I’m a huge sucker for burgers. Yum! Can a vegetarian be obsessed with burgers? But of course! There are an infinite numbers of “the best vegetarian burger patty” rankings on the internet, but it still took me years before I found truly amazing burger patties – or a recipe for it. I couldn’t give you a ranking of my favorite vegetarian patty recipes, it changes all the time, but if I had to make a list, it would include the following:
Kidney Bean and Quinoa Burgers, Falafel, Portobello burgers, Celery Nuggets and – last but not least – Hard Rock Café’s Veggie Leggie.
The latter, and I hope you can forgive me, tastes just like meat. Then again, it’s not like meat at all or else I couldn’t eat it. I don’t know what they do to it, I don’t want to know, but every time I order it, I have to ask my husband to confirm that they’ve not given me the wrong burger by mistake. I then swoon. Unfortunately, the magic of Hard Rock’s Café Veggie Leggie kind of died for me back in Barcelona, when I visited in November 2013. The bus from the airport dropped me off at Placa Catalunya. It was nine p.m., my friend and his fiancé (who were getting married the next day) were off at the wedding location dropping off supplies and wouldn’t be back till late. I was carrying several thousand Euros of photo gear with me. And I had just gone gluten-free product shopping in the basement of El Corte Ingles (it’s a department store with an amazing gluten-free section, if you are ever there) was carrying several kilos of tortilla flour in my purse. My back was hurting and I was already struggling not to lose anything. The very nice passenger on the plane next to me made a point of warning me about pickpockets and so instead of walking to one of the two restaurants to which I had printed out directions for myself, I walked straight into the Hard Rock Café across from the bus station. (I did feel quite sad and uncultivated doing so, rest assured) Spain has a solid reputation among celiacs, mainly that it is an amazing place to be and that everyone knows about gluten and gluten-free. So, I confided in Sarah, the waitress, that I was celiac and would order the Veggie Leggie without a bun. Could I eat the fries? But of course, Sarah said. They’re made in a separate fryer! Great, I replied and dug in. Then, all weekend, I had issues. No fun when you are sharing a house with a bunch of nice strangers whom you want to befriend. I thought it may be the alcohol, my nerves, maybe not eating properly or lack of sleep? Or just Spanish water? Maybe I hadn’t been careful whilst sharing a kitchen with gluten? I’m not used to it from home after all, where anything with gluten will arrive with lots of noise and be hidden away in multiple layers of plastic bags. I couldn’t figure it out. I never thought of gluten, because I hadn’t eaten any.
Prior to my departure to Cologne, the bus dropped me off at Placa Catalunya again, and – still carrying lots of luggage – I walked straight into the Hard Rock Café, where I attempted ordering Veggie Leggie without the bun. The waiter looked at me very seriously and said “it’s not gluten-free”. He brought a list from the kitchen. No kidding. Judging by the problems I was having, the Veggie Leggie in Barcelona was made from pure gluten – an ingredient you’ll find in many vegetarian meat-substitutes. Ever since this experience, I’ve been hesitant about eating at the Hard Rock Café again, and their branch here in Cologne never answered to both my oral and written inquiries about whether their Veggie Leggie is gluten-free. Too bad. I can take my business elsewhere. Or make my own wonderful veggie burgers at home. I have discovered the secret to successful vegetarian burgers, after all. What it is, you ask? Spices! Lots of them! And dried garlic and onion powder. Which brings me to a vegetarian patty, which definitely deserves a place in the “best of”-ranking: Cajun style Tofu!
I came by this particular recipe in December, during dinner at Moyo’s here in Cologne. One of the girls over at the celiac forum is friends with a manager there, and for a few months they have been serving gluten-free burgers and arranging for other dishes – it’s mainly Cajun cuisine, so lots of meat – on their menu to be prepared safely. Of course, I had to try. While the visit at Moyo’s in itself wasn’t spectacular, their food truly was. I went home and perused the Cajun spice range, and hammered it out. You obviously don’t have to eat it with a bun, it goes a long way with a baked sweet potato topped with herbed quark and some salad. Trust me! I love this spice blend so much, I am sure that I will try preparing other dishes with it. I imagine chickpeas would taste amazing with it. Just one word of advice: be sure to buy gluten-free spices!
200g firm organic tofu (e.g. by the Taifun brand)
For the marinade:
a bit of water
one dash of pepper
½ tsp chili flakes
1 tsp dried sage (rubbed between the palms of your hands)
1 tsp roasted garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp vegetable broth powder
½ tsp coriander
2 tsp Tandoori Masala Barbecue Ground Spice (e.g. from TRS)
1 tbsp vegetable oil (for frying)
Drain the tofu and cut it into even slices. Place into a container. Cover with all the spices, and the water. Close the lid of the plastic container. Shake it carefully, ensuring all tofu slices are covered with an equal amount of spices. Let tofu rest in marinade, for about fifteen minutes to half an hour – or even longer, if you have the time.
Remove tofu from container (save the marinade), and place on a grill pan. If you don’t have a grill pan, simply use a regular pan. Fry on high heat on one side and then turn. Pour the marinade over the tofu, and wait for it to evaporate. While you do so, think about how delicious the tofu looks in all its vapour.This will create a more flavorful result. Once the tofu slices have been fried evenly on both sides, proceed to serve them.
I think the tofu slices go really well in a burger. Obviously roast the buns! Then top your tofu patties with a bit of melted cheddar cheese and comfortably nestled in a roasted burger bun together with Dijon mustard, ketchup, cornichons, some tomato slices and a salad leaf.
Alternatively, I love serving them just like the fellows at Moyo’s: on a plate with a baked sweet potato, some herbed quark (or sour cream, if you are not counting calories) and a side of fresh salad.Bon Appetit & happy Sunday!