BBQ, with relish

Andreae Prozesky goes all veggie BBQ

Just because I’ve been converted to omnivorism doesn’t mean I don’t still enjoy a good veggie burger. A person can’t go from zero to all-beef just like that.

You would think that summertime, with its abundance of produce and too-hot-for-grease weather, would be a great culinary season for the herbivores out there. But having spent many a summer as a vegetarian, I can tell you that the months between the lugging home of the new propane tank at the end of May, and the final knuckle-singeing flare-ups of September blur into one long meaty grill-fest.

Avid readers will remember that this time last year I argued for the inclusion of stuffed vegetables with veggie gravy on the cook-out menu, for the sake of gentle vegan friends who might not want to make a dinner of white burger bun and garnishings.

This time around, however, I offer you my favourite of the homemade burger patties: the walnut-lentil burger.

There are two sorts of vegetarian-friendly burgers: You’ve got your fake meat burgers on one hand, and, on the other, your nothing-like-meat burgers. I’m not sure the fake meat burgers taste much like meat at all; they tend to taste more like sugary barbecue sauce. They’re usually made of highly processed soy, and they’re not particularly good for you, but they have lots of protein and look kind of like the other burgers on the grill, so I guess they keep awkward teenaged vegetarians from feeling too conspicuous.

I’m a fan of the nothing-like-meat burger, myself.

Why should food try to be something it’s not? Wherefore the pressure to disguise one’s true identity? Especially if the result is neither convincing nor delicious? A not-at-all-meat-like veggie burger patty is really just a manner of vegetable croquette—that is, a fried, circular parcel of food—stuffed into a bun with some condiments and eaten with tremendous joy.

(You wanted me to say “eaten with relish” there, didn’t you? And they call me the Food Nerd!)

You can take a veggie burger patty in any direction, provided you have some kind of pasty, starchy stuff to stick things together, and a good amount of flavour to oomph it up. When I developed this recipe I used as a base the miraculous import product known as “hummus-in-a-can,” which was available for about $0.99 at all the Middle-Eastern grocery shops in my neighbourhood in Montreal. Here in town you can get hummus-in-a-can (Clic and Cedar are two common brands) at a few specialty food shops. It’s basically an ultra-smooth purée of chickpeas, tahini, and salt, so if you don’t want to mess about with a tin of chickpeas and a food processor, a ½ tin of hummus-in-a-can, straight out of the tin, can replace the chickpeas and tahini in the recipe below. Don’t use actual hummus, because it’s way too thin and oily to hold everything together.

The chickpea-lentil-walnut mixture is too delicate to throw on the grill, so you won’t get the same smoky flavour as the meat burgers (you also won’t get any burnt-on old meaty bits, either, so that’s a plus.) I suppose that if you wanted to, you could fry them in a pan ahead of time and reheat them over the flames in one of those metal fish-roasting contraptions. Or in one of those long-handled wiry baskets for grilling vegetables. Go ahead and experiment. Unlike meat patties, these won’t shrink as they cook, so make them roughly the size of the buns you plan to stuff them into. Although the flavours are kind of eastern, these burgers go perfectly well with ketchup and mustard.

And relish. Let’s not forget the relish. Don’t forget to eat them with relish.

Walnut lentil burgers

Makes 4-6 patties

3/4 cups canned chickpeas, drained and puréed (start with 1 cup, as the volume will reduce as it whirrs around in your food processor)
2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 cup cooked green or brown lentils (French “Dupuys” lentils are best, or Egyptian brown lentils, if you can find them)
1/2 cup cooked basmati rice
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup shredded carrot or cooked, drained spinach, chopped
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 teaspoon garam masala
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable or grapeseed oil for frying

Combine everything except the oil in a large bowl. Using your hands, shape the mixture into burger-sized patties. Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan and cook on medium-low heat 5-8 minutes on each side, until browned.

Serve in buns with desired condiments.
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