluten
1/2 cup (50 g) dried breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
half a teaspoon of cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Preparation

– Put the beans and tomato purée, and water in a large bowl.
– Blitz the garlic, coriander and onion finely in a mini chopper or food processor and add to the beans. Mix well.
– Mix all the other ingredients in another bowl and add to the bean mixture.
– Mix with a fork and then knead for a short time by hand (about one minute).
– Shape into six balls and flatten them into a burger shape.
– Fry in a shallow layer of oil, pressing down on them with a spatula every now and again, about five minutes each side.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.