In my lifetime, I have seen enough sloppy-drunk vegetarians mow through junk food with such focus and intensity to confirm one true fact: these people like to indulge in delicious crap as much as the rest of us.
Somehow along the way we got all muddled up and decided that by its very nature, vegetarian food needed to represent at least some aspects of health food culture. Vegetarian and vegan food got all looped in with things like brown rice, kale, and other wildly uninspiring, eye-roll-inducing symbols of health.
What follows here is a burger that flies in the face of wellness. A burger that looks so much like a beef burger, not only because of its convincingly meaty patty, but because of its association with such riffraff as processed cheese, white bread, and an obscene amount of mayonnaise-laced sauce. In other words, the perfect burger.
Also, can we have a quick round-table discussion regarding why people get so uppity about processed cheese? I’m not advocating that you try to put it on your charcuterie board, but for god’s sake, processed cheese has its place in the world and that place is atop a glistening burger patty. If you feel like throwing shade to processed cheese, go for it; I’m sure you’ll find numerous sympathetic ears to hear you out (but none of them will be making you this burger so….). If, however, you want to step back into childhood nostalgia, or if you never grew out of those plastic-wrapped slices in the first place, then come on over to the dark side with me. We have burgers here…and they’re real trashy.
BA’s Best: Veggie Burger
Taken directly from BA’s Best arsenal, with some delicious tweaks here and there
¼ cup pearl barley
1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed
5 tbsp olive/vegetable oil, divided
1 14.5-ounce (428 ml) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ cup roasted cashews (salted or unsalted)
1 tbsp old-fashioned oats (not quick-cooking)
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp miso paste (I used this kind!)
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp honey
½ tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
¼ cup crumbled feta or queso fresco
6 brioche buns
6 tbsp soft butter
Generous ½ cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp ketchup
1 ½ tbsp lemon juice (~ ½ lemon)
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 tbsp finely chopped Italian/flat-leaf parsley
Dash of hot sauce
Butter lettuce leaves
4-6 large Roma tomatoes, sliced thickly
12 slices American cheese (e.g. Kraft singles)
Get your burger patties prepped and ready to fry before doing anything else. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set a small pot of salted water on the stove to boil over medium heat. Once boiling, pour in the barley and cook for 40-50 minutes, until very tender. Drain the barley and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, chop the mushroom caps into small pieces. I cut mine into bigger pieces (about ½-inch size), but I really like the firm meatiness of mushrooms and the varied texture that bigger pieces give you. If you are not a huge fan of mushrooms, I would advise cutting them into ¼ -inch pieces or whatever size you feel you can handle chewing through. Don’t go too small though as the mushrooms fight the mush-factor by making the burgers firmer. Arrange the mushroom pieces in a single, even layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tbsp oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until the mushrooms have lost half of their volume and are tender, 15-20 minutes. It is crucial that the mushrooms lose most of their liquid, otherwise your patty will not reach a desirable texture. Transfer the mushrooms to a large plate and let cool to room temperature.
Wipe down the baking sheet used for mushrooms and dump the black beans onto it in a single layer. Roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing once, until most of them have split open and look dry around the edges. The beans are non-negotiable in this recipe as they serve a crucial binding purpose.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook the chopped onion and garlic, stirring frequently, until soft and golden-brown (about 8-10 minutes). Let cool.
Pulse the cashews and oats in a food processor until they are finely ground. Pour into a large mixing bowl along with the cooled barley, mushrooms, beans, and onion-garlic mixture. In a separate, small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, yolk, miso paste, chilli powder, honey, and smoked paprika until smooth. Stir this into your mushroom-bean mixture. Mash the mixture together with a potato masher until well-blended and sticky (about 2 minutes). Transfer about half of the mixture to your food processor (don’t bother cleaning the cashew-oat residue out of it) and pulse until very finely chopped. Return this to the bowl with the remaining burger mix. Stir in the cheddar and feta/queso fresco. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When I say to taste, I mean to your taste, as in TASTE the burger mix and season it to your liking. Don’t assume that the secret sauce and cheese will do the heavy lifting when it comes to seasoning. Season that shit up right now.
Lay a large piece of parchment paper out on your workspace. Divide the burger mixture into 6 equal lumps on the parchment paper and shape into thick, round patties (a bit smaller than your buns). If not cooking immediately, cut the parchment paper around the patties into large squares and stack the patties atop one another in a lidded container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
Prior to cooking your burgers, whisk together all of the ingredients for the secret sauce in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Take care of any topping prep that needs doing (lettuce washed, tomatoes sliced, cheese slices unwrapped, etc).
Once you’re ready to start cooking the burgers, place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and set it aside. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, gently place 2 burger patties in the pan. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, until a dark brown crust has formed on the bottom of the patty. These burgers do tend to look a bit burnt, but I found that that slight bit of char actually helped with their meaty taste and fast-food burger appeal. Just don’t take it too far.
Flip the patties and immediately top the cooked sides with 2 slices of processed cheese each. Cook for another 3 minutes or so, until the bottom is well-crusted and the cheese has melted (plop a lid on the pan if the cheese is slow to melt, but generally I find processed cheese melts almost disturbingly quickly). Wipe out any burnt bits or residue from the pan, and repeat the process with the remaining burgers. Make sure you add 1 tbsp of oil to the pan prior to frying each batch. Place the cooked burgers on your rack-lined baking sheet and tent loosely with aluminum foil.
Once the burgers are done cooking, wipe out the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Split and butter your brioche buns, then cook butter-side down in the hot pan until lightly toasted. I like to smoosh the buns down while they cook to give you that In-N-Out smash burger effect. To serve the burgers, place a spoonful of secret sauce on the bottom half of each bun, then top with a patty, lettuce, tomato, and pickles (if using). Spread the top half of each bun with more secret sauce before placing atop your burger, your burger of glory.