Chef Matthew Andrews and his tremendous, tasty  tofu burger.
Chef Matthew Andrews and his tremendous, tasty tofu burger. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

Jane Holroyd

Good vegetarian burgers can be difficult to find. Even patties that win points for flavour can lose their appeal when they fall apart and turn to burger sludge on your plate at the pub.

Barbecue at a friend's house? Your meat-eating pals might – if you're lucky – begrudge you a small corner of the hot plate for those home-made vegie patties, only to curse you when they disintegrate and leave a lentil or soy smear on their sirloin ...

Well, rest easy. Matthew Andrews is a chef who knows a thing or two about burgers of the non-meat kind; he stopped eating meat in his teens and is now head chef and owner of funky vegetarian canteen Munsterhaus in Melbourne's Fitzroy North.

The finished pattie with Japanese mayonnaise, Sririacha sauce, carrot, beetroot, daikon, Swiss chard, tomato and cucumber. Click for more photos

How to make a mean vegie burger

The finished pattie with Japanese mayonnaise, Sririacha sauce, carrot, beetroot, daikon, Swiss chard, tomato and cucumber. Photo: Melanie Faith Dove

  • Combine all the ingredients to form a sticky pattie dough.
  • Shape mixture into firm patties about 15mm thick.
  • Coat the patties in besan flour (chick pea flour) to prevent them sticking to barbecue or pan.
  • Fry patties on each side for five minutes, or until golden brown. Slip spatula under patties five seconds after they hit the hot plate or pan, to prevent sticking.
  • The finished burger with Matthew's onw Japanese mayonnaise, some Sririacha sauce, carrot, beetroot, daikon, Swiss chard, tomato and cucumber on a brioche bun.

When he wants to make a burger that holds true and tastes good, he turns to tofu.

Matthew Andrews' no-fail vegie burger (two flavours)

INGREDIENTS

200g firm tofu

200g okara* (or substitute 200g bread crumbs or 200g tempeh)

100g tapioca starch

2 eggs (20ml mirin for vegan option)

Besan flour to coat burgers (chick pea flour)

Oil for frying

Flavourings, as outlined in option one and two below

* Okara is cooked, ground soy beans and is a byproduct of tofu and soy milk production. It has a fluffy, slightly moist texture. Andrews likes to use it in burgers because of its binding properties, good texture and high protein content (about 28 per cent). However, it can be difficult to source (see Andrews' tips on sourcing okara at bottom of this story).

Option one: For a Mediterranean-flavoured burger, add the following ingredients to the burger mix

50g tomato paste

3 tsp minced garlic

*10g mushroom stock

3 tsp minced basil

Salt and pepper to taste

* Mushroom stock is freeze-dried shiitake stock available at Asian grocers. Make sure you get one with no MSG. It is an awesome ingredient to have on-hand. You can also get mushroom stock cubes at the supermarket, they would be fine as an alternative.

Option two: For an Asian-flavoured burger, add the following ingredients to the burger mix

100g carrot

100g sweet potato

20g mushroom stock (see note above)

50g peanut butter

50g ground ginger and garlic

3 tsp chilli sauce (hot or sweet)

10g arame (mild seaweed)

METHOD

Blitz the tofu, okara (bread crumbs or tempeh) and tapioca starch in a food processor until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

Combine with remaining ingredients by hand in a mixing bowl.

Form patties about 15mm thick by hand, then coat with besan flour. (Besan flour is available at Indian grocers. It will give the burgers a nice crust and will not discolour the pattie.)

Fry on a well-oiled hotplate or frypan on a low heat.

Cook for about five minutes on each side until patties are golden brown.

Serve with your choice of bun, condiments and salad fillings.

Makes 7-10 burgers

Tips:

  • After the first 5 seconds of frying, slide a spatula under the burger to release it from the pan and to prevent it sticking.
  • This recipe copes well with variations. Add seeds and nuts to the pattie mix, or try different herbs.


Matthew Andrews' other barbecue favourites:

  • Garlic and butter-smeared barbecued field mushrooms.
  • A cob of corn, soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in its husk on the barbecue with lid down.
  • A tofu "steak" (slab of tofu) marinated in tamari, garlic, chilli and sesame oil and then dusted in polenta to prevent it sticking to the hotplate/fry pan.
  • Fried chips of tempeh are delicious in salads, or even trail mix. Cut the tempeh very thinly, and shallow fry in canola and rice bran oil until crispy. Fried tempeh can be stored in a jar for a month unrefrigerated.


Buying fresh okara

Fresh okara is not typically sold in retail grocery stores. To buy fresh okara you will have to find a soy milk producer, or a tofu producer (Melbourne's Tofu Shop International in Richmond will give okara to customers who buy their tofu). You could also try asking for leads at an all-natural grocery store or, call a local restaurant that serves tofu and ask if they make their tofu in-house.

Buying dried okara

Okara has a very short shelf life (much like tofu and soy milk). If you do find okara in a retail market it will most likely be dried. Look for dried okara in Japanese or Asian food markets. Okara (a Japanese name) goes by many different names - soy pulp, kirazu, unohana, douzha, ampas tahu - so be patient and persistent in your search. Dried okara can be easily reconstituted for recipes that call for fresh okara.

Buying soybeans

If you can't find a nearby venue that makes their own tofu or an Asian supermarket that sells dried okara, another option is to make your own. Soybeans can be bought at your local grocer, and you can make tofu and soy milk in your own kitchen. Both produce okara as a byproduct.

Matthew Andrews was born into a family of butchers; seven generations' worth in fact. Working in an abattoir during his mid-teens, he realised the family business was not for him and he never touched meat again.