Homemade Veggie Burgers & American Cheese: Work That Patty Without a Recipe

Right before I woke up yesterday morning, I was trapped in a dream that I was eating a juicy burger with American Cheese and French Fries. The burger was glistening, there was ketchup everywhere, I was desperate for a paper towel. Then I woke up, and my pillow had apparently participated in my dream. I knew that my day would have a mission: to not feel self-conscious about drooling over my pillow and telling people about it on the internet to make my own vegetarian burger with American Cheese.

I know the unnatural orange and “no artificial flavors” declaration paired with the no-detectable-real-food-product present aside from “Milk” (which the packaging asserts the product contains — and, which I’m sure the definition of can be disputed or widely interpreted these days) of American Cheese seems antithetical to a healthy vegetarian diet, but this is a burger we’re talking about, not haute cuisine. Burgers traditionally have just as much mystery ingredient and content confusion about what they really are as this amazing Kraft Cheese Product. Leave me alone, OK?

So, why am I dreaming about Burgers? I’ve been unemployed for almost two weeks now, and not having to work has freed up my schedule and my creativity for cooking. I’m actually nourishing myself these days instead of cramming sandwiches stacked with lettuce and cheese in my gullet so I can get my job done. At least once a month, I wind up craving a burger as a source of iron. A Beef burger is a great, easy stop to take care of that problem, but I’m not on auto-pilot these days about my eating and I’m laying off the animals. This self-assigned burger project was not only a great way to take a break from trolling craigslist and mediabistro for jobs, it gave me the chance to use up some of the stuff in my fridge and listen to what my body was telling me it needed (desperately… to have covered with American Cheese).

This recipe turned out to have a few great iron sources in it: Tofu, Black Beans, and Cashews.

For this round of Veggie Burgers, I made 3 Patties, but realistically, it could’ve been stretched out to be 4 or 5. These things were pretty big.

Here’s what I used to create the patty for my veggie burger:

  • 1 1/2 cups chopped Seitan (homemade using the recipe on Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten Package)
  • 1 Portobello Mushroom cap chopped & sauteed
  • 2-3 inch wedge of Extra Firm Nasoya Tofu (I pressed it between some paper towels to get the moisture out)
  • 3/4 cup dried Black Beans simmered in about 1 1/2 cups Organic Vegetable Stock, Sherry Cooking Wine, a Bay leaf, cumin seeds, and garlic
  • a hand-full of Cashews
  • a hand-full of Flax Seeds

Here’s what I used to spice things up:

  • Garlic ( 2 cloves, micro-planed)
  • Cumin Seed (about 1 tsp)
  • Bay Leaf (1 leaf)
  • Nutritional Yeast (about 3 tbsps)
  • Dijon Mustard (1 tbsps)
  • Horseradish spread(2 tbsps… or 1 2-second squirt out of the bottle)
  • Bread Crumbs ( 1/4 cup)
  • Salt (4 tsps)

The fun thing about making a veggie burger is that it can be a fun smorgasbord of whatever the fuck you have in your refrigerator that works as a protein and can be bound together in patty form. It’s fun to roll with my instincts in the kitchen and explore, throwing in whatever oddity I feel like. I’ve been a committed vegetarian since the beginning of 2013, and I’m gradually learning about what items are must-haves in the kitchen in order to make sure I’m getting enough protein and not overloading on easy-to-eat-really-fast things like tortilla chips. I would say that seitan and tofu are probably two of the most important things to have on hand, but beans are also extremely important (I’ll have to revisit the bean topic later as I recently acquired A TON of them). Back to the Veggie Burgers!

1. The beans will take the longest, so get started with this.

  • Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and let it heat up.
  • Meanwhile, using a microplane, shred two cloves of garlic.
  • When the oil is hot, throw in some cumin seeds (1 tsp if you don’t trust yourself to eyeball an appropriate amount), add a bay leaf, and let the seeds cook for a little while until they begin to sputter.
  • Add the garlic and sautee for about 30 seconds.
  • Place the dried beans in a saucepan and add the vegetable stock and sherry cooking wine. At this point, I remembered I had a huge mason jar of Flax Seeds, so I threw in some of those guys too.
  • Bring the Black Beans & Flax seeds to a boil then reduce heat and simmer. Add the garlic, cumin, and bay leaf. Cover the beans and let them simmer for about 2 hours until soft and mashable.

2. Next, the portobello mushroom and the cashews.

  • Lightly scrape out the gills on the underside of the mushroom using a spoon.
  • Slice the mushroom into cubes and heat up a little more olive oil in your frying pan.
  • When the pan is hot, add the mushrooms. This is where I threw in the cashews.
  • Sautee the mushrooms until soft and the cashews until they begin to brown.

3. Seitan time.

  • If you buy seitan in the grocery store, it will probably come in pretty small chunks or cubes. If you make it yourself, it varies in size. I had 2 inch chunks on hand, but I chopped it up so that the pieces were small bean-sized.
  • Throw your seitan into a blender. Add the mushroom and the cashews.
  • Add the horseradish.
  • Blend the seitan, mushrooms, horseradish, and cashews until the pieces are smaller and more homogenous looking.

4. Crumble some tofu.

  • Slice off a piece of tofu from the brick and wrap it in paper towels. I tend to get impatient at this point and I wind up gently squeezing out the moisture, but I heard that patient people like to put the tofu between paper towels weighted down by plates to dry it out a little.
  • Crumble the tofu into a mixing bowl.
  • Add nutritional yeast, dijon mustard. Mix together.

5. Black Beans are ready.

  • Most of the vegetable stock should be vaporized/absorbed by the beans at this point. Using a mesh-strainer, I squeezed out excess liquid from the beans.
  • Add the beans, tofu, and seitan, and work the mixture together. Add bread crumbs to the mixture.

6. Make some patties.

  • For this part, it helps to have plastic wrap and something you can use as a ring mold to guide your patty’s shape. I used the top of a quart container.
  • Lay down the plastic wrap first, then scoop some of the burger mixture on top.
  • Because these burgers are squishy by nature, it’ll behoove you to make the burgers a little smaller and squatter than the bun you plan to put them on.

7. Throw that shit on a pan.

  • Heat up some Pam on a frying pan and heat up the veggie burgers. It should take 3-4 minutes on either side over medium heat. 

These burgers were definitely as flavorful and protein rich as I was hoping. A challenge with assembling a burger that isn’t made out of flesh is that vegetable protein is much squishier and needs some help getting its act together and staying intact. I found that the American Cheese I melted on top of my burger worked well as an adhesive, but the edges still managed to squeeze out a little from under the bun. What can you do? At least it’s not beefy grease.