This exclamation came, to my surprise, from the full and chewing mouth of our non-veg mate Mike. He went on to explain that he doesn't think beef-based burgers are anything amazing and that most vegetarian burgers aren't seeking to imitate that meatiness, anyway. Unlike so many veg dishes, burgers are free to just be, rather than trying desperately to live up to a standard set by their non-veg inspiration.
It has me considering that there probably isn't one ultimate veg-burger recipe out there, waiting for me to discover it. Some will impress me with their resemblance to meat, perhaps, but others will have their own nuttiness, or smokiness, or the crispiest crust ever seen on something that wasn't deep-fried. None of these properties is better than the other, and a single burger with all of them would probably actually be a bit of a mess. Maybe what I really need is a shortlist of great veg-burger recipes, none of them alike but all of them special.
The second surprise is that a recipe for broccoli burgers could make it onto such a list. While I've no big prejudice against broccoli, really, I just found it difficult to imagine how broccoli could offer anything to the art of the Good Vege Burger. But a positive review and picture of a crispy-golden patty from Johanna is the kind of thing that can bring me around. They didn't get off to a rollicking start; I temporarily forgot the breadcrumbs, and then even when they were stirred through, the patty mix Would. Not. Hold. Together. I persevered, and was happy to discover that after 20 minutes in the oven these patties were developing a handsome golden crust and were entirely flippable.
I served them on pide-style rolls with roasted capsicum, grated carrot, mixed greens and a range of condiments. My new condiment of choice is vegetarian mushroom oyster sauce, which I picked up from Vincent Vegetarian Food Mart (thanks to Kristy and Toby for including me in their expedition to Footscray!). It's a savoury salty delight, with the colour and viscousness of ketjap manis but a distinctly different flavour.
Believe-it-or-not broccoli burgers
(found at Green Gourmet Giraffe, credited there to Rhonda)
2 cups finely chopped broccoli
2/3 cup ground hazelnuts
1 finely chopped onion
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 handful grated cheese (optional)
1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire, oyster or soy sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with paper and spray it with oil.
In a large bowl, stir together the broccoli, ground hazelnuts, onion, breadcrumbs and cheese. Stir through the sauce and eggs, then add the water gradually while you continue to stir. Don't put quite all the water in if you fear the mixture is getting too mushy. Season to taste, then form the mix into patties as best you can and place them on the baking tray. Don't worry if they fall apart a little, but try cupping them with your hands to form a firm, round edge. Spray the tops of them with a bit more oil.
Bake the burgers for 20 minutes or so, until they've developed a firm and crusty underside. Gently flip them over and bake for another 15-20 minutes, until they're crispy-crusted all over.