Monday, January 28, 2008

Ultimate Veggie Patties

There is really no way around it anymore. Unless you are one of those bury your head in the sand types, we are all being forced to accept the fact that too much meat just is not good for us. I emphasize "too much" because I still believe that human meat eating can be sustained into the future, just not at our current consumption levels and not with our current production methods. It really is not even just a matter of personal health anymore, but the health of the environment. The fact of the matter is that modern meat production methods are really beginning to take their toll.

If you love eating meat like I do, this can become a huge personal dilemma. I have compensated by replacing much of the meat in my diet with whole grains, beans, and vegetables. When I do eat meat, I am willing to spend more money to buy products that are raised in a healthful and ethical way. Yes it costs a lot more, usually about double, but I'm eating it a lot less, so overall there really is no increase in cost. I find that now when I do eat meat, I appreciate and enjoy it more than I ever have before.

So this brings me, in a somewhat roundabout way, to the real subject of today's post: the now ubiquitous veggie burger. Again, the emphasis is mine. Why focus on the word burger? Because for most meat eaters, the word burger sends the brain into a frenzy of juicy, beefy images that quickly set the mouth watering. I believe that well-meaning meat eaters looking for healthier alternatives to their couple-of-times-a-week burger habit have turned to the veggie burger and invariably been disappointed. This should not be the case. I feel that the meat eater looking to enjoy the veggie burger has two hurdles to clear. First, the fact that most veggie burgers are trying in vain to imitate beef burgers, instead of emphasizing their own unique attributes. Second, the word burger itself. If you love beef burgers, you are bound to be disappointed on a subconscious level when you bite into a "burger" and there's no meat. I know it is just semantics, but I believe words are extremely important precursors to perception. So I propose that the burger lover begin thinking of the veggie burger as the veggie patty. The veggie patty should not imitate meat (I abhor the whole imitation meat veggie product trend) and should not be thought of as a substitute for the hamburger, but as something that stands on its own. If you're craving a burger, and you're settling for a veggie patty, the battle is already lost. You need to find a recipe that you love, so eventually, you'll crave a veggie patty. I've tried a bunch of veggie patty recipes (and there are lots of them), some good, some not so good. After some effort, I can now say that I enjoy, look forward to, and actually get cravings for veggie patties.

Most veggie patty recipes have a base that consists of either beans or grains and bread crumb, or some combination of the two. I've found that one difficulty with making veggie patties is decreasing the moisture in the patty so you can form them without having dry, dusty tasting patties. This issue is adequately addressed in good recipes. Beware of the recipes that have tons of veggies that are shredded in large pieces, they will contain a lot of water, and make very moist patties that are hard to form and cook in one piece. Also beware of cooking homemade veggie patties on the grill, as most won't be able maintain their form on the grate and will fall apart when flipped. I've had much more success cooking in a pan on the stove top or in the oven on a baking sheet.

This has been my standby recipe, which is satisfying, and relatively easy to make. It is bean-based, a bit on the dry side, but good nonetheless. A good thing about veggie patties is that you can freeze them for months. So make a huge batch and you'll have them whenever you want them. I usually get at least 4 dinners out of 1 batch. In the spring and summer I usually eat veggie patties for dinner twice a week, but during the fall and winter, I replace that with lentil soup. This past weekend I had a craving for veggie patties, and having not made them since the end of the summer, I had to make a new batch. I decided to try a new recipe as well, from Cook's Illustrated, which was somewhat complex and time consuming, but definitely worth the effort.

This is a long one, here goes...

You don't really have to get everything together before you begin this one, as there are many points where you have to wait for things to happen which gives you plenty of time to prep other parts of the recipe. Timing is not really important here. Start by cooking the lentils and the bulgur. While they cook, you can chop the veggies.

This recipe yields an easy to shape mix largely due to the extra lengths required to get excess moisture out of the ingredients. When the lentils are done you drain them and spread them on a triple layer of paper towel. You then press lightly with more towel to get as much water as possible. Drain the bulgur and press in a fine mesh strainer to remove as much liquid as possible.

Cook the veggies in a medium-hot skillet for about 12 minutes, just until they begin to brown.

Spread the cooked vegetables on a cookie sheet to cool and add the mushrooms to the now empty pan to begin browning.

Once the mushrooms are brown, take them out of the pan and put them on the sheet with the other cooling vegetables.

Now the food processor comes into play. Put the cashews in the bowl and pulse about 15 to 20 times.

In a large bowl, you combine the lentils, bulgur, vegetables, cashews, and mayonnaise. Stir well to combine all the ingredients.

Place half of the mixture back into the food processor and pulse about 20 times. Return the pasty mixture to yet another large bowl and process the other half of the mixture.

Combine the mixture with panko breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Stir it up.

Measure out the mixture into 1/2 cup portions and shape them into patties that are about 1/2 inch thick and 4 inches wide. You should be able to get about 12 patties. Place the patties on a cookie sheet lined with paper towel to suck out that last bit of water and put them in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Cook the patties in some vegetable oil over medium heat until they are nice and brown. If the pan is good and warm this should take about 5 minutes per side. Be careful not to burn them.

Serve on some nice whole wheat buns with whatever condiments you prefer. These patties have a nice texture, and a pleasant, mild flavor. Definitely my favorite veggie patty recipe that I've tried so far. I have seven more in the freezer right now and can't wait to eat them again next week!


My oven door is fixed! I celebrated with a batch of bagels and a third attempt at ciabatta with a new recipe. Success again with the bagels and success at last with the ciabatta! It came out amazing, with an incredibly tender open crumb, the hallmark of good ciabatta.

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