Meatless Monday, Memorial Day Edition: Masala Burgers

First, in Full Disclosure: Today is not going to be a Meatless Monday. We are going to eat meat at a cookout today. However, I have always thought the Meatless Monday commitment was more about reducing our carbon footprint by eating vegetarian meals at least once a week rather than Monday being a sacred day. So I started out our welcome to summer by having a vegetarian cookout on Sunday, and thought I would share it in case anyone else is looking for a non-meat burger to grill today.

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite cooking sites is Serious Eats, and this meal began with them. I was looking for a non-meal “burger” to fix for this weekend, and I turned to them for recipes.

Let me start by saying that I have my doubts about the Impossible Burger and some of the new “just like meat” veggie burgers. If I were a committed vegetarian, I imagine I might really be into them. But I’m not. I’m working our family diet more and more towards plant-based meals, but I’m not considering giving up meat at this point.

So if you are someone like me who is trying to move away from meat but not giving it up, well…I just don’t know about Impossible Burgers or Beyond Meat and those kinds of meat alternatives. There is a lot of processing and engineering that goes into those products, and I’m also trying to move away from non-natural and processed food. I haven’t researched it deeply, but I’ve read at least some articles that say such meat-replacement products consume almost as many environmental resources as meat, which is troubling. One of the major reasons I’m trying to be more vegetarian-oriented is because of the extreme consumption of energy, water, and land and the extreme output of greenhouse gases, wastes, and other pollution involved in industrial meat production. Why would I eat a meat replacement if it has almost the same environment issues as meat? The company itself says it doesn’t, but I haven’t seen an unbiased source that confirms that. Plus, at least the Impossible Burger, and maybe some of the others, uses genetically modified ingredients, which concerns me. So I’m not signing on to Impossible Burgers right now.

Therefore, I was looking for a less-processed even if less meat-like “burger” for my Meatless Sunday cookout, and was the first place I turned. In addition to recipes, they had an article on “The Best Supermarket Veggie Burgers” (click here) that caught my eye. I wanted to make my own recipe (see AVOIDING PROCESSED FOODS above), but I wanted to see what they suggested were the best clearly-vegetable veggie burgers. Number One on their list was Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger.

THAT caught my attention, because when my son was younger, we used to LOVE those TJ Masala Burgers. However, as I’ve moved away from processed food, we haven’t had them in years. But even though those aren’t anything like meat burgers, we always liked them better than any of the more traditional veggie burgers. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous Memorial Day post, I want this holiday to be one of coming together as Americans. Given the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes lately, I thought it would be cool to have an Indian-American fusion burger for our first Memorial Day cookout of the weekend.

But how to recreate that burger, knowing all the resources Trader Joe’s puts into developing any of its products? I searched the web and looked for some Trader Joe’s Masala Burger “copycat” recipes. However, the ones I found had to be baked and seemed too “crumbly” to be cooked on the grill. Plus, it was just a little too much on the American side. Like, corn just doesn’t seem right to me in an Indian dish. So I looked into actual Indian recipes for Masala Patties. Some of those required too many specialized Indian ingredients that I haven’t been able to find here, even in the Indian grocery stores. They also tended to coat the ingredients with either a flour batter or with bread crumbs, which I understand for a patty but didn’t fit with my idea of a burger.

In the end, I stuck to my usual Pirate cooking philosophy (click here for that post) and just mixed and matched between recipes to try to create what I wanted using the ingredients I had (with a focus on local Cary Downtown Farmers Market produce, of course).

I knew the bulk of the Masala Burgers were potatoes. Fortunately, LB’s Farm had some lovely fresh red potatoes at the Market on Saturday, which I boiled whole:

The other thing I knew I wanted was green peas. LB’s Farm’s peas, which I wrote about in an earlier post (click here), were done for the season, but fortunately Jason at Parker Farm had some (which I didn’t photograph, but they looked the same as the ones from LB’s Farm in the earlier post). I boiled those separately, and being so fresh, they only took a couple of minutes to be done, compared with 15 or 20 minutes for the potatoes.

I took a selection of the Indian spices I had (turmeric, mustard, ginger, cilantro, garam masala, and curry powder for good measure) and bloomed them in olive oil (I wanted to make these vegan or I would have cooked them in ghee). I added some scallions and garlic scapes from Meadowhawk Farm and sautéed them. I added the cooked potatoes and mashed them/mixed them with the other ingredients in the pan, along with some salt and pepper. I debated about this for quite a while, but finally I added some bread crumbs to help bind everything together. Then I took my immersion blender and roughly pureed everything together. The bread crumbs did make the potatoes mixture kind of gooey, but I didn’t puree it all to the same consistency; it still had identifiable chunks of potatoes or onion or scape in it. Then I added the peas, which I wanted to leave whole and not be pureed.

Following the advice of at least one of the recipes, I let the mixture cool off, which was supposed to help it stick together. Once it was lukewarm (the recipe said to chill it overnight, but I wasn’t doing that), I shaped them into patties. Since I still hadn’t found a recipe for grilling masala burgers, I put them on my grilling basket rather than directly onto the grill.

Then I grilled them for 20 minutes, flipping them every 5 minutes. They never really got that brown or crispy, although that might have been the grill, because for some reason it wasn’t maintaining a searing heat even when I had it on the highest temperature. I haven’t used it in months, so I’ll have to check that out…

I had found these cute little baby naans to use instead of a traditional roll…

Those I grilled for a couple of minutes on each side.

I served them with lettuce and onion and my SECRET SAUCE:

So they ended up looking like this:

Bottom line…I don’t think they really tasted that much like the Trader Joe’s Masala Burgers. Of course, as my son pointed out, we hadn’t eaten those in so long I may not remember what they really tasted like. They definitely didn’t have the slim, perfect rounds and the crispier outsides of the TJ version, although that might have been a problem with the grill.

On the other hand, my son ate THREE of them for dinner…so I figure that qualifies it as a hit.

The Garlic-Chili sauce was a GREAT addition. It turns out even the CAT liked it…

Of course, he’s not ALLOWED to do that, but he took advantage of us going into the kitchen to break the rules, as cats do. I took the picture because I thought he would freak out tasting an Indian CHILI sauce, but as you can see…he licked the platter clean.

So the sauce, at least, also gets the Obsidian seal of approval.

I didn’t have any problem with them falling apart, so I think next time I’ll try grilling them directly on the grill and see if I can get a crispier surface. No one will confuse them with the TJ version, but they were quite tasty enough for our purposes and a lot fresher and less processed.

I’ll definitely make these again. I think it may work better to have veggie burgers that taste totally different than meat burgers so they don’t suffer by comparison. And if you find that Brooklyn Delhi chili sauce, stock up! It gave the burgers a nice kick, since (for once!) I didn’t put any chili or hot ingredients in the burgers themselves.

2 thoughts on “Meatless Monday, Memorial Day Edition: Masala Burgers

  1. This is a very comprehensive look at alternatives to meat based burgers. In my experience the brand that I have most enjoyed are Organic sunshine burgers and Hilary’s, both are sold frozen at supermarkets that are more healthy oriented, and generally not in most stores. I like the ingredients in these, and find that the shape and texture is pleasing, but they are not something I have grilled, but prefer to cook them in an oven or counter top oven to get crisp. They can also be cooked in a skillet or on a griddle. That contact with the the surface seems to get the most crispy exterior.

    When it comes to meatless meals I agree completely with the idea of not trying to replicate something made with meat, and instead exploring other flavor profiles that are driven by the fresh ingredients that are in season. I eat a wide variety of greens throughout the year for their nutrients, and I find it really helps me be well and feel good. This has led me to learn about different ways to prepare these from quite simple to more complex. Thank you for your great and inspiring writings!


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