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Burger Queen

March 5, 2010


 I’ve been vegetarian for fifteen years now, and I honestly don’t miss meat (no, not even bacon sandwiches), but there’s something about the idea of a burger that really appeals to me. I think it’s partly that American Diner vibe – I love the thought of sitting in a big shiny plastic booth with some Bryl creamed guy called Buddy, with Bill Haley on the juke box, and tucking into a massive burger and fries with ketchup liberally applied from a squeezy tomato shaped dispenser. It’s proper Fun Food with two capital Fs. (Incidentally  fast food places normally make me want to puke, but I love those 50’s themed diners that serve huges “shakes” and have naff pictures of James Dean on the walls. I love them even more when all the staff have really broad Cardiff accents.)

I’ve always found shop bought veggie burgers a bit unsatisfying. Either they’re trying far too hard to imitate meat (I’ve never quite understood the obsession with creating “vegetarian meat”), or they’re so wheat based that when you serve them in the traditional bun you’re basically eating a bread sandwich. Making my own always seemed like a good challenge.

I will confess, the first few batches I tried were a bit disastrous. The consistency of the mix is the important thing – I’ve made many a batch of “burgers” that were far too liquid to actually shape into any solid form, and ended up turning the mix into a sauce and serving with rice. You can also end up going the other way, making it too dry, or with the ingredient chopped too coarsely – then everything goes crumbly and falls apart. No good.

Through trial and error though, I think I’m getting there – the batch I made on Wednesday night were pretty damn ace actually. I think, apart from consistency, the secret is to keep the ingredients list pretty short. You want something to give it bulk (lentils or pulses), something to stick it together (eggs in my case, though the next project is to come up with a vegan version, possibly based on tahini…), and something to stop it being too sticky (flour or oats), you can add a few bits of veg, but too many and it just doesn’t seem to bond together as well – it’s better to add the favour with herbs and spices. Anyway – here goes:

Near-Perfect Veggie Burgers

This whole process will take about an hour from start to finish, and it will make a complete disaster zone of your kitchen. Hence it’s probably not something you’ll want to attempt as a quick meal between coming in from the office and going out again. Instead, I suggest you do it every now and again and make an enormous batch (I made twenty burgers this week) – they freeze really well, so they’ll keep you in “convenience food” for a while.


Lentils (I used a mix of split red and puy – half an average bag – or 250g should make you a good batch of burgers)

Cooked rice (about half the amount as you have of lentils)

A carrot – diced very small, or grated

An onion – diced very small

Two cloves of garlic – crushed, or finely chopped

Two eggs, lightly beaten

Wholemeal flour (you can also use finely ground oats)

Herbs or spices of your choice (I went down the curry route and used chilli flakes, turmeric and cumin, but you could use anything really. I bet smoked paprika is good)


Put the lentils in a pan with the carrot and onion and some water and bring to the boil, boil until the lentils are fairly soft, then drain.

Grab a hand blender and blend the drained lentil and veg mix to a squishy pulp. (If you don’t have a hand blender you should a) go out and get one because they’re amazing, and b)mash the mix up with a potato masher or similar in the meantime – it needn’t be really liquidy, more of a thick paste, like paper mache).


Now add the rice, spices and garlic to the lentil mache – stir in with a wooden spoon.  Then add the eggs and stir those in. Now start adding handfuls of flour and stirring well between each one – you want to keep adding until it gets too tough to mix with the spoon and you have to get your hands in there, you should be able to roll it into fairly firm balls in your hands.


Now cover a surface in a layer of flour. Start forming the mix into patties (I love that word) – I do this by rolling it into balls then flattening them. Turn them over a few times on the floured surface and sprinkle if necessary. You want them to be flour coated enough not to stick to the pan.


Once you’ve made all your patties, I find it helps to leave them sit there a minute or two , before heating some oil in a big frying pan and sliding the burgers into it. Fry them a few minutes on each side (I like to flip them four or five times during cooking to make sure they’re doing OK).


And you’re done! Eat a couple straight from the pan, and freeze the rest (they’re nice done under the grill when you’re reheating). Obviously you’ll want to stick some Elvis records on and eat these with buns and chips (a peculiarly English sentence there I feel),  but they’re also a bit falafel-y if you use chilli in them, so do try them in pittas with houmous and salad as well, for a slightly more middle class burger experience.





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