Soy it ain't so

Admit it, vegetarians. Those frozen, brittle, soy-based hockey pucks we call veggie burgers don’t hold a candle to the hand-formed hamburger patties, locally made sausages, and marinated chicken and fish our carnivorous friends gleefully char during seasonal cookouts. As they rave about the secret spices tucked into their mounds of meat, we gnaw at dull gray patties with pre-pressed grill marks, summoning that special power of vegetarians everywhere, inherent moral superiority, to get through the bland doldrums between Memorial and Labor days.

Sadly, smugness can’t even make up for lack of taste anymore. Last month, Mother Jones reported on a study by the Cornucopia Institute that showed that several popular frozen veggie burgers are processed with hexane, a byproduct of gasoline refining. Yum! According to Cornucopia, the hexane extracts oil from soy protein quickly and cheaply, leaving behind low-fat soy protein. Extracted oils from canola, corn, and soy rely on the hexane process, as do most beloved meat substitutes not emblazoned with the USDA organic symbol. Hexane is a neurotoxin; the FDA has yet to test for its effects when consumed, but the Environmental Protection Agency does list it as one of their 188 air pollutants that “cause or may cause cancer or other serious health effects.” Cornucopia reported that “Solae, a major supplier of soy-protein ingredients found in vegetarian burgers, energy bars, and other ‘all-natural’ foods, emitted nearly one million pounds of hexane,” in 2007. Here’s the very brief list of non-hexane extracted veggie burgers: Boca Burgers (“made with organic soy”), Helen’s Kitchen, Morningstar (“Made with organic soy”), Superburgers by Turtle Island, Tofurky, Wildwood. Might as well tuck into a factory-farmed, hormone-oozing quarter-pounder.

This new information caused me to redouble an effort to make my own veggie burger, based on a recipe from Atlas Grill in Oklahoma, of which my cousin is a co-owner, and where their meatless patties are a favorite of downtown Tulsa’s decidedly meat-and-potatoes crowd. Sorry to disappoint anyone devoted to the taste or mouthfeel of Textured Vegetable Protein, but this recipe uses black beans for a base. The result is flavor — huzzah — plus some added nutrients from black beans, peppers, and onions. Now instead of mumbling about what’s really in that ground beef or hot dog, you can cheerfully compare seasoning notes with your meatiest pals, and maybe light a fire under a few to try this spicy recipe on their own. •

Black Bean Burgers

Makes 10-12 patties
(Make these early and freeze or pack in a cooler to keep the patties from turning to mush on the grill)

3 cans black beans
½ bag tortilla chips (the thinner, the better, like those made by El Milagro)
2 onions
3 bell peppers
3 eggs (substitute 3 T ground flax seeds simmered with 7-8 T water for a vegan recipe)
2 T olive oil
2 t dried onions
2 t garlic salt
2 t smoked paprika
1 T Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce to taste

Rinse black beans and dry very well. Crush tortilla chips into crumbs. Using a food processor, dice onions. Drain very well and pat dry with paper towels. Repeat process for bell peppers. Sauté onions in olive oil until soft and translucent, add bell peppers and sauté for two minutes. Remove from pan and pat with paper towel to remove excess oil. Reserve one cup of tortilla-chip crumbs. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix using hand mixer or fork until it reaches Play-Doh consistency. Form mixture into patties, cover both sides with remaining tortilla chip crumbs. Freeze for a minimum of three hours. Grill over medium-hot fire, pan-fry, or broil.