Notes on ALA Conference, Veggie Burger Toppings

Last weekend I had the fun opportunity to go down to Washington, DC, and cook veggie burgers for a crowd of librarians. The American Library Association (ALA) conference is an enormous event where librarians, publishers, authors, and entrepreneurs of literacy all converge for a couple days. They also hosted cooking demonstrations, and I was in unbelievably good company: Dr. Neal Barnard, Kim Barnouin, Warren Brown, Bill Yosses, Joan Nathan, Fay Lewis, Lucie Snodgrass, Maria Filice, and Dorie Greenspan. I had never done a cooking demonstration before, and for obvious reasons I was pretty nervous. What should I cook? How on earth do you whittle a recipe down to 20 minutes in an alien kitchen and with a limited batterie de cuisine? What if I get nervous and stutter and swallow and what if I’m not funny or, worse, make absolutely no sense? In the end, everything was fine, as it usually is, and judging from the response from the audience, our libraries are chock full of veggie burger enthusiasts.

I made one of my favorite burgers in the book, a Mushroom Burger with Barley (which is  vegan and wheat-free [but not gluten-free]), the recipe for which is conveniently included in the piece in the Oregonian that I previously told you about. Because it’s a savory, earthy tasting burger, it lends itself to fresh, bright toppings, so I topped it with something I’d whipped up the night before; I’ll call it “CSA Pesto,” made from parsley, arugula, walnuts, and garlic scapes.

Veggie burgers–and now that we’re leading into the 4th of July, I assume you’ll be laying some of them on the grill—can be a great base for inventive toppings. In my opinion, any kind of vegetable that you can slice up will taste great on a veggie burger, either raw or quick-pickled by tossing them in a pinch of salt and a bit of white or champagne vinegar: cucumbers, radishes, carrots, thinly sliced beets, salad turnips. Other veggies are good caramelized (like onions) or quickly applied to heat in a saute pan or on the grill (zucchini, eggplant, other summer squash), and others, especially garlic and eggplant, are amazing when roasted and mashed and used as a spread. Then there are some obvious condiment options, like lettuce and tomato and ketchup and mustard and cheese, and some slightly less obvious ones, like hummus and chutney and pico de gallo and salsa.

Pesto is one of my favorite toppings, and I’m including the CSA pesto—so named because I made it from what came in my CSA box—recipe below, though it’s nearly impossible to make pesto the same way twice so you might as well embrace the opportunity to improvise. I’m also including a recipe for Curried Tomato Relish, which requires an oven but is mind-numbingly easy and will bring a bold, complex flavor to the veggie burger you serve it on.

And some bookkeeping, of course: my book, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way, will be shipping from Amazon early next week, and should be arriving at bookstores by midweek. If you’d like to purchase the book from your local independent bookstore—which will surely appreciate the business!—click here to find one near you. And if you want to stay in the loop for veggie burger-related news, here are links to the Veggie Burgers Every Which Way Facebook page and Twitter page.

Have a great weekend!

CSA Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

1 bunch parsley
2 cups arugula
4 garlic scapes, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3-1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Optional: 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine everything but the olive oil in a food processor, and pulse a few times until mostly combined. With the motor running, pour in the pesto in a thin, even stream, until desired consistency is reached. Balance the seasonings by adding salt, pepper, and a drop or two more lemon juice  Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the relish will keep for 4 to 5 days.

Curried Tomato Relish

1 cup cherry tomatoes
3 tablespoons minced cilantro
2 tablespoons finely minced red onion
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon coriander

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a small baking sheet with foil. Place the tomatoes on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until they begin to shrivel or burst. Cool. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the cilantro, onion, lemon juice, garam masala, coriander, and salt to taste. Adjust seasonings. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, the relish will keep for 4 to 5 days.


2 Replies to “Notes on ALA Conference, Veggie Burger Toppings”

  1. My husband and I (who were at ALA) are having a big birthday nerdfest tomorrow and will be making the Pub Grub Veggie Burgers for our guests! We figure that two birthdays are a good enough reason to make deep-fried health food. 😀 We’ve already made the Ginger-Soy Tempeh Burgers and the Thai Carrot Burgers, both were phenomenal!

    It was great to see this presentation slated at ALA, thanks for attending! It’s already bearing fruit at the libraries in my area. 🙂

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