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.
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)
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 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)
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
- 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.
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.