The goal of the Earth Burger is simple: To create something that is as satisfying as meat, without the meat. The misstep of most vegetarian or vegan burgers, in my opinion, is that they are trying to replicate meat instead of making something that is delicious on its own merit. From a technical standpoint, a veggie burger also needs to have the right texture and maintain its shape while being eaten.
1 pound brown mushrooms, coarsely chopped
4 ounces carrot, coarsely chopped
4 ounces broccoli, coarsely chopped
4 ounces cauliflower, coarsely chopped
4 ounces green cabbage, coarsely chopped
12 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into small dice
1 large sweet potato, unpeeled
1 Yukon gold potato, unpeeled
5 tablespoons potato starch
2 teaspoons mushroom powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons liquid aminos
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
4 cups rice bran oil or other neutral oil
4 vegan buns (homemade or store-bought)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or oil, if vegan)
4 squares Yuba Bacon (recipe follows, optional)
Charred Onion (recipe follows)
4 to 8 slices tomato (if in season; 1 to 2 per burger)
10 to 12 iceberg lettuce leaves
12 to 16 dill pickle slices (homemade or store-bought)
¹⁄4 cup mayo
Note: The patties are best made ahead of time. Fry them the first time and then they can be frozen in a sealed container for up to 4 days.
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line one roasting pan or sheet pan with parchment paper.
2. Put the mushrooms, carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage in the prepared pan. Put the tofu in a small baking dish or on a baking sheet. Wrap the sweet potato and potato in aluminum foil. Put everything in the oven.
3. Roast the tofu until browned, about 15 minutes. Set aside. Roast the vegetables until lightly browned and caramelized, about 30 minutes. The doneness will vary among the different vegetables, but that’s okay, because it will add to the texture of the final product. Let cool slightly. Shred the roasted vegetables in a food processor or meat grinder; if you have neither, chop the vegetables as finely as possible. Roast the potatoes until very soft, 50 to 60 minutes. To check for doneness, gently remove the potatoes from the foil—they should be very soft when touched. Let cool slightly.
4. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the potatoes and their peels with the potato starch, starting on low speed and gradually increasing the speed until the texture is gummy and glutinous, about 1 minute. Set aside.
5. In a large bowl, stir together the finely chopped vegetables and the potato mixture. Add the cooked tofu, the mushroom powder, salt, liquid aminos, and sherry vinegar. Stir gently to combine; the mixture should feel similar to the texture of raw ground beef. Divide the mixture into four equal balls.
6. Put a sheet of plastic wrap over a 4-inch ring mold on a cutting board or other hard surface. Put a ball in the middle of the mold and gently press down with the palm of your hand, forming a patty that is 4 inches wide. Pop it out with the plastic wrap. Put the patties on a large dish or small baking sheet.
7. Now it’s time to fry the Earth Burgers at a low temperature; this initial fry is not meant to fully cook the patty, but ensures that it retains its shape during the final cooking. In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the oil to 340°F over high heat. Working in batches, fry the burgers until cooked through, about 3 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature at 320°F. Using a spider skimmer or other small strainer, remove the burgers from the oil and drain on paper towels. Let cool. Put the patties on a large dish or small baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, at least 1 hour, or up to 4 days.
8. When ready to serve, get the buns toasting. Heat a cast-iron skillet or similar surface over low heat. Slice the buns in half horizontally. Smear the butter (or oil, if you’re going vegan) on the buns and place, butter side down, on the hot surface, working in batches if necessary. Let slowly toast until the burgers are done. The buns should develop a nice golden brown.
9. Heat the same oil (or the same amount of oil) to 395°F over high heat. Fry the burgers a second time until brown and crispy, 3 to 4 minutes. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature at 375°F. Remove the burgers from the oil and drain on paper towels.
10. Place a patty on a bottom bun and top with the yuba bacon, onion, tomato, lettuce, and pickles. Spread 1 tablespoon of tofu mayo on the top bun and cap it off. Repeat with your other burgers. Eat immediately.
Makes 4 Strips, Enough for One Batch of Earth Burgers
The time-consuming process of making yuba is a bit of an art. Very fresh soy milk is gently heated in large tanks until a thin film forms on the surface. This film is then removed in a sheet and that nearly transparent sheet of coagulated soy milk becomes yuba. When fully dried and fried, it has a texture similar to the lightest of chicharrones. I have found it to be a useful substitute for bacon on our vegetable-based sandwiches and burgers, like the Earth Burger. It also works well as a vegan and gluten-free delivery mechanism for dips and sauces.
1 thin (8-inch) sheet of fresh yuba
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¹⁄² teaspoon sugar
¹⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch of ground allspice
About 2 cups rice bran oil or other neutral oil, or as needed to submerge the yuba
1. Unfold the yuba, if necessary, into a single flat sheet, trying not to tear it as you do so. Slice into 4-inch squares and lay out on a baking sheet or plate. Let dry at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or up to overnight.
2. In a small bowl, combine and mix the paprika, salt, sugar, pepper, and allspice. Set aside.
3. In a cast-iron pan or heavy pot, heat the oil to 385°F over high heat. Working in batches, fry the yuba until it puffs and becomes golden and crisp. Adjust the heat as needed to maintain the oil temperature at 375°F. Using a spider skimmer or other small strainer, remove the yuba from the oil and drain on paper towels. Season with the spice blend. Eat immediately.
Makes Enough for 4 Burgers
There are many schools of thoughts surrounding onion on a burger. Some prefer raw. Some like grilled. I like to split the difference, and so I slice it and cook just one side. This allows the best of both worlds: you get the smoky char of grilled onions but still maintain the spicy crunch of raw onions. The charred side also adds a bit of smokiness to burgers that are cooked indoors in a pan. These can be cooked in advance, or around the same time as the burgers.
1 red onion, cut into ¹⁄3-inch slices, making sure to keep the rings intact
To cook on a grill: Place the onion slices over direct heat. Keeping the onion rings in slabs, as opposed to individually separated, makes for easier handling. Let them be about 1 minute over the fire, unmoved, until charred on one side.
To cook on a stovetop: Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. When it’s ripping hot, put the rings on the skillet and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, unmoved, until charred on one side. Remove from the heat and let cool before serving.
Images and recipes courtesy of Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2018 by Chris Kronner, Paolo Lucchesi.