The Real Faux Burger
As I wrote yesterday, we are a burger nation, and as such, all palates and dietary preferences are invited to the patty party.
When I worked as a reporter in Philadelphia in the late 1980s, my roommate Kat lived off veggie burgers from a box found in the frozen aisle of the supermarket. We were part of a group of underpaid twentysomethings who would gather often for dinner and, at that time, Kat was the only vegetarian.
Every Fourth of July, Kat hosted a "Jamly" (pronounced jam-lye) on East River Drive, down by the Schuylkill River, where we'd cook out and drink her "Jamly" punch. I distinctly remember her grilling her veggie burgers while the rest of us ate beef patties. In nearly 20 years, those lonely days of vegetarian eating have long gone.
In the late '80s, her only option was a Gardenburger. Now Kat can take her pick from varieties like the Boca burger, Morningstar Farms burger and the Quorn "Chik'n Patty."
All of these products have different flavor attributes and textures as well as ingredient compositions. Some include wheat gluten, others cheese and eggs, others texturized soy protein (we'll get to that in a minute). But the one thing they do have in common is that they are all frozen.
In the meatless burger universe, there's one product that stands apart from its frozen friends, and that's "Gimme Lean Ground Beef Style." Sold in refrigerated tubes much like that of ready-made cookie dough, Gimme Lean (GL) is mock meat at its most realistic.
A mixture of texturized soy protein (long-time vegetarians and vegans also know it as texturized vegetable protein or TVP, the flavorless chunks made from compressed soy flour that act like a kitchen chameleon), wheat gluten, soy sauce and sundry flavorings, GL can be sliced up and cooked as is, or can be thrown into a mixing bowl and further zipped up with your own homegrown seasonings, shaped into patties and cooked to order.
In my book, GL offers the most satisfying option. Not only does it taste somewhat like a meat-based burger, it gets as close to the beefy look and mouthfeel as you'll get. Could you stump a diehard meat eater by serving up one of these babies? I doubt it, but you may convince more open-minded meat eaters that this is a viable burger alternative.
Nutritionally, this is how GL breaks down: A 2-ounce serving which is probably a bit puny for a burger) contains 8 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber and 270 milligrams of sodium (soy sauce is a primary flavoring). As a soy-based product, it is free of cholesterol and fat, and contains 50 calories.
A few tidbits for consideration:
GL contains wheat gluten, which makes it inappropriate for those living with celiac disease.
GL is meant to be served hot. A cold GL burger as a midnight snack will not make you happy.
GL and its line of products (originator of the Smart Dog) are the creations of Light Life, a Massachusetts-based company. In the course of my digging, I learned that in 2000, Light Life joined the the ConAgra family, the behemoth agri-business, known for classic '70s-era brands such as Peter Pan peanut butter, Swiss Miss, Slim Jim and Manwich, as well as Butterball turkeys.
The corporate takeover of idealistic vegetarian products developed by crunchy-granola types in the late 1970s is not exclusive to Light Life, however. Morningstar Farms products are owned by cereal giant Kellogg Company, and Boca products are part of the Kraft Foods empire. And Gardenburger, Inc., after emerging from bankruptcy last year, is now called Wholesome & Hearty Foods.
How do I make my GL burgers? Usually, I add some chopped onion or scallion, some chopped fresh parsley, a few glugs of hot sauce and a teaspoon of strong mustard. A little sesame oil is great here, too. I mix everything together, shape into patties, then I put in the fridge to let them set up for a few minutes (not necessary, but I find it ensures maximum burger stability).
Then I pan-fry, usually in olive oil, because these things do not like high heat and cook in just a few minutes. A wee bit of browning will take place, which helps in the make-believe-burger department. After you flip it onto the second side, you'll see that your burger is done in about six minutes. I serve mine on a toasted English muffin, rubbed with a clove of garlic, and for cheese, I like something strong from the blue family.
Eat immediately, and let me know if you agree that this is the real-faux thing. Comments on veggie burgers of all flavors and varieties, please!
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