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Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity

Vegetarian Burger Bonanza

carrotwalnut1lentilmushroom1summervegetable1
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From top left:  Curried Carrot Walnut Burger; Lentil-Mushroom Burger; Summer Vegetable Burger; Rice & Pea Burger; Middle Eastern Tofu Burger

While we sometimes crave a good green chile cheeseburger, we don’t indulge very often.  Rather, we usually head to the freezer and pull out a couple of veggie burger patties and make our own.  Our local warehouse grocery – where we purchase much of our food – usually has a nice black bean burger in stock, and we’ll often pick up a dozen for easy summer dinners.  The hitch is when the supplier flakes out, as they did two summers ago.  The folks at the grocery were sympathetic, but said that they were having trouble getting the local producer to reliably make timely deliveries. 

So, we went back home empty handed and hit our reference cookbook collection which clocks in at well over 400 volumes.  We figured that there must be an easy way to make these ourselves.  Stacks of cookbooks later we’d drawn a complete blank.  How could this be?  How could instructions on making such a useful category of vegetarian foods be simply missing from cookbooks?  Were they that hard to make?

Eventually we struck gold when we opened Didi Emmon’s Vegetarian Planet, where not just one but a whole chapter of vegetarian burger recipes was presented.  These ranged the gamut from hamburger-like lentil-mushroom burgers to those with flavors inspired by the Caribbean, Italy, India, and elsewhere.  What we learned when we tried a few was that, no, veggie burgers are not at all hard to make, and like we’ve usually found we can make them much better and more cheaply ourselves.  We’ve not bought pre-made veggie burgers since.

As garden production begins to ramp up, as nights grow warmer and as grills are fired up around the country, the summer burger season is upon us.  For June we want to share with you some of what we’ve learned about veggie burgers and give you recipes for five very different burgers from across the culinary spectrum that are made from a variety of different garden products.  To make them even more alluring, we’ve matched them with four different types of especially chosen homemade burger buns.  And, we’ll also suggest toppings that will make your burger sing.

We understand that most people are intimidated by home bread baking, we’d like to begin assuaging these fears, as home made breads are not only easy to make but far cheaper and more healthful than any industrial product.   While it is entirely possible to use store bought rolls or buns on these burgers and get wonderful results, we do hope that a few of you will put on your baking smock and try making at least one of the specialty rolls.  You will find their flavors to play off the burger in a way that no commercial bun can achieve, allowing the whole to become greater than just the sum of the parts.

A few general words about our approach:  While we were thankful for the introduction to veggie burgers presented in Vegetarian Planet, we found that these recipes universally needed altering to make them more forgiving.  In particular, some of the recipes were too wet and did not hold together well.  And, all the recipes called for pan frying the burgers in oil.  We saw no reason for this, and knew we could make a firm patty that could be easily frozen (allowing for bulk production) and then reheated in a microwave, skillet, or grill without falling apart.  We found the addition of extra binders to the mixes to be one of the solutions as well as pre-baking the patties to help drive off excess water and allowing them to firm up. 

One last note:  the general instructions for forming and cooking each burger and roll is the same.  So, rather than being repetitive, we're going to give those general directions here and we'll link back to them within each recipe.

General Burger Forming and Pre-Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 350° F. 

Take ½ cup of mixture, shape into ½” thick patties, and place onto a lightly-oiled cookie pan.  When all mixture has been used up, place pan into oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Flip over patties, and continue baking another 15 minutes until both sides are browned.  Remove from oven.  The patties may be used immediately, or can be allowed to cool, placed in a Ziploc bag, and stored in the freezer.  Frozen patties may be reheated by microwaving for 1 minute, by searing in a hot skillet, or by cooking on a grill.  

General Roll Baking Instructions

Preheat oven to 500° F.

Deflate dough and divide into 12 equal pieces.  Roll into balls, and place on a large baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.  When all 12 rolls have been formed, cover the pan with a damp cloth and let rise until almost doubled.

As quickly as possible open hot oven, spritz the inside with about a dozen squirts of water, place in the pan of rolls, and close the door.  Open the door and spritz the inside of the oven with water twice more in the next 5 minutes.  After the last time, turn the oven down to 400° F, and bake for 20 minutes.  Don’t open the door during this time, or your rolls will not get as nice of an oven spring as they could.

Open the oven, rotate the pan, and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the rolls are nicely browned on top and bottom and sound hollow when the bottoms are tapped.  Remove from over and let cool on racks. 

These rolls will only remain at optimum eating quality for no more than 2-3 days at room temperature.  To keep them fresh we slice them into halves once completely cooled (at least 6 hours from baking), and put them into a sealed plastic bag that we store in the freezer.  These frozen buns will keep their just-baked quality in the freezer for at least a month.

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