It was more than 20 years ago in the middle of the night, somewhere on the East Coast. My husband and I were on a long road trip. We got hungry for something deep-fried and stopped at McDonald’s. My order consisted only of fries, and the cashier couldn’t help asking me, “You don’t want a Big Mac?” I replied, “No, I’m a vegetarian.” Her eyes grew as big as saucers, “So...you’ve never had a Big Mac before?”
India remains the only country in the world where McDonald's does not serve beef and pork products. When McDonald’s started operating in India in 1996, they customized their fare for the local taste and culture by offering the McAloo Tikki instead of their best-known product: the beef hamburger. This localization owes credit to an Indian street snack called aloo tikki in Northern India and ragda pattice (a phonetic obfuscation of the English word “patties”) in western India. Aloo tikki a patty made out of boiled potatoes and peas, seasoned with ginger, garlic, and Indian spices, and served with a variety of toppings like cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, sweet dates, and a spicy bean-y curry called ragda.
This is my take on that vegan burger.
At the heart of it is boiled potato. I prefer to use russets as they have a low-moisture content, yet fall apart easily once cooked. When you boil, peel, and mash them, they become a necessarily dry yet pliable mass that serves as an ideal base for other vegetables and spices. Plus, they’re easy to turn into patties. Another feature I like about these potatoes is that they brown easily on the outside providing a crunchy exterior and a soft interior. Peas and potatoes are a favorite combination in India (in curries and in dry sabjis), but I decided to skip peas because they introduce a sweetness which I’m not fond of. So, enter cauliflower, carrots, and beans, finely diced, preferably in a food processor. Instead of boiling and reducing them to a mush, I sauté them in oil just enough so they lose their raw flavor, but still keep their bite in order to provide texture to the burger. This vegetable mix is flavored with Indian spices like ginger and garam masala. I like to add tanginess to this mix with a raw mango powder called amchur. If you can’t find amchur, substitute with lime juice.
Now comes the binder. Instead of store-bought bread crumbs, I use bread as a binder. Any bread is fine as long as it’s neutral and doesn’t have seeds and additions like cheese. Soak it in plain water till it becomes limp, about 5 minutes. Stale bread is perfectly usable, though it may require a longer soak time to soften. Squeeze this bread between the palms of your hands and throw it into the vegetable mixture. ( Note that in India, egg is not a binder of choice as many Indians tend to be vegetarians, so bread softened by water is a perfect substitute.)
It’s perfectly fine to freeze these patties, fully pan-fried and cooked, in an airtight container. That way your vegan friends will be covered at your next BBQ.
These Indian-spiced potato patties, lathered with cilantro chutney between two toasted buns, are an ideal BBQ mainstay. But don’t forget to try the patties on their own, sans burger accoutrement, with a generous spoonful of cilantro chutney. It’s the perfect weeknight dinner, as you can reheat the frozen patties in a minute’s notice.
Regardless of how you eat these, your vegan friends will be happy, happy! But don’t be surprised if your non-vegan friends want a bite, too.
For the potato patty
- 2 Russet potatoes
- 1 cup finely diced cauliflower
- 1/2 cup finely diced carrot
- 3/4 cup finely diced green beans
- 1 teaspoon peeled, grated ginger
- 5 tablespoons oil like Canola or vegetable oil divided
- 1 teaspoon turmeric divided
- 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile powder
- 3/4 teaspoon raw mango powder, also called amchur
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 slice of bread, white or ciabatta
For the burger assembly
- 8 buns
- 1 cup cilantro chutney
- 4 tomatoes sliced
- 3 red onions sliced
- 1/2 cup chaat masala
- 1/2 cup Canola oil
Veggie burgers, yay or nay? Let us know in the comments below.