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Meatless Monday: Asian veggie burgers

April 25, 2011

Published in The Christian Science Monitor

For weeks I thought about throwing together my very own veggie burger recipe, but for weeks the task daunted me. Why? There are so many ways to do it. I couldn’t commit to ingredients.

For a base, I considered rice, beans, oats, tofu, lentils, bulgur, corn meal, chickpeas, nuts, or cous cous. For the veggies, I thought about using various combinations of diced potatoes, grated potatoes, onions, peppers, corn, mushrooms, edamame, and shredded carrots. As for the spices, I knew cumin would be good, and probably so would paprika and chili. Perhaps thyme and oregano, or a bit of rosemary. Or I could go the spicy route and flavor them with curry, or maybe Chinese 5 spice.

I consulted many recipes, by both professionals and novices, for tips. I learned that I’d need binding ingredients so that the burgers don’t fall apart. Eggs, bread crumbs, and flour all work. Letting the precooked patties sit for a few minutes before tossing them in the pan also helps. Veggie burgers can be sautéed on a stovetop, grilled in the backyard, or baked in the oven. (Or you can go raw and forgo cooking altogether.)

Eventually I settled on an Asian inspired veggie burger with a tofu base, mushrooms, red pepper, and a few water chestnuts for crunch. I gave them a kick with Thai 7 spice, a zingy combination of salt, chili powder, garlic, ginger, coriander, lemon peel, and black pepper. I used unseasoned breadcrumbs and a couple of eggs to bind it all together.

They turned out delicious, like an Asian stir-fry in the form of a burger. I smeared a bit of chili garlic paste on top of mine with a few spinach leaves (and ate one right off the stove, plain, with a fork). I’m looking forward to experimenting with new veggie burgers soon.

More tips:

Experiment with this recipe – and concoct your own burgers – but make sure to add the raw eggs last, so that you can taste test as you go along. If you don’t have a ready-made Thai 7 spice, put together your own blend of spices.

When the burgers are cooking, do not disturb them. I was impatient with my first one. I lifted the edges to peek underneath a minute in, then a minute later, then again. I flattened the burger down with my spatula. I flipped it too soon. It goes without saying that it crumbled into a (still tasty) mess.

If you don’t finish your batch, these leftovers store well in the freezer, or in the fridge, if you plan to eat them in a day or two.

Asian inspired veggie burger
Makes 8 burgers

4 cloves garlic, grated
4 ounces mushrooms, halved and sliced
4 ounces water chestnuts, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons Thai 7 spice
9.5 ounces extra firm tofu
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
Soy sauce, to taste
Sesame oil

In a wok or large skillet, sauté garlic and mushrooms in oil until the mushrooms soften, for about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and water chestnuts and cook for a few more minutes, until mixture starts to brown. Sprinkle Thai 7 Spice in and mix.

Next, chop tofu into chunks small enough to fit into your food processor. Pulse pieces in the food processor for a few seconds, until the tofu is minced well, but not completely puréed. Combine tofu, sautéed veggie-spice blend, and breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. Add soy sauce to taste. Drop in the two eggs and blend all together well. Form into patties by hand, about half an inch thick each. Let patties sit for about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, add half a tablespoon of oil to your skillet, on medium heat. Depending on the size of your pan, carefully slide one or more patties onto the warm skillet with a wide spatula. Cook until bottom is brown and crispy, for about 5 minutes. Flip and cook for about 4 more minutes (or longer if a well-done burger is desired). Add another half tablespoon of oil to the pan before cooking next batch.

Serve immediately on buns with preferred toppings.

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