I was at a diner last night with some friends and felt compelled to order yet again one of those meals I know will leave me feeling empty, despite how it looks on the menu. Veggie burgers always look appetizing, but rarely taste as well as they look.
I know this, and yet I am driven to keep trying.
What is it about a veggie burger? I can't tell you how many kinds I've tried, and how rarely I have actually enjoyed one. I've tasted the cardboard type, the hockey puck variety, the kind that crumbles at the touch, and the kind that tastes like a cross between your cat's dry food and your dog's canned food.
The best veggie burger I ever had was in a little shop in Boardman, Ohio, called The Flaming Ice Cube. The burger was juicy, fat, delicious. It still crumbled, but The Flaming Ice Cube's variety is as close to perfection as they come.
I do know vegetarian burgers are the only kind for me. The last time I had a McDonald's burger, I was 20 and the thing I ate, made of horse meat or something like it, sat in my gut for about three days. I knew then that I simply couldn't do cheap burgers any more. It would be a while before I'd go vegetarian, but I still love burgers and I'm still looking for a vegetarian one that will do.
I looked up a few recipes to see what's going on. Part of the challenge is getting the food binder right. Some binder ingredients -- like brown rice and seitan -- can feel like lead. The answer is to boil or steam the seitan before adding it to the mix. Lighter binders can be made using egg whites, lentils and bread crumbs.
Here are some standard ingredients for those of you who want to try putting together your own veggie burger: brown lentils and brown rice, dried thyme and dry mustard, eggs, garlic, black pepper, parsley, mushrooms, onion, shredded beets, carrots and zucchini and textured veggie protein, tomato paste and soy sauce or Tamari.
Personally, I prefer Tamari. It's like a rich soy sauce, without wheat., and I use it on everything. My favorite salad dressing is a blend of tamari and olive oil. I season stir fry dishes and soups with tamari; I've even used it on eggs. I've used it on everything but drinks, although I can actually fathom adding it like tabasco to some late night wild concoction. I could even add it to Diet Coke, for an extra sweet zing!
The next time I make my own veggie burger at home, I'm going to add Tamari and coke to the mix. If it doesn't work, I'm going to toss chopped garlic, onions, peppers, seitan, lentils, tomato paste, tamari and a splash of coca cola into a pan and get down with some sloppy joes!