Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Favourite productions Burgers part 1

I have often served vege-“burgers” to guests at Yoga plus and they’re always popular.

The basic recipe varies, depending on what is in the kitchen, what we have cooked extra of, and what is left over*. It’s a bit of an art really, the cook going on instinct to balance the ingredients.

Maybe it’s a bit like movie-making? You get “recipes” for film structure in “The Scriptwriters Handbook”, and methods of cooking in “The Production Handbook” but in the end – it’s an art.

I watched Good Night and Good Luck on DVD last night. It was a simple movie made extraordinarily well. A great cast well acted, plenty of time, strong material.

By contrast, Crash, the oscar winner was anything but simple. It is a superb, if uneasy movie, which blends different cultures, bumping up against each other, into a sympathetic whole.

Walk the Line was more straightforward – strong and complex performances, with a bit of country sweetness and rock and roll kick.

All great movies, all different, and so it is with burgers.

And, ladies and gentlemen here it is, typed live from room 6 at Agios Pavlos rebroadcast at, Spotlit by the sun setting behind the Dragon’s neck rock, here is….

The Burger Production Handbook

The Cast:
Starring roles
You want good actors for a movie, and a good base for a burger. I build burgers round one or more grains – Quinoa**, Rice, Millet or Couscous. Sometimes you have more than one lead! Left over risotto, pilaf, bulgur or cous-cous can make a great burger-base, with a few additions – to dry the mix a little for risotto, or moisten and bind it for pilaf or couscous based burgers.

Character part(s)
Sometimes I’d mix in one or more pulses with the grains. Black eyed peas are particularly good, but hummus, gigante/white beans, lentils and split peas can all work in the mix, and give texture, protein and depth to the final result. Soy protein is another protein source.

Supporting ingredients
As flavouring, you can add red or green peppers/roast aubergine/roast courgette chopped finely, some grated carrot. Some people like to add cheese, although I prefer my movies and burgers without. Corn is a different matter – in for the burgers without a doubt, not so much in the movies. Although a Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Kate Hudson or Meg Ryan movie can hit the spot sometimes. Roasted, chopped squash could be excellent in firm mix, or a little chopped potato***.

Cameo roles
Other flavouring can include pesto (perhaps in a burger with rice and corn and white beans?), Curry powder, sage, thyme, coriander, cumin, turmeric, basil, oregano, nutmeg even. Chopped Parsley, Dill or Coriander work well too. These are important in the overall feel of the burger, and indeed their influence can dominate the billing and the final production in disproportion to their size. Think Judy Dench in Shakespeare in Love!

Backstage support: holding it together
One key thing to consider is the texture – it needs to be able to bind together. If you’re making vegan burgers, then a dip/pulse like left-over Fava, or maybe hummus could help bind the mix. If not vegan, then egg can be used. Oats are great to add body to a wet mix, and help bind it. A little flour can also be helpful. I’ve used wheat or spelt flour. Chickpea flour would work well too.

Post production: oven time.
Once you have assembled your cast of ingredients, and mix which holds together, it’s good to try it on a test audience. Maybe you? Test fry one burger to see if it works before committing them to the oven.

Form into whatever shape you like – basic round and flat, ball like, mini or texas sized, croquette shaped, or brick. [You can also bake them in a tray as a loaf, or in a swiss roll tin as a bake, but people prefer the burger shape usually.]

Bake on well oiled trays in a moderate oven (350 Farenheit/180 Celcius) for around half an hour. If you like crispy burgers, drizzle or spray oil (olive or sunflower) on the outside. Part way through cooking You can flip them over to brown on both sides.

Serve on their own if they are moist, or with tomato sauce, hummus, tsatsiki, htipiti, skordalia or other sauce.

Oscar quality productions of the past
Particular successes I can recall have included:
- “Walk the Line” Corn Britters (burger fritters) which were based on millet and rice with parsley, rice, chopped onion and sweetcorn, bound with egg. Surprisingly simple. One of my favourites. Great central ingredient.

- “Good Night and Good Luck” - Curried quinoa burgers – quinoa flavoured with curry powder bound with egg. Strong flavour, simple concept, mono colour palette beautifully executed by Richard.

- “Crash” - Black eyed peas in tomato sauce, with oats, pureed chickpeas and rice, leftover antipasti of roast aubergine, and roast courgettes, Feta, chopped parsley, egg, oats and flour to bind. A complex mix, great result, served with chips and tomato salsa.

“Brokeback Mountain” burger would have to have been one of Udo’s mixes. Dill, egg, rice, quinoa, onion, garlic rosemary formed into croquettes. Subtle, interesting, lots of herbs, delicately flavoured and delicious.

I haven’t seen Capote yet, and have only worked with 4 chefs so can’t come up with a combination for that!

David Mamet, in his book, True and False, wrote something along the lines that it is not less noble to make your own theatre than to wait for someone to feed you work.

So, applying that to cooking: get into the kitchen and make yourself a burger!

This episode produced by Like to the Lark Kitchen Productions

*It’s a great idea to cook extra quantities of pulses- chick peas, gigante/white beans, black-eyed peas spring to mind. If you cover them well, and refrigerate you can use them a day or two later in a different recipe.

**Strictly speaking, Quinoa is a seed – the “mother grain” of the Aztecs. White and Red Quinoa are easily available in the UK at Holland and Barrett health food shops, among others.

*** Is it stretching the metaphor way too far to include an irish character actor? –Maybe Colm Meaney? A good solid performer but not the star!

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