I discovered veggie burgers in London, strangely enough. The residence manager of my flat (who also happened to be a mother-like figure to all 28 of us on the study abroad trip) was a pescetarian but also a big foodie and therefore a powerhouse of knowledge for anyone looking for vegetarian, vegan, and all-around good, organic cuisine. She helped me discover Planet Organic, Food For Thought, Hummus Brothers and, most notably, Mildred’s, a hole-in-the-wall, vegetarian café and restaurant that just so happened to have the best vegetarian burgers and sweet potato fries in the planet. These veggie burgers are by no means a comparison to the flimsy, rubbery things in the frozen food section (do people really eat those?). I would assimilate them to a sturdier version of falafel, a swelling patty of mashed beans and whatever fresh vegetables they had that day (a certain zucchini, sweet corn, olive, and herb version was my favorite). They were served on a seeded bun with arugula and alongside crispy yet tender sweet potato fries and a basil yogurt dipping sauce.
Now I was, and still am, a meat-eater but have made an earnest effort to go meatless a couple days a week in the past 3 years or so. So back in the U.S., I desperately searched for a comparable replacement of my meatless burger only to be met with unfortunate realization. Almost all vegetarian substitutes of commonly meat-containing foods have soy as a prominent ingredient. This is a problem and has been since the first time I ate tofu and ended up with fat swollen lips and an uncomfortably prickling and itching scalp and neck. Soy products and I do not get along (except soy sauce, which for some reason gives a much reduced allergic reaction) so I have since avoided the likes of all veggie burgers in the fear of the hidden evil ingredient.
That is, until I discovered Luna Burgers.
I saw them in the freezer section of a local food co-op, a neat little package of 2 patties in a rustic brown cardboard box. I was dubious when I went to look at the ingredients, expecting the worst. But wait! Was I reading correctly? No soy?! It was just a simple, no-fuss list of basic ingredients: beans, grains, vegetables, and herbs/seasoning. And to make a long story short, the Luna Burgers came home with me. I cooked them up in a frying pan and met the same flavorful, herbaceous, and creamy yet crispy, burger-sensation as I did at Mildred’s. I found myself in veggie burger heaven, so much so that I came up with the brilliant idea of making the exact same thing myself at home. Why does it always come to this – why can’t I just buy already made things like everyone else? But I must say, it was entirely worth it.
Loosely following the ingredients list on the back of the Luna Burger package and guestimating on ingredient amounts, things somehow turned out just right the first time, resulting in 4 patties just over a quarter-pound each. They even looked like beef, tinted red from grated beets. I put the patties in the freezer for future use but you could certainly cook them right away. Just heat a small splash of olive oil in a pan and cook both sides until browned and crisp. I like them on an English muffin with spinach, cucumbers, goat cheese, and sea salt and fresh cracked pepper but the toppings are entirely up to you. Regardless of add-ons, these burgers are crazy good, so I call them Loony Burgers, the soy free, meat free, ridiculously amazing burger.
makes 4 or 5 burgers
½ onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
½ medium beet, peeled and shredded
the leaves from 3 pieces of kale, cut into small ribbons
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1¼ cup cooked barley or other grain, cooked according to package instructions (lentils would make a good substitute for a gluten-free version)
½ cup rolled oats
¼ cup blueberries
½ Tbs. molasses
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
½ Tbs. tahini
½ tsp. cumin
¼ tsp. finely chopped rosemary
salt and pepper, to taste
1 egg (optional)
In a frying pan over medium heat, sauté the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes until soft. Add the carrots, beets, kale, and a good pinch of salt and sauté for an additional minute. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, cooked barley, and oats and use a potato masher to mash everything together until it becomes a sturdy paste. Don’t worry about getting things perfectly smooth. Some remaining whole beans or big chunks will be just fine. Mash in the blueberries until incorporated. Add the cooled, cooked vegetables, the molasses, vinegar, tahini, cumin, rosemary, another good pinch of salt, and some pepper, and use a wooden spoon of a large fork to combine everything together. Taste and add more salt or other seasoning if needed. At this point you can add in a beaten egg (it will help to hold things together) but is not necessary if you want to keep the burgers vegan.
Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Once cool and firm, divide the mixture into 4 or 5 patties (a kitchen scale works well here to keep them the same size). You can either cook them right away or set them on a parchment lined baking sheet and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, pack the patties into a freezer safe container with a piece of parchment between each patty so they don’t stick. To cook, defrost overnight in the refrigerator or, if you are impatient like me, in the defrost setting of the microwave, and pan-fry in a bit of olive oil until hot and crisp. Assemble on a bun or English muffin with toppings of your choice.