Fresh Garden East/West Veggieburger
What to do when some of the guests at a backyard barbeque, the ultimate meatfest, are vegans? The usual answer to this is to make a double dose of salad and be done with it. But my feeling is, just as it's unacceptable these days to tell wheelchair users to use the back entrance, making burgers for some and salad for the others isn't quite right. Even if you're not ready to join them, you have to respect their choices.
Veggieburgers have been around forever. In the sixties and early seventies when we were all cooking from Diet for a Small Planet and eating at macrobiotic restaurants you could have a veggie burger every night of the week and never see the same preparation twice. Most of them tasted like processed carpet sweepings, but we were saving the planet and keeping ourselves in balance so we didn't mind.
Of course, there are all sorts of frozen and just-add-water veggieburgers and mixes available in the natural foods section of the supermarket, but, since I think slow food is good food, I decided to make my own from scratch. I usually use eggs to hold patties like this together, and routinely make sauces based on mayonnaise, so I welcomed the challenge to make a good-tasting burger which contained no animal products at all.
I started with an old favorite around here: the Asparagus Rice (asuparagasu gohan) from Shizuo Tsuji's Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art. Not only is the asparagus cooked with the rice, but the liquid is flavored with Liquid Smoke, saké and soy sauce, all of which impart a strongly satisfying flavor to the rice. Also, the asparagus pieces hold their juice, which goes a long way towards overcoming the dryness issue with veggieburgers. From there, the idea was to loosely follow the Japanese onigiri concept, which is to add flavoring items to riceballs before grilling, although in onigiri the additions and fillings are usually hidden inside the riceball.
The sauce was a bit of a challenge, since my sauces frequently contain eggs, but the puree of tofu and flavorings turned out to be a hit both with the vegans and the carnivores, as was the grilled endive topping. Of course, the red onion, tomato and cucumber in the burger added further to its fresh garden appeal.
Bottom line: I like my regular burgers, but the increasingly hard-to-avoid reports on industrialized meat and egg production do give pause. The veggieburger is sort of a stunt in which the cook simulates a meat-based product with non-animal products, so it seems to me that the only reason to do that is to satisfy the urge to rise to the occasion of a kitchen challenge. There are lots of easier and more sensible ways to reduce or eliminate the use of animal products in cooking, but this was fun. And it was appreciated as a gesture of equality by the vegan guests.
Fresh Garden East/West Veggieburgers
2 cups water
2 drops Liquid Smoke
5 tablespoon soy sauce
5 tablespoon saké
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
1-1/2 cups short-grained rice (Kokuho Rose or similar)
8 spears asparagus, ends snapped off, cut in 3/4" pieces
1 tablespoon canola or other vegetable oil
2 medium carrots, peeled, minced
1 small onion, minced
2 medium ribs celery, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup firm tofu
1/2 cup additional water
1/2 cup wheat flour
2 teaspoons salt
8 scallions, minced
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted, roughly chopped
1/2 cup flat-leafed parsley, minced
2 fresh hot red chiles, minced
1/4 cup firm tofu
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese bean paste
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, minced
Toppings: Grilled Endive, cucumber slices, red onion slices, tomato slices
Buns: Squares cut from Rosemary Focaccia
Mix the 2 cups water with the Liquid Smoke, soy sauce, saké and ginger. Cook the rice in the liquid in a rice cooker. After ten minutes with the "cooking" light on, stir the asparagus into the rice and close cooker to continue cooking. Keep warm until needed.
Sauté the carrots, onions, and celery in the oil about 8 min on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Vegetables should be cooked but retain some crunch. Add the garlic and stir for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, mix the tofu, 1/2 cup additional water and flour. Process until smooth, about two minutes.
Turn the rice into a bowl and add to it the cooked vegetables, the salt, scallions, pine nuts, parsley, minced chiles and the tofu mixture. Mix well, and, with wet hands, form into 6 burgers. Allow to rest at least 20 minutes before grilling.
Place all the sauce ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process for about two minutes, until the sauce is smooth and well-emulsified.
To grill burgers, spray both sides of the patties with vegetable oil. Spray hamburger frame, place patties in frame and grill over a medium-hot fire, 5 minutes on each side. (See Grill Basics for equipment and procedure.)
Toast focaccia squares on the grill until just starting to brown, about 3 - 4 minutes.