So I’ve been working on getting into the habit of cooking in a more healthy way for myself at home. While I’ve prepared vegetarian, vegan, and other health-centered options when I was working in the food service industry, I do not usually take those options when cooking for myself at home. Thankfully, since returning from the Trail, I have been staying with a family from church who has made a consistent habit of eating healthy, so I’ve got some great peer pressure to shape up. So this week I took a try at homemade vegetarian burger patties.
A word about how I come up with recipe ideas. I’ve been kicking this around in my head for about a week or two after seeing a similar recipe elsewhere. (Unfortunately, I no longer can remember the original site where I saw the idea) Once I start thinking about a recipe, I search around online and try to look at three or four different recipes for either the same basic dish or a few similar dishes. The goal of this is two fold. I first want to have an idea of how the recipe needs to work. Unfortunately, I am not an actual scientist, so I can’t really figure out for myself how things like sugars, starches, proteins, and fats can work together structurally in a given dish. I do know generally how say, protein gives the needed strength to hold a cake together, or sugars can let a baked good get a golden brown crust, but I need to have a chance to look at these other examples to really get a feel for these ratios are working in other recipes before I take a try to craft my own. It gives me a baseline. The second reason I look at different recipes is because I want to get ideas for what kinds of changes could be made, as well as what other people have already tried. For example, if I see someone else has a recipe for a pumpkin and black bean enchilada (which is delicious, btw!) I’m not likely to try that particular combination myself, at least not if it’s a recipe I’m planning to post online. I feel like even if I tweaked the recipe, that still amounts to me stealing someone else’s idea, so I wouldn’t put it together unless I was making some kind of change that set my recipe significantly apart from theirs. (Pumpkin chili instead maybe?)
So with all of this in mind, I took a try at these vegetarian burgers. I started with some brown rice that I’d made earlier in the week. I usually will make a large batch of brown rice and use it as a cheap meal throughout the week. You can throw a spoonful of leftover rice into some scramble eggs or vegetables to round out a quick meal, it’s a great way to add some body to a dish, as well as some fiber and other nutrition.
I took the leftover brown rice and put it in a food processor to break it down with four or five pulses. I could probably make this dish without breaking down the rice, but I think this will help the whole thing combine a little better and create a more consistent texture. Once this is done, pour the ground rice into a seperate mixing bowl.
Next, I’ll take some cooked black beans and drain them. You can use canned (I did here) but if you have the time to cook your own beans in a crock pot overnight, then allow them to cool, I think you’d get better flavor. You can season the beans yourself that way and pursue a more distinct flavor profile. Canned beans tend to be more bland, not long because they’re processed, but because they need to be able to be used in a variety of dishes.
Once the beans are drained, we’ll spread them out on a sheet pain and put them in a 250 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. The goal is to dry the beans out so that less moisture gets added to the dish. I baked mine for about ten minutes and it was still too mushy, so I’m recommending a longer drying period here. Once they’re dried, you’ll need to let the beans cool back down to room temperature before doing anything further with them. Fortunately, we have a few other things to work on. Also, turn your oven down to 200 degrees, we’ll be using it later.
Next, we’re going to start adding some veggies. I have this container of some red onions and garlic that I had sweated in olive oil and salt a few days ago, we’ll add them to the food processor, pulse for about twenty seconds.
Next, we’ll take some corn and do the same with that. This we don’t want to process too much because I like the look and texture that will come from at least a portion of the corn being whole, however at least some of it needs processed to help hold the burger together. You’ll note we left the onions in the processor bowl when we added the corn. This will help mix the two together. Once processed, we’ll add both to the mixing bowl with the rice.
Next we’ll need to add some bread crumbs, which will help absorb some extraneous moisture and hold the burgers together. You could use some premade croutons that you could buy from the grocery store, but I’m a big fan of making homemade croutons. It only took a few minutes. I took five slices of bread and cut them into cubes. Toss those cubes in bowl with some olive oil, salt, garlic powder, and an Italian seasoning blend. Once the bread cubes are thoroughly mixed with this dressing, lay them out on a sheet pan and place in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. (Watch them closely to ensure they don’t burn.) Remove from the oven, allow your croutons to cool before throwing them into the food processor for a few pulses to turn them to crumbs. If you need this recipe to be gluten free, replace these bread crumbs with some toasted oats instead, works just as well. Add to your mixing bowl. By now our black beans should be cooled off enough that we can run them through the food processor as well. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of this step, but I’m sure you can imagine was ground up beans looks like.
Now we’ve got everything in the mixing bowl, we’re going to stir a few times to begin ensuring that it’s all mixing together well. Crack a few eggs on top and mix again. The eggs will act as protein to help bind the burgers together and provide some strength and structure. Note, at this point the burgers are no longer technically vegetarian. To correct that, drop the eggs and replace them with silken tofu mixed with a small amount (a tablespoon or so) of almond milk.
Mix the bowl completely. Now we’ll scatter over the mix parmesan cheese as well as any seasoning we’d like. (Again, if you want truly vegetarian burgers, drop the cheese from yours) I’d recommend some sriracha sauce, garlic and onion powder, and some smoked paprika. At this point, I’d recommend putting your bowl in the refrigerator for about an hour or so to let everything come together. Unfortunately, I’m running late for having dinner ready, so I’m gonna go ahead and make the patties right away.
Alright, almost time for food. I’m using a large electric griddle to cook on, set to 325 degrees. We’ll take the our mix and portion out into patties. I took a large tablespoon and two spoonfuls to make each patty. Shape them and flatten them out in your hands, then set evenly spaced out on the griddle, with at least a half inch to an inch in between each patty. We’ll let them cook for a few minutes on each side. We’re looking for a nice toasted brown crust. Once we’ve got that, put the burgers on a sheet pan and place in your 200 degree oven for ten minutes to ensure they’re cooked through as well.
For serving, I liked having some fresh tomatoes. We each tried something different, I put some blue cheese dressing, one friend used barbecue sauce, and a second friend used soy sauce. I actually liked the soy sauce better, which makes sense since rice makes up a significant portion of these. I really liked how these turned out, but I also really like how the recipe can be played around with, used as a refrigerator magnet, tossing in all your random leftovers or hangaround veggies. Try some broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower. The first batch came out a little bland, so I’d encourage you to be as brave with your spices as you want to be, but it gives you some great room to experiment.