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Veggie burgers rising. June 11, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As a longtime vegetarian (and now a vegan), veggie burgers have always been my guilty indulgence. Generally speaking, I don’t approve of or indulge in pseudo-meat, feeling that you should either just eat meat or eat the endless other things available to you. But despite the name “burgers,” veggie burgers don’t pretend that they’re meat. (The exception is Boca burgers, with a texture so meaty that the only time I ordered one I spat it out, thinking I’d been served a hamburger by mistake.) Instead, they’re more like a falafel patty with a lot less spicing.

Thing is, if you order a veggie burger in a restaurant, it tends to be boring. They bring it to you with lettuce and tomato, and, if you’re really lucky, raw onions. Even with mustard or ketchup, that’s not really enough to wake up your tastebuds. So I long ago learned to scan menus for the most flavorful burger options, then ask for them with a Garden Burger instead of meat. What a difference!

Just the other week, I headed out for lunch with our friend Ben and our friend Rudy to a delightful local restaurant, the White Palm in scenic Topton, PA. I’d recommended their premises-made veggie burgers to the guys, and to my astonishment, they both wanted to order them. But I suggested that rather than ordering them with the usual lettuce and tomato topping, they order them with the sauteed mushroom, onion and Swiss cheese topping of another burger, and get a side of sweet potato fries to punch things up. They did, and both of them loved it.

Ditto for my Red Robin burger experience. I used to indulge in their Whiskey River BBQ Burger, topped with barbecue sauce, shredded lettuce, tomato, fried onions, and shredded Cheddar cheese, and served on mayo-topped grilled buns with steak fries, substituting their Garden Burger for the meat. Yummo!!! Talk about decadent.

I was okay with treating myself to these “burger” extravaganzas because I only had them once or twice a year. But then I became a vegan. Goodbye, cheese! And suddenly, Memorial Day and the whole summer were looming, and there was poor OFB craving his burgers. I was determined to try to recreate the burger experience at home.

The first challenge was the veggie burgers themselves. If you’ve ever tried them, you know they tend to get dry, cardboardy, and tasteless when you heat them up. How can you make them tasty and succulent? I splashed a little veggie broth, liquid smoke, fresh-cracked black pepper, Trocamare (hot seasoned salt) and Frank’s Red Hot Sweet Chili Sauce on them before popping them into the oven. Sure enough, it worked.

Next, the buns: I thought Red Robin’s idea to put mayo on the buns, then grill them, was brilliant. So I spread grapeseed-oil Vegenaise, which is simply delicious, on the inner surfaces of some Ezekiel whole-grain buns and ran them under the broiler to heat up. Result: Soft and succulent but hot, slightly crispy, and yummy buns. Yes!!! I added frozen sweet potato “fries” to the baking sheet, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and Italian herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram) along with the buns and let them roast for a yummy and healthy accompaniment.

Meanwhile, I made a simple, healthy slaw to go with the burgers. I bought the preshredded slaw mix at our local grocery (green and purple cabbage and carrots), added diced yellow bell pepper, purple Spanish onion, and Granny Smith apple, tossed in some dill, fennel, and caraway seed, added salt and cracked black pepper, and then mixed it all up with extra-virgin olive oil and cider vinegar. Then I tossed in some pepitas (roasted, salted pumpkin seeds) for extra crunch. Yum!!!

Finally, the add-ons. To turn a veggie burger into something everyone will clamor for (enough already, OFB!), you definitely need some primo toppings. Crunchy Romaine lettuce, sliced sweet onion, and tomato slices are obvious. But you can take a leaf from the famous Bardstown, Kentucky establishment, The Talbot Tavern, and kick it up a notch. The Talbot Tavern uses fried green tomatoes on its BLTs. You could fry up some green tomatoes for your burgers. Or, to crank up the heat, use sliced Kamikozee hot green tomatoes (produced locally here  in nearby Bowers, PA; check out www.greenkamikozees.com), or pickled green tomatoes or pickled peppers or sliced jalapenos. 

There are endless other options. If I’ve made grilled or sauteed sweet onions, bell peppers and mushrooms, they make a delicious (but messy) topping for veggie burgers. Beyond the usual ketchup, mustard and mayo, you could opt for horseradish, cocktail sauce, wasabi, salsa, guacamole, hummus, baba ghannouj, oil and vinegar, even tartar sauce: It’s your burger, after all, so it’s up to you what you want to put on it. You’re not accountable to anything but your tastebuds.

As for that cheese: Vegans like me might feel devastated at the lack of a cheese option. But I’ve finally found one that fills the bill: Follow Your Heart’s mozzarella “cheese.” The problem is that you have to slice it off the block yourself—no pre-cut slices—and once you open it, you have to use it all ASAP or it will mold, even in the fridge. But these are small sacrifices for something that actually resembles cheese, as opposed to really vile-tasting cardboard.

This summer, give veggie burgers a chance! And please, let me know if you have any special tricks for making them super-yummy.

                 ‘Til next time,




1. gold price - June 12, 2012

You can eat tempeh burgers right out of the oven, but if you’re planning a Memorial Day cookout, you can also bake them in advance, put them in the refrigerator, and then reheat them on the grill. There’s just one drawback: Thanks to those shrink-wrapped rectangles, tempeh burgers are inevitably square, not round. But sacrificing visuals is a small price to pay for veggie burgers that actually taste good.

Thanks for the tip! I guess if Wendy’s can serve square burgers, we can, too…

2. narf77 - June 13, 2012

MAN I love this blog! You just graduated from my rss feed reader to my blogroll… I too am vegan and as penniless hippy student horticulturalists we live on an approximate parallel (a very CLOSE approximate parallel…in fact some might say horizontally challenged parallel) with the breadline. We make as much as we can ourselves and spend an inordinate amount of our time (money poor penniless hippies = time rich researchers 😉 ) trawling the net for amazing sources of information, knowledge and entertainment. It’s not often that I find all 3 in a single blog and your blog is just such a source. Cheers for all of your blogging efforts…I take immense delight in each and every post. I personally can’t stand tempeh though… yucky stuff that tastes like liver…why would vegans want to eat something that tastes like liver!!! I would rather eat my own feet. If you can make it taste good, you are right up there with Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in my books! Keep posting…my early morning forrays into pre-sunrise winter happiness depend on it! 🙂

“I would rather eat my own feet.” Ha!!! Priceless, Fran! And thanks as always for the kind words. We’ll try to live up to them! Meanwhile, if there’s ever a topic you’d like to see us tackle, please feel free to let us know!

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