Monday 25 February 2013

Vegetarian Aubergine Burgers with Poached Eggs & a Paprika-Garlic Dressing

Here is my new recipe for vegetarian burger patties made from aubergines. These are juicy, satisfying and flavoursome, and they contain neither soy protein nor any of the similar sawdusty meat substitutes so often added to vegetarian dishes. These do, I admit, take some time and effort to make, but I promise you won't be disappointed by the result. Start this the day before, and your vegetarian friends will be putty in your hands as they chow down.  

Vegetarian Aubergine Burgers with Poached Eggs & a Paprika-Garlic Dressing
Serve these hot in stacks, topped with a soft-poached egg, or slap them between burger rolls
with all the usual toppings - cheese, lettuce, pickles and tomato sauce. 

Why aubergines? Two reasons. One of my sisters is a life-long vegetarian, and many years ago I asked her, just before a Christmas feast, what she would consider an excellent dish for a special occasion. 'Anything with brinjals and cheese,' she replied without skipping a beat ('brinjals' is what we call this vegetable in South Africa).  I hadn't hugely appreciated aubergines before I heard this, but my interest was piqued, and I've been a devotee ever since.

Also, when it comes to a burger, aubergines are a great choice because they have a unique texture and a deep savour that isn't found in any other vegetable I can think of  apart from fresh and dried mushrooms. I'd describe this quality - sorry, vegetarians - as 'meaty', and I've tried to enhance it in this recipe by adding an umami-rich punch in the form of grated Parmesan.

The challenge with making a good veggie burger is, first, to make it look as tempting and toothsome as as a chargrilled meaty one, and not like the sad khaki-coloured flaps of mush that pass for vegetarian burgers.  I've tried to accomplish this by making big, thick, well-coloured burger patties that look every bit as tempting, and I've used top-quality paprika to hint at a fiery, chargrilled taste.

The second challenge is to achieve some of the bounce and spring that make a juicy beef burger so good.  After some experimentation, I realised that this just isn't possible, because no cooked veggie has the resilience of ground beef. You could, if you like, add some cubed halloumi to these patties to give them a bit more rubberiness, but I think that's a bit of a waste of good cheese.  If you're looking for an extra kick of cheese, top each burger with a nice slice of smoked provolone.

Vegetarian Aubergine Burgers with Poached Eggs & a Paprika-Garlic Dressing
The reason this picture looks so misty is because I forgot to clean my cell phone's
camera lens. I think Iwill call this effect my 'vinaigrette' filter.
In this recipe I've used some of my favourite spices to bring out the flavour (aubergine, being meek-flavoured, gracefully accepts help from many quarters), but these are a rough guide. You can add anything you fancy: chopped fresh green or red chillies, grated raw onion, finely chopped preserved lemon, fresh herbs, extra garlic, and so on.

My plan, when photographing these, was to slap them between toasted rolls and add all the usual burger toppings, but of course the packet of fresh rolls I'd bought that morning had been demolished by my hungry teens. So I served them for dinner with fresh rocket, poached eggs and a perky paprika, garlic and lemon dressing.

I've tested this recipe using both unpeeled and peeled aubergines, and the peeled ones produced the best patties. If you look out for flat, sleek, bouncy aubergines at the peak of their ripeness, you won't find them difficult to peel, although I admit that cutting them into a fine dice will take up some of your time.

Vegetarian Aubergine Burgers with Poached Eggs & a Paprika-Garlic Dressing

For the burgers:

4 large, ripe aubergines
2 Tbsp (30 ml) salt, for degorging
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil
4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and very finely chopped or grated
1 cup (250 ml) fine dried breadcrumbs, plus extra for coating
1 extra-large free-range egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup (180 ml) finely grated Parmesan
the finely grated zest of a small lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) finely chopped fresh chives or spring onions
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika [or good-quality Spanish sweet paprika]
150 g (about two 'wheels' or discs) feta cheese [use Greek feta, not the Danish variety]
salt and milled black pepper
sunflower oil, for frying
freshly poached eggs, for topping
rocket leaves, for serving

For the dressing: 
3 Tbsp (45 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, peeled and very finely grated or crushed
a pinch of salt
1 tsp (5 ml) smoked paprika
a pinch of caster sugar
½ cup (125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
milled black pepper

Start this dish a few hours in advance. Top and tail the aubergines and thinly pare their skins using a potato peeler.  Halve them horizontally, and then cut them into a fine, neat 5 mm dice by cutting them first into slim batons, and then cubing them (see below).

Tip the diced bits into a large colander, sprinkle the salt over them, and place a weight on top.  A plate weighed down with two or three tins from the cupboard always works for me.  Set them aside for an hour.  Now rinse off the salt under a running cold tap. Shake well, and tip the pieces onto a clean tea towel or a stack of kitchen paper.  Pat them firmly to remove any excess liquid.

Heat the oil in a large, shallow pan - a paella pan is ideal.  Add the aubergine bits and fry them over a lively heat for 8 minutes, or until they are lightly browned, stirring often to prevent them sticking. Now turn down the heat slightly and cook for another 8-10 minutes, or until the pieces are soft and silken, but not collapsed into a mush, and with not a trace of wateriness. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Scrape the contents of the frying pan into a large mixing bowl and set aside to cool for 10 minutes, or until lukewarm. Stir in the breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan, lemon zest, chives, cumin, coriander and paprika. Roughly crumble in the feta cheese, season to taste with salt and black pepper, and gently mix everything together until well combined.  The easiest way to do this is to use your hands.

Put the mixture into the fridge to firm up for an hour or two; this will also let the breadcrumbs absorb some moisture.

To make the dressing, mix together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, paprika and caster sugar in a small bowl.  When the sugar has dissolved, gradually whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with black pepper and more salt, if necessary.

Form the aubergine mixture into thick, neat patties at least 3 cm thick.  The best way to do this is to press the mixture firmly into a food ring of a suitable size. If you don't have such a gadget, make one by cutting the top and bottom off a tin of tuna. Gently push the formed patty out of the ring and pat it gently between the palms of your hand to even the surfaces. Set aside and repeat the process with the remaining aubergine mixture.

Put some dried breadcrumbs on a plate and lightly season them with salt and pepper.  Put a patty into the crumbs and roll it over, patting lightly, so it is evenly coated on all sides. Shake off any excess crumbs.

Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan or on a skillet.  Fry the patties, a few at a time, over a medium-high heat, until they are a lovely rich brown all over, and very hot all the way through.  Watch them like a hawk, as the crumbs burn quickly.  If your mixture came out of the fridge and was very cold, put them in the oven after browning so they are heated right through.

To serve these as burgers, sandwich them between toasted rolls and add lettuce, tomato, gherkins, cheese and all the usual burger toppings (how about this tomato relish?)

To serve them with the paprika dressing, arrange some fresh rocket leaves on each plate. Keep the patties warm in the oven while you poach the eggs.  Place two burger patties in a stack on top of the leaves. Perch a poached egg on top, and drizzle the dressing over the egg. Serve immediately.

Makes 8-10 burger patties, depending on size. 

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Kimberly @ Turning the Pages said...

These sound amazing! I've been looking for some veggie recepies that might get my husband to eat more vegetables and I think this one will be a hit. I can't wait to try this out!

Jane-Anne said...

Hi MissKim! Thank you very much! Please let me know what your husband thinks of the veg burgers :)