The painter, Maurice de Vlaminck, once remarked, “Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.” In the same way, when cooking, rather than following a recipe to the letter, by letting it be a guide it can transform itself in its own unique way.
I love to simply read recipes; often I never make them, but sometimes—a fragrance or subtle touch of spice—bookmarks itself and is recalled in the most unexpected moment. Since cooking and life are inextricably intertwined, it is fascinating to observe the play of life in action as we stir the dancing rice grains before turning down the heat, or cut through a fresh basil leaf only to be blasted into the awareness of its natural heady fragrance.
Veggie burgers are so varied that you can really have fun with the ingredients. The nice thing about them is they can be made ahead of time, wrapped separately and frozen. You need little else to make a quick and complete meal. Just add some fresh tomatoes, lettuce, or pickles and you’re done.
As I was writing this column, a friend called and reminded me of his favorite burger, a Jewish standard; the potato knish. When he was a child, his mother once found him crying and when she asked why, he said he wanted a potato knish. How simple life can be when all we want is a potato knish!
My mom and I have been experimenting with lentil burgers for years now. We have compared notes and came up with this version after many batches.
1 C lentils, brown
3 C water or vegetable broth
1½ t salt
½ t cayenne pepper
1 t smoked paprika
fresh ground black pepper
2-3 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped small
1 C mushrooms, chopped very small
1 garlic clove, chopped very small
1 T ginger, freshly minced
½ C textured vegetable protein (TVP) soaked in 1/3 C boiling water (can be substituted for cooked brown rice)
2 eggs or 1/3 C coconut milk
matzoh meal, Japanese bread crumbs (pankko), or crushed corn flakes
1. Cover lentils with water and add salt, cayenne, paprika, and black pepper. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer for about 45 minutes until cooked. Check to make sure there is enough water; add only enough water so that it does not burn. Lentils should be cooked but not watery.
2. Mash cooked lentils very well.
3. Heat olive oil and saute onions for about five minutes, add mushrooms and saute another five minutes; when almost cooked add garlic and ginger. Reserve 3/4 C to top each burger.
4. Drain TVP, combine with lentils, sauted vegetables, and eggs or coconut milk. Add a minimum amount of matzoh meal to shape into patties.
5. Pan fry in a small amount of oil until brown and crisp.
6. Serve with a spoonful of reserved vegetables on top.
Madras Peanut Burger
This is a burger with an attitude!
1 T canola oil
1 t mustard seeds
5 curry leaves (optional)
1 onion, diced small
2 T ginger, minced
½ t Indian green chili, deseeded, chopped small (you can also use a jalapeno chili)
1 red pepper, diced
1 T sambhar powder (curry powder could also be used)
1½ T salt
½ C oatmeal, cooked with 3/4 C water and ½ t salt until soft but not watery
½ C peanut butter
1 egg, 2 egg whites, or ¼ C coconut milk
1 – 1½ C dry bread crumbs, pankko, or corn flakes, crushed
1. Heat oil until it is hot. Add mustard seeds until they pop then add curry leaves.
2. Add onion, ginger and chili, fry until translucent.
3. Add red pepper and fry until done.
4. Combine sambhar or curry powder and salt with ¼ C water until it is a thick paste. Add to the vegetables and cook until all the liquid is evaporated.
5. Mix cooked oatmeal, peanut butter, egg or egg substitute in a food processor until well mixed; add cooked vegetable/spice mix.
6. Add crumbs or crushed flakes a little at a time to the final mixture to be able to shape them into balls.
7. Roll into balls and flatten. Either pan fry or bake on a lightly greased cookie pan for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven, until brown.
Black Bean Chipolte Burgers
This quick, spicy burger has a Latin flare.
2 T olive oil
1 C red onion, diced small
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 T ginger, freshly minced
1 T cumin seeds, pan roasted and ground fresh
1 t salt
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 C rice, cooked, brown or white (a great way to use up leftover rice)
1-2 chipolte peppers in adobe sauce
3/4-1 C bread crumbs or ½ C corn and ½ C potato flour
½ C cilantro, chopped small
1 egg, 2 egg whites, or ¼ C coconut milk
corn meal for dipping
1. Saute onion until tender; add garlic, ginger, salt, and cumin powder.
2. Mash beans very well and add to onion; fry about five minutes. Add rice and chipolte peppers and process in a food processor until mixture is coarsely blended.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients to form a somewhat firm pattie.
4. Dip pattie very lightly in corn meal and pan fry until golden brown.
Coconut Milk & Chipolte Peppers
I love using both light coconut milk and chipolte peppers in recipes, since they impart a unique flavor. After opening the cans and using only a small portion, I often found that since I used them occasionaly the balance would sometimes go bad. Recently, I discovered that freezing the remainder in ice cube trays and transferring the cubes to a plastic bag or container allows me to use a small portion at a time.