Saturday, October 6, 2012

Veggie Burgers and Press-n-seal: the Return of Camila

Hi there! My name's Camila. You might remember me as the person who used to post to this blog and who then fell off the face of the planet. I'm back, and from my intergalactic voyages, I have a message for you:

Every vegetarian should have an awesome veggie pattie recipe in their repertoire. In fact, I will go farther: EVERYONE should have an awesome veggie patty recipe ready to go at all times.

You're probably not convinced. Most people that I've met don't make their own veggie patties: either they don't eat veggie burgers, or they consider the prospect of making them akin to baking their own bread, or making their own yogurt, or other kitchen absurdities that only crazy food-obsessed people attempt.

But here's the thing: veggie patties are totally NOT a crazy thing to make. Whipping up a batch of burgers is no more difficult than making a meatloaf. It's downright easy: one food processor, one bowl, one spoon, two hands. And on top of being easy:

  • veggie burgers are cheap cheap cheap
  • they are healthy (instead of eggs, use just the egg whites to make them even healthier)
  • they freeze beautifully
  • they scale up easily (take an hour, make a dozen meals)
  • they can be cooked in a multitude of ways
  • you can flavor them pretty much however you want, with great success
    and above all:
  • store-bought veggie patties SUCK.

Seriously, every single store-bought vegetarian burger substitute is pretty much awful. Some are better than others: the ones with vegetables in them are miles better than the "fake-meat" ones. But even the best ones have a terrible, dry texture and an awful blandness. Fresh off the grill, slightly charred, loaded up with onions and mustard and ketchup, they're great. Because anything* fresh off the grill, slightly charred, and loaded up with onions and mustard and ketchup will pretty much be delicious.

But would you ever cook one of those burgers on your stovetop and have it for a quick weekday dinner? Probably not. Would you break it into bite-sized pieces and eat it, plain, standing in front of your grill as you turn over your asparagus? Heck no. Would you offer one of those patties to your meat-eating friends and say "no, I'm serious, you have GOT to try this?" Not if you like your friendships, you won't.

This is why, my friends**, you need to step away from the over-priced, under-flavored veggie burgers in your local freezer section, and stock your own freezer with some homemade veggie patty tastiness.

The basic equation is simple:

Mashed or pureed beans (or lentils, or occasionally a vegetable) +
Bread crumbs as filler +
Egg as binder +
Delicious additions =
grill-ready tastiness.

What kind of additions, you ask? Depends. Veggie patties can be delicious in almost any flavor. Black bean veggie patties, spiced with chili powder and some adobo***, with guacamole instead of ketchup: brilliant. Lentil veggie patties, spiced with curry powder, topped with yogurt and parsley: a delight. Red kidney bean patties loaded up with your favorite spicy pepper: pass me that plate, man. Mark Bittman has a recipe for zucchini and corn veggie patties that will truly blow your mind.

What kind of veggie patty you stock your freezer with will depend on your favorite bean and your favorite spice. It just so happens that I have a deep and enduring love for garbanzo beans and cumin is the only spice I've ever considered building an altar to, and my default recipe reflects that.

Here 'tis:

  • 1 can garbanzo beans, mashed (use a potato masher and patience if you don't have a food processor)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Bread crumbs (about a cup, or 4 slices of bread)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 a red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup ground walnuts (optional, if you're trying to make this as cheap as possible, but it does wonderful things to the texture)
  • A teaspoon or so of salt, two teaspoons of cumin, a teaspoon of coriander, a teaspoon of hot red pepper powder (these are estimates: unless I'm baking, I'm a dumper of spices, not a measurer.)

The process, simply put, is: mash all that together, shape into burgers, and apply heat however you fancy.

If you want more detail, and you have a food processor, here's how it goes:

  • Put 1 can garbanzo beans, 1 small onion (chopped into quarters), half a red bell pepper and three cloves of garlic into the food processor. Process until there are no more big chunks, but stop before it gets totally soupy. Dump that mixture into a bowl. 
  • Put four pieces of stale or slightly toasted bread and a heaping 1/4 cup of walnuts into the food processor. Process until everything is finely ground.
  • Add half your bread-crumb mixture and all your spices to the bean mixture. Then break in two eggs and mix well. Add the rest of your bread crumbs.
  • I like my burgers on the moist side: they're a little messy to make, but it's worth it. If you'd like a firmer mixture, though, add up to 1/4 cup of flour after you've added the bread crumbs. Be sure to mix very well.
  • Take this mixture and form into burgers, with about 1/2 a cup of mixture per burger. 
    • If it's too wet to hold its shape, add another 1/4 cup of bread crumbs (or flour, if you haven't added flour). If it's too dry, add another egg, or a tiny bit of water..


  • Let the burgers sit for about 5-10 minutes, so they can think about their life, and decide that they do really want nothing better than to be cooked and delicious. It helps them hold together if you let them have this moment to themselves.
  • Carefully transfer to any of the following:
    • A grill. Let the bottom char a little before you flip it, to reduce the chance of the burger falling apart.
    • A hot skillet, with a little oil in it if it's not non-stick. Turn the heat down to medium-high and let it cook for a few minutes before you flip it: let both sides get golden brown before you turn the heat up to get a nice dark outside (on a stovetop, if you start out with the heat on high, the middle won't cook through).
    • A cookie sheet or broiler pan. Put beneath a broiler on high and flip when the top starts to char.
    • If you have any trouble transferring the burger - if it gets misshapen or a little bit falls off - just use your spatula to squish it back together. Everything will be fine. Deep breath.
  • Serve:
    • on a burger bun, with traditional toppings
    • on a bed of rice, quinoa or pilaf, with a salad
    • on a slice of french bread, with fresh greens and a lemon-yogurt sauce
    • on a bed of sauteed kale, with melted cheddar cheese on top
    • between two slices of whole-wheat bread, with goat cheese and some chutney
    • crumbled up on a warm salad
    • OR HOWEVER ELSE YOU WANT IT, because you choose the course of your own life. Mm-hmm. Own that veggie burger.

Mealtime success. Done.

Freezing is great not only because you get to have an instantly delicious meal on hand, but also because it makes veggie patties much easier to work with: the hardest part is getting the soft patties onto the grill or pan, and if they're frozen, that's not an issue at all. So even if you're not usually a big food-freezer, consider freezing your veggie patties.

  • Lay each of the patties on some GLAD Press-n-seal, with the sticky/sealing side up. Place them about an inch and a half apart, and at least an inch from the outside edge.
  • Once you've laid down each of the patties, fold the GLAD Press-n-seal over top of the patties and press it down between each individual patty and around the outside.
  • Put the patties in the freezer. It's not necessary to flash-freeze them by spreading them out or anything like that. You can fold the Press-n-sealed rectangle o' patties in half, thirds or quarters, stacking the patties on top of each other so they take up less room.
  • When you're ready to cook, remove only as many patties as you want: the rest will remain individually sealed. Cook using any of the methods listed above - you don't need to thaw the patties, just give them some extra time on/under the heat.

I suppose it's possible to freeze veggie patties without GLAD Press-n-seal. You could try wrapping them in regular plastic wrap, or flash-freezing them (place on a cookie sheet, freeze overnight, pry off cookie sheet, place in plastic bag, return to freezer). But I don't know why you would bother when there is GLAD Press-n-seal in the world.

I should note that GLAD is not paying me any money to say this. But GLAD, if you are listening: I will totally take money in exchange for hawking your product.

This is what my pitch would be:

"You know plastic wrap? You know how it says it will stick to itself, and not to your food? And how it says it will seal to your containers, too, sticking to your glass or plastic or metal bowls so that they can be covered?

You know how it NEVER does that, how it always turns into a giant ball of stuck-togetherness that will never stick to anything else, or how it clings to the side of your bowl for two seconds before falling off, or how it looks at the plastic wrap on the bottom of your container, where you're trying to get it to seal together, and decides that it just doesn't feel like doing that today, and you always end up wrapping everything in like three layers of plastic wrap that all threatens to float off at the slightest provocation and vanish in the wind, and you wind up attaching it with a rubber band anyway?

GLAD Press-n-seal works. That's it. It doesn't really do the magical things it says it will do, like turn into a lid for your bowls that is so strong you can stack other bowls on top of it. But it WILL stick to itself, and when it sticks, it won't unstick until you peel it off, and it WON'T mess up your food, and it WILL stick to your containers, and it WON'T blow off or spontaneously crumple. And isn't it just so freaking comforting when SOMETHING in this disastrous monstrosity of a messed-up world, and particularly the stressful segment of the world that is Your Kitchen, just DOES what it's SUPPOSED to?

Buy GLAD Press-n-seal, and move on with your life."

So, basically, you wrap your burgers up in your Press-n-seal, throw them in the freezer, and they're there for you. Waiting, ready. Eager to be cooked. Absolutely delicious.

I freaking love veggie burgers.

*Okay, not literally anything. But darn close.
**Including any strangers on the internet who are currently reading this.
***Not adobo like the Filipino dish: adobo like the spice blend of salt, garlic, oregano, pepper and turmeric. If you want to cook any Mexican or Latin American food at all, you need this in your life. I know, I know, you're thinking, "but I already have salt, garlic, oregano, pepper and turmeric in my spice cabinet! Can't I just add them all separately?" Well, maybe you can. I can't. It's just not the same.


andrew david said...

I've been meaning to try a recipe of blackbeans, shredded zucchini, and italian breadcrumbs (or maybe regular breadcrumbs with apple). Store bought veggie burgers do convince many curious vegetarians to eat more meat than ever. That was my first vegetarian experience in high school and I went on an all chicken diet for like a month after trying a frozen pattie of blackbeans. I suppose my recipe could also include corn and anaheim peppers.

andrew david said...

My god you were giddy in that article by the way. I'm not criticizing. It means I either don't need to worry about you hitting the sauce anymore, or I should worry more that you're hitting the sauce. I'm not gonna name names, but, I had a dream recently that this journalist I knew who I am (apparently) slightly worried about was suddenly flush and throwing lavish parties and we all thought her talent had won out, only then I went home that night and looked at some girly websites, and well, ah, let's just say I learned she had another talent and another job.