I often buy veggie burgers but last year decided I’d save money by making my own. After many futile attempts that produced burgers that either had no taste or fell apart I decided I needed some expert help. I searched for books at the library and came across one called Veggie Burgers Every Which Way. Seems I wasn’t the only one in search of the secret to making the perfect burger because there was a long waiting list fo this title. I finally checked it out two weeks ago and tried the Pub Grub burger which I have to say didn’t fall apart and tasted delicious. I thought I’d contact the author Lukas Volger to see if he’d be interested in sharing some tips with us and one of his recipes. So here is Lukas and his Thai Carrot burger for this week’s Meatless Monday feature.
Be sure to check out his wonderful Web site at http://lukasvolger.com/ And I’m definitely going to buy this title to add to my cookbook collection.
Budget Smart Girl (BSG)-Tell us about yourself and how you became interested in creating veggie burgers?
Lukas Volger (LV)-I always liked veggie burgers, particularly when I was in college and first experimenting with vegetarianism. The frozen varieties and those cheddar-draped ones at 24-hour diners only satisfied me for so long, though, so over the years I came up with a few recipes. Then, my friend/editor Matthew Lore, who’d eaten my veggie burgers, posed the idea to write a veggie burger cookbook a few years ago. And so I threw together a little proposal, spent a year waist-deep in them, and the rest is history.
BSG-When did you write your book and what will readers find in it?
LV-I wrote it over 2009 and 2010. Readers will find 32 different veggie burgers, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options. I’m a farmers market junkie, so these burgers are pretty heavy on the fresh veg and emphasize a “whole foods”-based approach: beans, grains, fresh vegetables… Not too many processed ingredients.
BSG-You have another book featuring veggie entrees, how did that come about?
LV-That was so much fun to write–Veggie Burgers was fun, too, but in a different way–because it really reflects the way I eat day-to-day. Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry is a celebration of what goes into the vegetarian center-of-the-plate: weeknight-type meals that are hearty and nutritionally balanced and super flavorful, with a good empahsis on classic techniques and, again, the whole-foods based style of eating. I wrote it because as much as I like to cook, I’m often wishing I had a few more vegetarian entree recipes under my belt. And I know so many vegans and vegetarians who eat those frozen soy nuggets, or cheese and bread, or any other minimally fortifying snacks for dinner because, in our “meat, side dish, side dish” culture of eating, they haven’t yet figured out how else to do it.
BSG-What are some of your tips for creating great veggie burgers? I know some people find them dry and tasteless?
LV-I always say that the purpose of a veggie burger is that it tastes like vegetables. When I develop a veggie burger recipe, I work backwards from the vegetable. So I put a Zucchini-Almond Burger recipe in the new Entrees book and it’s genesis was: I have a bunch of zucchini from my CSA, how can I work this into a veggie burger? I had some almonds lying around (which, by the way, are so complimentary to zucchini), some basil, I used an egg and breadcrumbs as a binder… and there you go. That’s how I did most of the veggie burgers in the book—here are some carrots, or here’s an eggplant, or I have this container of cooked chickpeas, how can this become the basis of a veggie burger?
One tip that I’ve found really helpful in attaining a good texture is the stovetop-plus-oven approach: sear the burgers in a frying pan, then let them finish cooking in the oven. This way you get a flavorful crust on the outside, and they cook through and firm up really well in the oven. It allows you to use fewer breadcrumbs in the mixture (breadcrumbs, I’m sure you know, are a wet blanket to flavor) which is crucial to getting bold, clear flavor in the end.
BSG-You also have a web site dedicated to your book and cooking. What will visitors find there?
LV-Lots of recipes! My website gives me a way to regiment some of my writing and to experiment a little. Many recipes in my books have earlier versions on the website. There are also some wild cards. I just did a big thing on afternoon snacks, or, when Vegetarian Entrees came out, I put up an “Ultimate Vegetarian Dinner Party Mixtape” as a way to celebrate.
BSG-My readers are always looking for ways to save on food. Do you have any tips of your own?
LV-Farmers markets and CSAs! Everyone needs to be shopping at the farmers markets or belonging to CSAs as much as they can, especially those of us in urban areas that have such easy access to them. The quality is the best, and it’s the easiest way to eat locally and seasonally without having to think too hard about it. And it’s cheap. Also, if you can find a store—usually a health-foods store or a co-op—where you can buy in bulk, that’s a great way to get better quality for lower cost. (In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there are so many little “botique” grocery stores where a little 12-ounce bag of precious garbanzo beans costs something like 7 dollars. It’s ridiculous.) Generally, for the best prices and quality you have to be willing to compromise on convenience, go out of your way a bit. That’s my experience, at least.
BSG-For the Meatless Monday feature can you give us a good recipe for a veggie burger to try?
LV-I would offer that Zucchini-Almond Burger, but there’s no zucchini glut this time of year. My Thai Carrot Burger is a favorite of mine. It’s got lots of flavor and an excellent texture.
Thai Carrot Burgers
This recipe calls for just a small amount of peanut butter. You’ll need to use the natural, minimally processed kind that is made to order with a peanut butter machine at some grocery stores. If you are accustomed to Skippy, you’ll find that natural peanut butter is alarmingly dense, and that its natural oils collect at the top of the container. Be sure to store natural peanut butter in the refrigerator. If you can’t find it, buy something that is as unadulterated as possible (organic, low-salt, definitely no sweeteners). Red cabbage slaw goes nicely with these burgers, either as a side or served directly on the burgers, as does julienned cabbage that’s been tossed in a bit of rice vinegar and salt.
Makes four 6-inch burgers
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions, including 1 inch into the dark green parts, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
1 serrano chile pepper, finely chopped (seeded or not, depending on your personal heat threshold)
4 cups grated carrots (about 8 medium carrots)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
Juice of ½ lime
¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro
½ cup toasted bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Heat a large lidded sauté pan over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When hot, add the scallions and cook just until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, and chile pepper and stir for 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the carrots, salt, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon. Cover and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the carrots are soft but not mushy.
3. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg whites, peanut butter, and lime juice. Stir in the carrot mixture and the cilantro. Fold in the bread crumbs. Let sit for about 10 minutes, allowing the crumbs to absorb some of the liquid. Adjust seasonings. Shape into 4 patties.
4. In an oven-safe skillet or nonstick sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the patties and cook until browned on each side, 4 to 6 minutes total. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers are firm and cooked through.
Prep and cook time: 45 minutes
Recipe from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful and Healthy Vegan and Vegetarian Burgers—Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns and More, copyright © Lukas Volger, 2010. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, The Experiment, LLC.