Is this meatless patty superior? You be the judge

The Whole Dish podcast: Homemade vegetarian patties have better taste, texture

A 20-year class reunion earlier this month revisited more than one 1990s trend.

The best veggie burger — Boca or Gardenburger— fueled some debate with a friend who also doesn’t eat beef. Our back-and-forth was lukewarm, compared to the gas grill turning out the event’s hamburgers and hot dogs. The two meatless patties, we agreed, are so different that it’s really a question of taste and texture preference.

Gardenburger has that distinctive chewy texture from brown rice, rolled oats and bulgur, with an obvious mushroom flavor. There’s no mistaking that this is not meat. Boca, on the other hand, tries to mimic a meat texture and flavor, largely with soy protein, but remains a nebulous substance that also comes nowhere close to meat.

Why is a good vegetarian burger so hard to create? I don’t even want it to masquerade as meat. Just give me a tasty alternative to beef if I can’t have lamb or turkey. I don’t want a patty of black beans. And I definitely don’t want bell pepper in my burger. Where is it written that all vegetarians must appreciate bell peppers? Blech!

Combining milder chickpeas and toothsome but tiny quinoa, this recipe is promising enough that I’ll likely try it this summer. I’m not a huge fan of carrots in this sort of preparation, but walnuts’ savor may redeem this mixture, along with the fresh herbs and toasted spices.

Superior to other meat imitators? Let’s try it and find out.

Tribune News Service photo

Superiority Burger

1 cup red quinoa

Kosher salt, as needed

1 cup small-diced carrots

4 to 6 tablespoons mild oil, such as canola

1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 teaspoons ground, toasted fennel seeds

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup drained and rinsed cooked chickpeas (canned is OK)

1 teaspoon white-wine vinegar

1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted, crushed (a mortar and pestle is useful)

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh parsley

1 tablespoon hot chili sauce

2 tablespoons potato starch or cornstarch

8 toasted hamburger buns

Shredded lettuce, sliced pickles and other burger toppings, for serving

In a small saucepan, stir the quinoa into 1 1/2 cups water with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook until fluffy, for 20 to 25 minutes. Turn out into a large mixing bowl. Let cool.

Meanwhile, toss carrots with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a pinch of salt. Spread out on a baking sheet, and roast at 425 F until soft and dark around edges, for about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium. Tumble in the onion, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, for 6 to 8 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, the fennel and chili powder. Stir in chickpeas, and cook until very soft, for 5 to 10 minutes. Deglaze with the vinegar.

Roughly mash chickpea mix with a potato masher or back of a wooden spoon. Stir into cooled quinoa. Stir in carrots, the breadcrumbs, walnuts, lemon juice, parsley and chili sauce. Add salt and pepper as needed. Whisk the potato starch or cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water. Stir in this slurry (or knead in by hand).

Shape 8 patties. Heat about 1 tablespoon oil in a cast-iron skillet. Brown burgers, for about 3 minutes per side, adding more oil as needed. Serve on the buns with the desired toppings.

Makes 8 burgers.

Recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from “Superiority Burger Cookbook: The Vegetarian Hamburger Is Now Delicious,” by Brooks Headley.

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