Monday, February 1, 2010

Veggin' Out

I used to live in Tree-Hugging Hippietown, Montana. Then I moved to Utah. While some things haven't changed, like the legal currency and the native language and the prevalent species of coniferous trees, some things are indeed quite different. The most recent shocking realization that I have come to is this: there are no decent veggie burgers in this county. Things that do not count as a decent veggie burger include: 1) The "Meatless Wonder" at Chadder's. It's a white bun with shredded iceberg lettuce, onions and a vaguely orange sauce that calls itself "special" because it's actually salad dressing. It's identical to their hamburger except they took the meat off. 2) That freezer-burned box of Boca Burgers buried in the back of the freezer aisle at the BYU Creamery on 9th behind two Hungry Man Dinners. 3) A hamburger with extra pickles. (Though extra pickles are always a good idea, this one loses on a technicality.)

I admire these folks for trying. I don't even think they know what they've done wrong - they're just trying to be diverse and inclusive, right? They have merely fallen victim to the myths surrounding vegetarian food that plague so many in our nation. There's this mistaken idea that eating food without any meat in it is an ascetic penance that you inflict upon yourself in some sort of attempt to punish your weak mortal flesh. This is untrue! I am now going to take it upon myself to dispel three common myths about vegetarian food.

MYTH 1 - You have to be a vegetarian to eat vegetarian food

Non-vegetarians can eat grilled cheese sandwiches, can't they? Even as a main dish! And no one thinks the less of them! You will not be jeopardizing your loyalty to any political party if you eat a meal or two with no meat. There is no inherent link between diet and political leanings. I know this because I lived in Tree-Hugging Hippietown, where I drank the water and ate at their restaurants and I still have never as of yet voted for Ralph Nader. In fact, I can attest: tree-hugging hippies eat amazingly well, and I'm still listening to Donny Osmond.

MYTH 2 - Making vegetarian food is like making regular American food but taking out the meat

You can do this, of course. If you happen to like white buns with shredded iceberg lettuce and
thousand islandspecial sauce, then by all means please eat them. But the truth of the matter is: the world is full of delicious, delicious foods. Just because they don't fit on a bun doesn't mean you have to give up and just eat the fries. You could eat a bowl of broccoli instead and no one would be the worse for it! Can you imagine? Broccoli! What if you roasted the broccoli with olive oil and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar and sea salt and fresh rosemary? Whoa - crazy talk.

MYTH 3 - The next best thing to meat is isolated soy proteins

Are you kidding? That's like saying "since we don't have any cake, here - here's a box of rusty nails."

It is now my self-adopted quest to explore the possibilities of creating a veggie burger without resorting to isolated soy proteins. Because really, friends. Life's too short.

Attempt Number One - the Black Bean Burger

This one is an attempt to replicate the veggie burger at Tree-Hugging Hippietown's lovely Hob Nob Café. They still do it more deliciously, but I don't live there anymore and this wasn't half bad.

Cilantro, onions and tomatoes to make it sassy

Seasoned with cumin and chili powder, and I added cornmeal to make it... mealy. I ended up having to add a lot to counteract the wetness of the vegetables. And it still wasn't holding together well so I added two eggs.

And here we see the lovely paste. All -burgers of any sort are mostly just efforts to cook ugly pastes to make them more palatable, aren't they?

I fried it in shallow oil, trying to keep the heat low so the middle would cook before the outside did, but once I ate it I realized it should have been lower and longer. The middles were still mealy, and the cornmeal wasn't cooking thoroughly. I had to microwave the patties to get them a little more done inside. They did hold together remarkably well, though. Not as well as isolated soy proteins but who wants to eat isolated soy proteins?

This attempt does win the attempt for the most hamburger-like appearance. So if you're, you know, still trying to protect your street cred, I'd go the black bean route.

Pretty dang tasty! But again, needed longer cooking and something fattier (maybe adding some oil) to make the cornmeal a little less grainy. B+

Attempt Number Two - the Garbanzo Avocado Burger

With that thought of needing more fat inside the patty, this one had a avocado mashed in. I used two cans of drained garbanzos, one avocado, half an onion diced and then spices, cornmeal and eggs. I didn't add quite so much cornmeal this time.

Since I like to live simply so others may simply live, and also since I can't afford a food processor, I do this all with a pastry blender. I bought the pastry blender specifically to make pâtes brisées but it, like cumin, works just fine in everything I ever make.

These had a better consistency than the black bean patties, probably because they didn't have so many wet vegetables. But then again, they didn't have the deliciousness of wet vegetables either so, you know. It's an ethical judgment that I'll leave to you.

The most enjoyable part of these patties is that they're sort of green. They reduced my fossil fuel consumption by 80% this fiscal year alone! Sweet! This is like the carbon-footprint-antidote burger!

It was most delicious on a whole wheat bun with sprouts and colby jack cheese, but did need a whole mess of dill pickles to make it tasty enough to satisfy my persnickety tastes. If you're a saucy person, I'm sure you could have sauced it up to your heart's delight. Maybe with A1 sauce? Me, I'm saucy enough already.

Attempt Number Three - the Portobello Onion Burger

Also known as the most delicious creature on the planet.

No, really. The most delicious creature on the planet. It has its own t shirts.

Two portobello mushroom caps, marinated in Worcestershire Sauce. What is Worcestershire Sauce for anyway? Who cares anymore. It's for marinating oversized fungus now.

After we're done, we top them with a slice of onion. What if you had a giant onion that was even bigger than this one and it was the same size as the mushroom? I bet angels would start singing.

Holding them together the best you can, coat them in corn batter. Corn batter is just cornmeal and flour (half and half) with salt and milk and eggs until it's thick but spoonable.

And then... you light the holy fires and bathe them in the holy deep fat frying oil.


Whole wheat bun, sprouts, provolone. You don't even need pickles or sauce - inside the little fried bundle of love is a moist, saucy little oasis.

Look. Learn. Go forth and create.

I was very satisfied with all of these - the quantities made enough that I was freezing patties and taking them to my office hour to eat for lunch every day. All of my colleagues think I'm exceedingly eccentric, which, you know, they would have eventually figured out anyway.

I hope I've made a unique contribution to the literature. It was a labor of love. And now Utah County no longer needs to hang its head in veggie burgerless shame.


  1. Fascinating. I'm pretty sure I will just have to remain a tree hugging hippie meat lover but loved going along on your journey! That is until the oversize fungus reference and the onions thereafter making it appear to be looking at me. Love ya- Morgan--you are amazing.
    Oh--and I really am wanting to start having a meatless Monday at my house--so will be watching this blog for ideas!

  2. Sadly, I was born with a genetic alteration that gives me a strong aversion to most vegetables. I have tried, believe me, to develop a fondness for greens, roots, and legumes in all their wondrous variety, but my palette still only tolerates a select few. Alas, I shall continue to establish my food-chain dominance by dining on the flesh of lesser beasts.