We were saved by veggie burgers. When the price of our favorite healthier meat, bison, went through the roof and it became clear that beef should be eaten sparingly as a way to help the planet, easy-to-make vegetarian patties became our go-to entrée.
And go we did with wild abandon because these are little wonders of tasty vegetable goodness. We felt good about switching to a sustainable protein source, plus there are all kinds of varieties and flavors available at the market, and you can make a satisfying dinner in seconds flat.
Yes indeed, we loved us our veggie burgers. Until I read this little piece of wholly unappetizing news from the Cornucopia Institute, which told me that the soy protein used as the foundation for many veggie burgers (and soy-based foods in general) is obtained by a less-than-savory chemical process -- ground beans are soaked in a gasoline by-product called n-hexane to remove the oil and leave soy protein behind for use in food. Doesn't sound too yummy.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but hexane is all kinds of wrong. It's a hyperactive neurotoxin suspected of also being a potent carcinogen. And when it's used to process soy, unhealthy traces of it remain behind in the resulting protein that's increasingly central to our supposedly sustainable food supply.
To which I say, please pass the organic veggie burgers. Organic standards prohibit the use of chemically-extracted soy ingredients. That said, there are non-certified organic products that also use safe mechanical extraction methods for their soy protein. This chart from the Cornucopia Institute offers good guideposts.
Or there's this: make your own. Since we started cooking up homemade veggie burgers, we haven't bought a single pre-fab patty. There's just no need. Here's one of our favorite recipes:
Chickpea Spinach Veggie Burgers
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
5 ounces fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
Diced shredded carrots (optional)
Finely diced onion (optional)
1 crushed clove of garlic (optional)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chickpea flour or more if needed (Make your own by grinding dried chickpeas to a powder or look for "gram flour" in Indian grocery stores or food sections)
- Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and spinach and cook a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Let cool then squeeze out as much liquid as possible and finely chop.
- Combine 1 1/4 cups of the chickpeas, the eggs, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it looks like chunky hummus.
- In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the last 1/4 cup chick peas and any optional veggies you're adding (feel free to experiment!). Mash coarsely with a potato masher. Stir in the bean-egg mixture then fold in the chickpea flour. The mixture should be sticky yet moldable. Add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if it's too wet, or a bit of water if too dry. Sculpt into 5 patties.
In an oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and brown on each side. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers firm up and cook all the way through.
This recipe is adapted from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful and Healthy Vegan and Vegetarian Burgers-Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns and More by Lukas Volger, a cookbook I cannot recommend highly enough as a resource you'll wonder how you ever lived without.