[Apologies for the lapse here. I hope you didn’t miss Martha Rose Shulmans’ great column a few weeks ago in the New York Times that focuses on veggie burgers.]
This burger has been in the works for a little while. The seeds were planted sometime two years ago, when I started making my own kimchi. I first used it as a condiment for veggie burgers, and from there, it wasn’t long before I thought to use it in the veggie burgers. But it took a while before I got the formula right. As usual, I wanted to add too much—watercress, chard, bok choy, tofu, seitan—and each previous attempt resulted in a flavor that was cloudy at best, and unpalatable at worst. So I did as Amanda Hesser advised in an interview that I can no longer locate (I’m paraphrasing): Cooking is similar to that rule about dressing yourself, take one item off before you leave the house.
I actually took a few items off and pared this one down to its bare essentials: rice, kimchi, scallions, a few Asian flavoring agents, and a binder. I wanted this burger to be vegan, so from the outset I nixed eggs. As mentioned, I tried tofu, blitzed into a paste and then stirred in, and that just muddied everything up. I thought back to my first experiments with vegan binders, when I found rice flour to have some admirable qualities. So I went with that—rice flour, water, and a pinch of salt whisked together—and it worked perfectly.
Also worth mentioning is that while my method has always been to sear veggie burgers in a skillet then finish cooking them in the oven—this results in the best texture, I find—a fella can’t change his ways every once in a while. I discovered recently that by swapping the order—oven first, then sear in a skillet—you eliminate the danger of the burgers crumbling apart as you flip them. This is especially good with more delicate mixtures.
With this recipe, taste as you go. Kimchi always varies in saltiness and heat level, so you may want to add more or less salt, soy sauce, and chili paste. And as for serving, this is blasphemy, but I haven’t yet had these burgers on a bun. They just make more sense without, at least to me. (Call them kimchi rice cakes!) My favorite condiments are a few slices of avocado and a sprinkling of soy sauce, but I can also vouch for topping with a fried egg, especially at breakfast time, which obviously negates all the vegan claims.
Vegan Kimchi Veggie Burgers
Makes 4 burgers
3 tablespoons neutral oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 scallions, white and pale green parts, thinly sliced
1 cup vegetarian kimchi, drained and finely chopped*
2 tablespoons white rice flour**
3 tablespoons water
1-1/2 cups day-old cooked rice (white or brown)
1 teaspoon soy sauce (or tamari, if making gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon chili paste
1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and the sesame oil over medium heat in a skillet. Add the scallions and chopped kimchi. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until the scallions are softened and the mixture is fragrant.
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the rice flour, water, and salt until smooth. Add the kimchi, cooked rice, soy sauce, and chili paste, mixing together with a spatula until combined. Shape into 4 burgers, about 1/2 cup of mixture each, and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
3. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Let the burgers sit while the oven preheats.
4. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, flipping once halfway through, until lightly browned on each side and firm to the touch. The burgers can be cooled and refrigerated at this point for up to 2 to 3 days. Let come to room temperature before proceeding.
5. To sear the burgers. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the burgers, in batches if necessary, and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes on each side, until crisp and browning at the edges. Serve hot, with garnishes of choice.
* Most store-bought kimchi contains either fish sauce or salted shrimp, or both, which disqualifies them as vegetarian. But vegetarian kimchi is easy and fun to make—I have a recipe in Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry. Additionally, some kimchi may include gluten, if you’re concerned about making these gluten-free. Check the labels carefully.
** As I note in Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, rice flour can be found inexpensively in the “ethnic” sections of grocery stores, or in the health food sections, where it’s not so inexpensive. You can also grind up rice in a spice grinder to make your own.