So, I meet new people, and the inevitable “What do you do?” question often leads to the fact that I write a blog about not eating out. This often leads the recipient of said introduction to gauge how much he or she eats out, or not. (“I never cook,” is a common response.) Recently, someone replied saying that the only thing he cooked was a frozen veggie patty now and then.
“Are you vegetarian?” I asked. No, he wasn’t. (Noteworthy aside: many people I know who rarely cook find it much more intimidating to cook meat, and so don’t.) Now, I have nothing against meatless main courses — it’s my bread and butter most of the time — and I firmly believe tofu should be brought out of the doghouse and be enjoyed by all (and not just as a “meat substitute”). But I am not on board with most packaged frozen veggie patties. They are processed foods’ answer to hamburgers, for vegetarians. And they’re comprised of starches, transglutaminases, powders, and some indeterminate specks of vegetables and plant-based proteins. No major crimes here, but to me, they just seem lacking in anything… genuine. It’s like, What’s in it? -Who cares! It’s just not meat!
Another trade-off for the convenience of these patties is their dearth of flavor due to their heavily processed, un-freshness. Actually, make that a dearth of texture that resembles anything natural, too. But, I completely understand that many people find these freezer stashes the quick and easy solution to eating at home (“inexpensive” would be pushing it, however), and a sandwich, after all, has uncanny powers to satisfy. The better that it have plenty of protein, unlike some of these frozen species, and a good balance of grains and vegetables when eaten with a sandwich roll. This is the goal, right?
Believe me, I have no illusions of converting the type of eater who is happy with heating plastic-wrapped veggie patties from the freezer into a homemade chickpea burger-making maven. But I had some beans soaking in water one day, and I thought, that might be a fun thing to try out, a veggie patty.
For one thing, it’s going to need some spice, I got started on it thinking. (Fingers propping open cabinet doors, rummaging through, letting tumble, picking up, and dropping again plastic spice canisters.) Not spicy spices, necessarily. But it’s definitely going to need some definition. I had chickpeas boiling, as you might have guessed by now, after a night’s soak in water. As I waited for them to become tender, I appointed a lineup of predictable partners: cumin and coriander seeds. On the short list and still in the wings until further taste tests: cayenne, mustard seed, a grate of fresh nutmeg and cinnamon.
You know what? These didn’t need all the spices in Sahadi’s to be tasty, crisp and satisfying after all. These turned out fairly simple, a good start. But the method easily lends itself to countless variation, from spices to chopped veggie add-ins. I had sundried tomatoes on hand, so I chopped them finely and added them to my ground chickpea mixture. I also sauteed the chickpeas until slightly toasted on the outside, seasoning them along the way, to get rid of extra moisture. To bring out the most flavor in the coriander and cumin seeds, I toasted them in the same skillet first, then crushed them up with an improvised mortar and pestle.
I began with dried chickpeas and boiled them to perhaps just under-tender. After they were quickly sauteed with some vegetables, I ran the mixture for a few pulses in the food processor. I wanted to retain some chunkiness, so I didn’t work the thing terribly much. How chunky? About this much:
Finally, to form the ground mixture into patties, I went with the classic solution: an egg. Nature’s binding agent. I know vegetarians who won’t eat eggs unless they’re baked in pastry or they are otherwise unaware of their presence. But I also know that many things cannot be cooked without eggs, unless you want to go the way of chemical food additives. You would never have fresh pasta, pancakes, pudding, meatballs, doughnuts — the list goes on. (Chrysanthe, I hate to tell you, but everything in that dessert on Saturday had eggs: the ice cream, chocolate cakes and ladyfingers.)
After forming them into those ubiquitous sandwich-stuffing discs, I cooked these patties on both sides in a pan for a little crust, before freezing. Now that they’re individually wrapped and frozen, they’re ready to reheat in any whichway — the microwave, toaster oven, broiler, or the pan again — and top with any fixins’.
Easy Chickpea Freezer Patties
(makes 4 patties)
3 cups ready-to-eat chickpeas, either canned or soaked overnight and boiled about 1 hour until tender, drained
1/4 cup carrots, finely chopped
1/4 cup green or red bell pepper, finely chopped
2-3 sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large scallion, chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high. Once hot, add the coriander seeds and cook about 3 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove and repeat with the cumin seeds another 2 minutes. Transfer seeds to a small bowl (or a real mortar and pestle) and crush with the back of a broad, flat object.
In the same pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and add the (well-drained) chickpeas. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and the cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chickpeas develop a slight browned crust on the surface. Reduce heat, and add the carrots, bell pepper, sundried tomatoes and another tablespoon of oil. Season with another pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Once slightly cooled, transfer the chickpea mixture as well as the scallions and garlic to a food processor. Pulse about five seconds, or until slightly chunky but evenly so. Transfer to a bowl. Taste for seasoning, adding a little extra salt, pepper or cayenne if desired. Add the egg and stir to fully combine. Form mixture into four equal patties.
Heat the last tablespoon of oil in the skillet. Cook patties on each side for a couple minutes until just lightly browned. Let cool. Serve immediately or wrap with plastic to reheat in the oven, microwave or pan.
(for 4 servings)
3 cups chickpeas (from a 1 lb bag for $1.29): $0.50
1 small carrot (from a $3 bag of about 15 from the Greenmarket): $0.20
3 sundried tomatoes: $0.35
1/4 cup bell pepper: $0.30
1 scallion: $0.10
1 egg: $0.33
4 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
garlic clove, tsp each coriander and cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne: $0.25
Two brownie points: It doesn’t get much leaner than this. Another obvious goal of the veggie patty is to be a healthier, low-cholesterol alternative to meaty sandwiches. This one succeeds, with just a little fat from the egg and olive oil and the array of nutrients found in the plants. In addition to protein, chickpeas provide fiber and some iron. One thing to watch out for, however: they’re high in carbs.
Five maple leaves: I learned the most fascinating thing from some Greenmarket folks recently. Beans can be grown in the tri-state area. Locally-grown beans, of any kind. Why not? I’ll look forward to finding fresher versions of my favorite dried pantry staples hopefully not too far in the future. In the meantime, this recipe mainly consists of the dried pantry staple, with a minimal dose of seasonal and unseasonal veggies.