I’ve rekindled my love of veggie burgers recently. And I’m not referring to the dry, floppy and brown discs of god-knows-what that lurk in the deepest depths of the supermarket only to emerge in June as an insulting offering to the vegetarians during BBQ season. Yuk, no. I’m talking about thick patties bright with fresh vegetables, perhaps creamy with legumes or nutty with wholegrains and crisp from the frying pan.
A few weeks ago I had a sandwich from Max’s Sandwich Shop, one of Stroud Green’s proudest offerings to the food scene. Max, as well as being a great bloke who gave me a celebratory bottle of wine when I popped in for lunch just after the birth of Cole, I think it may have been the first sip of wine I had in at least nine months and tasted blissful, also won The Observer Food Monthly’s Best Cheap Eat last year and indeed does an incredible sandwich. They are mammoth beasts packed to the rafters inside homemade focaccia like his Ham, Egg ‘N’ Chips, stuffed with slow cooked ham hock, a fried egg, shoestring fries, piccalilli, and malt vinegar mayo or my favourite What Is Neil Gill’s Beef All About which is braised beef, sauerkraut with beetroot parsley and caraway, cassava chips, horseradish and creme fraiche. Yum-ola.
Anyway, this time round I went totally off piste for me and plumped for his veggie sandwich. I’m sorry to say that I don’t remember what was in it except that it was made with borlotti beans and it’s not on the menu this week for me to check, but it was amazing, so flavourful and satisfying. It harkened me back to my first few years working in Soho when I would frequent Mildreds and stuff myself with their veggie burgers made with things like feta, beetroot and sweet potato. Or perhaps it took me even further back to my time in Ghana, in my early twenties, when I would live off veggie burgers from the local sports bar. I always vowed I would try and recreate those burgers in my own kitchen, they seemed so simple and healthy (if you ignore the obligatory side-order of chips), just good for you vegetables married together, but I never got round to it.
Until now! Although I might be overdoing it a little these days as variations on the veggie led burger seem to be all I’m ever cooking, due to… yes you guessed it since all paths lead back to him – Cole. I have been having such fun coming up with delicious, nutrient packed dinners which tick off all the food groups and that he can eat himself with his fingers. This means making him lots of mini patties, fritters and burgers. Not all of them are totally veggie since we’re not, but sweet potato and quinoa burgers have been a firm favourite, always packed with chopped greens or any other veg that’s lurking in the fridge. However, for variety’s sake I was on the lookout for some alternatives, and then Luke on a whim brought back some amaranth from our local organic shop on Stroud Green Road.
He had been totally unaware that I had been reading about amaranth a lot recently, basically how it’s super trendy and due for quinoa like celebratory status any day now. It’s another ‘ancient grain,’ popular with the Aztecs and Mayans, but put into italics as it’s technically a seed, like quinoa, and therefore really rich in protein which is what makes quinoa so cool. Not only that but it’s also full of fibre, iron and calcium. This all spelled good things for the next addition to mine and Cole’s culinary adventures.
Then I cooked with it, and quinoa it ain’t. Pre-cooking, the grains are miniscule, getting everywhere very fast, especially if you’re a bit fast and loose with pouring them into a saucepan. However, during its half hour cooking time the grains lump together producing a gelatinous and sticky…well, mush, if I’m honest. However, this only meant it had a completely natural home in the next addition to my veggie burger repertoire.
The texture of the amaranth is pretty terrific inside the burger, its little seeds popping in your mouth and the nutty flavour giving it such backbone. The amaranth is mixed with mashed butternut squash, pre-roasted with baharat spices (which include paprika, pepper, cumin, cassia, cloves, coriander seed, nutmeg and cardamom but I used a mix from Steenbergs) and sweetly roasted garlic. Then blanched and finely chopped cavolo nero adds its earthy goodness to the proceedings. Finally eggs and flour are mixed in to bind the whole thing together in scrumptious harmony. It’s a pretty good feeling eating something so deliciously healthy, heartening and happy-making.
Cole and I have been loving them. A lot. So much so that imbued with confidence in them I then served them up in homemade flatbread with salad and tzatziki for Luke for supper and he has insisted I share the recipe here so impressed was he. So here we are, baby approved, hungry husband approved and veggie burger obsessed me approved!
Amaranth, Butternut Squash and Cavolo Nero Burgers
Makes 8 burgers
1 butternut squash
2 tablespoons coconut oil + 1 more tablespoon for cooking the burgers
1 tablespoons baharat spice mix
4 whole unpeeled garlic cloves
200g cavolo nero
50g rice flour (or gluten-free plain flour blend or regular wheat flour)
½ teaspoon salt
- Toss the butternut squash with the baharat spices, garlic cloves and pre-melted coconut oil then roast for 35-40 minutes at 180°C. Remove from the oven, squeeze the garlic from their cloves then mash. Set aside to come to room temperature.
- Meanwhile bring a large saucepan of 500ml water to the boil, then pour in the amaranth. Bring back to a boil, then turn down to simmer with the lid on for 25-30 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove from heat, cover with a lid and leave to stand for 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork then set aside to come to room temperature.
- With a sharp knife, remove the stalk out of the centre of the cavolo nero leaves then roughly chop. Bring another large saucepan of water to a boil and toss the leaves in, bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the leaves, squeezing out all the excess water then finely chop.
- Mix the amaranth, mashed butternut squash and cavolo nero with the eggs, rice flour and salt until thoroughly combined.
- Heat a large flat bottomed frying pan with a tablespoon of the coconut oil. To achieve the perfect burger shape pour the mixture into chefs rings placed inside the saucepan. Fry for 4 minutes on the first side or until golden brown then carefully remove the chefs ring from the burger, flip each one over and cook for another 4 minutes on the other side, the burger will feel firm to the touch and be golden brown.Note: The chefs rings are totally optional, if you don’t have them the burgers will be a little flatter as the mixture will spread further and look a little rougher round the edges, but still delicious. They also won’t need to cook for as long, so keep watch for the golden brown colour.