Gina at EtsyVeg wrote to me the other day with a recommendation that I include non-dairy alternatives with my recipes here, a recommendation I’ve thought about a lot and expect to implement. My approach so far has been that every recipe should be a darn good thing by its own right—whether it be vegan, vegetarian, gluten- or soy-free. My reasoning goes that while over half the recipes in the book are vegan, they are all more importantly just good. This is something I address more comprehensively in the book. But because I do not adhere to a strict vegan diet, I’m very happy to take cues from Gina here on the blog! So I decided to include some notes about what kinds of egg substitutions work best in veggie burgers. In non-vegan veggie burgers, eggs bind the ingredients together and give the burgers a bit of rise, so what we’re looking for is something that will work towards those ends.
(Side note: I really hate using the word “substitute” with regard to food; it seems that calling something a substitute reinforces the idea that there is only one “real” way, and that way is with sugar or eggs or meat, for example, and everything else is only an approximation of that real thing. It reminds me of that Audre Lourde essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” I digress. Except: PS, did you see this somewhat controversial piece over at AlterNet.org about meat substitutes?)
Steamed potato plus potato starch: The combination of steamed potato and potato starch is one of my favorite ways to mimic the properties of eggs because it contributes a pleasant flavor, as you’ll see in the recipe below. But use caution: Steamed potato works as a binder but does not expand as it cooks like eggs do; if overused, potato can make the burgers dense. A small amount of potato starch helps to resolve the density problem.
Vital wheat gluten: Vital wheat gluten is what’s left of flour after all the starch has been rinsed off. Seitan—“vegetarian duck”—is seasoned, cooked vital wheat gluten. In veggie burgers it makes a decent egg substitute, though sometimes a raw flour taste comes through for me.
Ground flaxseed: Flax has a distinctive, grainy-grassy flavor, so this isn’t going to be the subtlest substitution. But in some recipes, flaxseed adds a terrific dimension. Just mix ground flaxseed together with a bit of water until it emulsifies.
Egg replacer: There are several brands of “egg replacer” on the market and a few of them contain dairy or meat byproducts; be sure to check the label. Many vegan cooks swear by Ener-G Egg Replacer. I’m not the biggest fan of egg replacer. Texture- and egg-property-wise, it works very well, but I always find that I can taste it.
And on to the recipe. This is the updated version of the Curried Eggplant Burger I previously posted. The biggest revision is the addition of potato and potato starch, which hadn’t occurred to me when I posted my first attempt several months ago. It makes these burgers things that you can actually hold in your hand—they won’t squirt out the other end of the bun when you bite into them. When you shape them, they will be very loose, but after it comes out of the oven, it will have firmed up considerably. Top with some fried onions and curried tomato relish, as pictured.
Curried Eggplant and Tomato Burgers
Makes four 4-inch burgers
1 Japanese eggplant (about 12 ounces)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1½ cups cooked brown rice
1 small red onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon molasses
½ teaspoon salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, steamed and mashed with a fork
2 teaspoons potato starch
2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Prick the eggplant all over with a fork. Place the eggplant and tomatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Roast, stirring the tomatoes and flipping the eggplant every 5 minutes. After about 20 minutes, the tomatoes should be done—they will begin to shrivel but still be supple (as they cool off, they will exude some additional liquid). Carefully remove the tomatoes and set aside. Return the eggplant to the oven and roast for 25 to 35 minutes longer, until it’s flattened out and uniformly soft. Cool until safe to handle. (The roasted vegetables can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days at this point.)
Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.
To assemble the burger mixture, peel and chop the roasted eggplant (you should be able to pull the skin off with your hands; it comes off in strips). Coarsely chop the roasted tomatoes. In a mixing bowl, combine the eggplant and tomatoes with the rice, onion, garlic, cilantro, curry powder, garam masala, molasses, salt, and cayenne. Fold in the mashed potato and potato starch. This is a somewhat loose mixture so you won’t be able to shape it into patties. Rather, divide it into 4 portions.
In an oven-safe skillet or nonstick sauté pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the portions, pressing each gently with a spatula to form a round. Cook, turning once, until browned on each side, 6 to 10 minutes total. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 15 minutes, until the burgers are firm and cooked through.