I love veggie burgers. I love real hamburgers too--especially nice beefy ones with mushrooms and onions all over the barbecue sauce that's all over the blue cheese that's melting all over them--but I have a special place in my heart for a good veggie burger, which I approach not as a wan and debased substitute, but as its own special, wonderful self. In fact, when I worked at the famous Saturn Restaurant in Santa Cruz, that's what I picked for my staff meal every day: a veggie burger with pickles, mustard, and a side of potato chips which I would then cram into the bun. Every day, and it was always good. Granted, I was a vegetarian then. And it was a vegetarian restaurant. Not that that always sank in with the customers. "What about the Saturn Burger?" some would ask. "Is that meat?" "Nope, sorry," I'd say. "It's all vegetarian. There's no meat on the menu." "I'll have the chili then. That's got to be meat, right?" This is the same restaurant where people used to ask me tricky questions like how the peanut butter tofu pie was. "How does it sound to you?" I used to ask, coyly. "That's probably about how it's going to be." This is also the same restaurant where you could drink the house beer during your shift, as long as you didn't feel like it was impairing your performance. We tended not to feel like it was impairing our performance.
This particular veggie burger recipe is special to me because this was the first meal I made Anni when she moved in (back before we converted her to our carnivorous ways, bwa ha ha ha) and then it was the last meal I made her when she was moving out. "Oh no!" she said, when she came into the kitchen that last evening and saw me frying them. And then we burst into tears. You would not typically cry over them, but they are really delicious: rich and almost greasy, in a good way, from the walnuts, but then tender from the beans, nicely grainy from the bulgur, and really well seasoned with an extra umami kick from the soy. The green herb feels totally crucial to me, but if there's a cilantro-hater in your midst, I don't see why you couldn't use parsley. And the sauce--the sauce is key. Creamy, limey, just a little spicy, and making completely redundant the need for cheese. We made these for a large crowd of folks who were not of the meat-eating persuasion, and the burgers were devoured by grown-ups and kids alike, which was utterly satisfying.
Perfect Veggie Burgers
Active time: 45 minutes; total time: 1 hour
This is a recipe from the late Gourmet magazine, with a few tweaks, the most significant of which is that I make the burgers a good deal smaller. Too thick, and you'll eat half of it and feel like you've had enough; these are thin enough to maximize the nice, crispy outside. Just right. I still think you might want to try making the buns yourself--but you don't have to.
1/2 cup chopped onion, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for frying
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup bulgur
1 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
3/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Juice and zest of half of a large, juice lime
1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree (I write about this here, but you should know that Smoked Tabasco is a perfectly acceptable and readily available substitute--and yes, you could use smoked paprika in a pinch.)
Accompaniments: toast or buns, lettuce, sliced tomato, red onion, jalapenos, pickles
Cook the onion with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt) in the oil in a smallish pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden, around 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for a minute, then add the spices and stir for a few seconds, just until fragrant. Add the bulgur and water and cook, covered, over low heat until water is absorbed, 15 to 18 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce.
Pulse the bulgur mixture, pintos, walnuts, cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much etc.), and a few grindings of black pepper in a food processor until finely chopped. I have done this more or less fine, and my favorite is for it to be a mix of puree and larger pieces, which I then stir together in a bowl; my ancient Cuisinart does this automatically, by mistake, but you could probably get the same effect by pulsing on and off, then scooping out half the mixture into a bowl, pureeing the rest, and then combining the two. Then you've got the puree to hold it altogether, plus some nice texture from the less ground-up nuts and beans. It sounds complicated but isn't, I swear.
Form the mixture mixture into 6 patties, using, if you like, a 1/3-cup measure. Chill them for at least 10 minutes and up to a couple of hours. While patties chill, whisk together together the mayonnaise, lime juice and zest, chipotle, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (We made extra sauce and served it as a dip for asparagus, and it was heavenly.)
Now cook the burgers. You can, apparently, do this on a grill, by spraying or brushing them all over with vegetable oil and then grilling them on a grill sheet (?) for 8 minutes. I have never done that, though. I heat up a nonstick frying pan over medium heat, add a big glug of oil, and fry them until very brown and crisp on the outside, turning them over carefully when the first side is done. I takes maybe ten minutes altogether, and they brown up beautifully. Serve them on buns with the sauce and lots of accompaniments.
|Yes, there are many ingredients, but I tend to have most of them already. Plus, they are very inexpensive to make, even considering the issue of the nuts.|
|Thanks to ChopChop magazine, Ben has totally upped his game in the kitchen. Now he can chopchop an onion.|
|And fryfry it.|
|Bulgur. When you first add it, it looks like this.|
|But then it fluffs up all nice.|
|Ready to whirl. The beans are so weird and foamy after you rinse them, like they're already daydreaming about the gas they're going to make you pass.|
|I leave a little texture. I can see, objectively, that this looks gross, but I love these so much that even this picture looks good to me.|
|You will need to wash and dry your hands in the middle of making these. I should mention that I'm making a double batch in these photographs, hence the vast quantities.|
|Let them get nice and brown.|
|We kind of assembly-lined them, on account of there being a lot.|
|Meanwhile, The Ben made The Sauce. All by his ownself. I know. Can you see the cool necktie shirt I made him? I copied it from one we saw at a craft fair.|
|Good kids, eating their veggie burgers. My friend Corn took this picture. Thanks, Corn!|