Posted on March 16th, 2012
Even if you’re not livin’ la vida vegetarian, it’s hard to go wrong with a veggie burger. Despite being invented in the 80s (the decade that brought us poprocks and fried mozzarella sticks), veggie burgers have successfully made the transition from food trend to…well, just food.
I’d love to maintain foodie cred and say, breezily, that I have a fabulous from-scratch recipe that I make with ingredients plucked fresh from the garden. But while the mind is willing, the flesh is weak — and that weakness is named “Boca.” Up until recently, I was totally cool with frying up one of those frozen suckers in olive oil and dropping it on a bun with some ketchup, LT&O for the occasional instant dinner.
So what changed?
In a word, “cellulose.” Cellulose is the organic compound that makes up the tough, indigestible parts of plants. Cellulose can come from a whole bunch of things: from vegetables (like kale) to…(wait for it)
You heard it here first: there’s probably a little bit of wood in your frozen pizza. Over the last few years, cellulose-based additives have slowly crept into a whole variety of foods — not just my beloved frozen veggie burgers but also lots of breads, cookies, and even ice cream. And because wood is considered a “natural” ingredient, you’ll even find it in plenty of organic processed foods.
Why the cellulose renaissance? In short, it’s an “extender,” or filler, and it’s way cheaper than regular (edible) ingredients. Thanks to extensive chemical processing, wood pulp can be made to mimic a whole bunch of stuff including flour, sugar, and even butter.
Call me crazy, but I draw the line at voluntary xylophagia. As much as I loved them, it’s time to let go of my Boca habit — and begin the hunt for a new veggie burger.
The big game of the veggie burger kingdom is, of course, the kind you make from scratch. In addition to patience, most of the really good recipes require a laundry list of essential ingredients: egg whites, lemon juice, beans, mushrooms, a bunch of spices…etc.
The end result is delicious, but not insignificant in terms of effort. Taking a cue from the lions on the Discovery Channel, I decided to skip the thrill of the hunt and pick off an easy kill with a couple of go-to easy burger(ish) meals… that even I can execute.
Sledge is a nickname I gave to my overweight cat, and it seems equally as fitting for a giant slab of jiggly fried tofu.
1) Press out the moisture from a slab of extra-firm tofu. If you’re good at thinking ahead, you can do something fancy like press/drain it over several hours. If you’re like me, you’ll just press it between two plates over the sink. Slice into flat patties.
2) Make a marinade of some savory stuff. Like soy sauce, garlic, and cumin. Or honey and balsamic vinegar. Leave it on there for an hour or so or until you’re too hungry to wait any longer.
3) Add a generous amount of olive oil to a frying pan. Then add some more.
4) Fry the bejeezus out of your tofu, flipping it when it gets a golden crust.
5) Add ketchup and a ciabatta roll. Now it’s a burger!
POST APOCALYPTIC BURGER BLOB
Watching Doomsday Preppers has given me a new appreciation of brown rice and lentils. Dried stores of the stuff can outlast almost any natural disaster and, unlike MREs, it’s something you’d actually want to eat pre-apocalypse. Got some leftover cooked brown rice and lentils in the fridge? Why not retcon it into some tasty Burger Blobs?
1) Assemble a 2:1 ratio of cooked brown rice to cooked lentils. It helps if the lentils are a little bit overcooked (you can pretend you did that on purpose).
2) Saute garlic and some vegetables (celery, onion, carrots, etc.) in olive oil. If you want to get crazy you can roast them in the oven instead.
3) Mix it in with your cooked brown rice and lentils. Throw in a little bit of flour or some breadcrumbs to bind the whole thing together. Add some chili powder, cumin, and paprika.
4) Shape the mixture into Burger Blobs and press them onto a cookie sheet. Bake the whole thing at 350 for about 20 minutes.
5) Slap it on a bun and serve with lettuce, onion, avocado, and tomato. Chichi it up with a fancy aoili of your choice.