Meaty. That’s how we all like our burgers. Even the veggie burger has to have that deeply savoury, umami quality of meat to be truly satisfying. The challenge of making a flavour-packed veggie burger for my meat-loving boys made me experiment with everything from tofu to a variety of beans and whole grains. And, in the process I discovered that veggie burgers can be incredibly versatile; even more so than their carnivorous counterparts. Try my Bean & Barley Veggie Burger if you don’t believe me.
The humble soya bean has been around East Asia, specifically China, for thousands of years. The West woke up to it only in the 20th Century and began using it as a high protein food source for animals. Slowly but surely, it started showing up on our plates as well. We are all familiar with edamame (fresh, green soya beans), tofu, soy milk, soy chunks, miso, tempeh etc – soy products that we eat regularly and that form an integral part of the vegetarian diet.
Soya milk is extracted from the beans and is a popular vegan substitute for regular milk. Tofu is made by curdling soya milk and extracting the curds, and coagulating them to form soft or firm chunks, which are high in protein. Miso is nothing but fermented soya bean paste that is widely used to flavour soups and stews. Tempeh is also a form of processed soya that is often used as ‘vegetarian meat’ in Asian dishes.
Vegetarian sausages consist mainly of soya, so I thought why not use the bean itself instead of a factory-processed product, to add meatiness to my veggie burger. Soya bean is rich in protein and has a somewhat salty, fatty flavour that we associate with meat.This makes it perfect for building a very satisfying veggie burger. Dried soya beans are available easily in supermarkets. They contain negligible amounts of fat but are rich in fibre, protein and vitamins, especially B Complex. They are also said to regulate abnormally high levels of oestrogen because they contain a chemical called phytoestrogen. It is thought that they also inhibit the amount of cholesterol that your body absorbs with complex cholesterol-like compounds called phytosterols. Plus, more than anything, soya protein, unlike animal protein contains no bad cholesterol. All the more reason to make that burger.
How to cook soya beans
- Soya beans like most dried beans must be soaked for 7-8 hours before they are cooked, to make them easy to digest.
- After soaking, wash them a few times and discard any skin/husk that separates from the beans.
- Boil the soaked beans in a generous quantity of water till they become soft. Soya beans foam a lot during cooking; adding a few drops of any vegetable oil to them helps reduce the foaming. I prefer to cook them in the pressure cooker, on slow for 20 minutes once the whistle goes off.
- Drain the excess water (I save and use this flavourful water in soups and curries) and wash the beans once again to remove any loose skins.
I wanted to pack my veggie burger with as much flavour as I could and incorporating mushrooms really lifted it up notches in that department. Simply sautéed with onions, button mushrooms ( shitake are even better if you have them, just use a few of them) are a must in a good veggie burger recipe.
Besides soya bean, the other main ingredient in my burger is barley. A nice chewy texture, nutritional density and notes of nuttiness attracted me to barley. This recipe has pearl barley – a form of the grain that has been hulled (husk and bran removed) and cooks faster than hulled barley (barley groats). In most recipes you can substitute one for the other, just remember that groats take longer to cook. I love barley because it reminds me of farms, the earth and the organic connection between the soil and what we put on out plate. It’s a beautiful grain that’s incredibly versatile and oh so good for you. In this veggie burger recipe, the pearl barley has simply been boiled in water, drained and added to the patty mixture. Again, save the slightly cloudy barley water – you can use it for cooking or just chill it and quaff it since it does wonders for your digestive system.
Herbs, spices, bread crumbs and an egg/flax seeds make up the rest of the patty. A couple of eggs help bind the ingredients. If you’d rather not use eggs, substitute each egg with a tablespoon of flax seeds, coarsely powder them, mix in a couple of tablespoons of water and rest for 15 minutes. You’ll end up with a sticky paste that you can combine with the other patty ingredients. It’ll bind the patty and stop it from crumbling while cooking. The very first time I made this burger, I did not add any binder – eggs or flax seeds. Still, the patties turned out fine; I just had to be a little extra careful while flipping them. The lightly mashed soya beans and the barley hold together quite well. An important step in making the burger is chilling the patties for at least 2 hours in the fridge – for better binding and to help dry any extra moisture.
The patties were shallow fried in olive oil and I’m sure they can be cooked on a flat top as well. I fried them for 2-3 minutes on each side to give them a delicious golden brown crust. To make all patties the same size, I weighed each scoop of the mixture before shaping them. These weighed 120g or 4 ounces each – a nice generous size for a decent burger.
The dressing or sauce in my veggie burger is not mayonnaise but an equally creamy, garlicky cashew nut sauce. This sauce can be whizzed up in minutes and requires just 4-5 ingredients. It keeps in the fridge for 3-4 days and makes a wonderful spread for sandwiches and could even serve as a dip.
My burger does not have cheese because this is a healthier version, but you could choose to add your favourite cheese or sliced onions or virtually anything else you like. In fact, this one is just the first one in a long series of veggie burgers running through my imagination. I promise to share them with you. Do keep your suggestions coming on how to make the vegetarian burger experience better.
- For the patty
- 200g dried soya beans
- 100g pearl barley
- 200g button mushrooms, chopped
- 2 small onions, finely chopped
- 2 tsps garlic powder or 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 3 tbsps fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 tbsp light soya sauce
- 1-2 tsps chilli flakes
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 eggs
- Olive oil for frying the patties and cooking the mushrooms
- For the sauce
- 50g cashew nuts soaked overnight
- 2 tsps red miso paste
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- Water as needed
- For the burger
- 6 burger buns
- 2 large tomatoes sliced into rounds
- Lettuce (any variety) leaves, washed and dried
- 1 large cucumber cut into rounds
- Soak the soya beans in water for at least 8 hours. Wash and place in the pressure cooker with water reaching 2 inches above the level of the beans, drizzle a few drops of oil and cook with the whistle on.
- After 1 whistle, reduce the the flame to a minimum and cook for a further 20 minutes.
- Once the steam has cooled, open the cooker, drain the beans and lightly mash with a fork. Leave to cool completely.
- Wash and boil the barley in 3-4 times the quantity of water till the grains are cooked but remain slightly chewy.
- Drain and leave to cool.
- To cook the mushrooms, heat a tbsp of olive oil in a pan and add 1 chopped onion. Sauté till they soften. Now add the mushrooms and cook on medium heat till they are done and all the water has dried up. Season very lightly with salt.
- In a large bowl or food processor, combine all the ingredients for the patty (except the oil) to get a sticky mixture.
- Divide the mixture into 6 parts and weigh them so that each ball of mix is approximately 120g. Shape into patties and chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours.
- Meanwhile make the sauce by whizzing the ingredients in a food processor. Add 1 tbsp of water at a time as and when required to loosen the mixture. The result should be a smooth, creamy, spreadable sauce. Store in an airtight container.
- Once the patties have chilled, heat olive oil in a pan and let it get nice and hot. Fry the patties 3 minutes on each side on medium heat. They must have a golden crust.
- To assemble the burger, lightly toast the halved buns in the same pan and slather generously with the cashew sauce. Place the patty on the bottom half, followed by sliced tomatoes, lettuce and cucumber slices. Top with the bun and serve.
- Prep time doesn't include time taken to soak the soya bean and to chill the patties.