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July 28, 2003

Tastes And Textures Of Summer

As I mentioned a while back, my wife and I have been on a quest to find the ultimate non-beef-non-pork "hamburger" this summer. We're still experimenting with our "no beef, no pork" diet, but what good are summer evenings and a barbeque if you can't have hamburgers, or something that at least approximates them? We've been looking for a burger to satisfy us without loading us up with growth hormone and saturated fats.

Thus far, we've tried five different kinds of burgers to replace our typical ground cow pucks. There have been successes, draws, and one resounding thud in the pit of my stomach. In the interest in promoting a healthier summer for all my readers and helping you avoid the real duds in the alternative hamburger world, I present to you my findings on the five different burgers I've actually consumed this summer.

First, I'll start off with a warning and tell you that President's Choice just doesn't seem to be a good place to start with alternative burgers. I devoted an entire article to the PC Alternative Burgers, loaded up with trans fats to the tune of 18 grams per patty. I have not tasted those, and I never plan to. No matter how tasty they are, you'd be better off sticking with regular ground beef patties, I'm sure.

President's Choice 9-Vegetable Patties

First in the President's Choice lineup are the PC 9-Vegetable Patties. Unlike the Alternative Burgers these patties are actually good for you. Unfortunately, there is no compelling reason other than that to actually eat them. Taking them out of the package, I could readily identify four ingredients in the patties just by looking at them. I saw cubed carrots, nearly whole peas and kernels of corn, and could tell that some of the filling around them was rice. So what - as long as they taste good, it doesn't matter what they look like, right? Damn straight. Too bad they taste like they look.

If I had to describe what the first bite of a PC 9-Vegetable Patty was like, the first word I'd have to use is "gritty". It wasn't like eating sand, more along the lines of taking a big mouthful of cornmeal that's been soaked in not quite enough water. The taste isn't any better either. Midway through my burger (duly loaded with relish, fresh tomato, and lots of ketchup to try and mask the nastiness) a full cube of carrot was hanging out from the patty in plain view. My wife found the exact same thing, and shortly thereafter found a nice big chunk of water chestnut poking out as well. President's Choice certainly didn't go to any trouble making these leftovers palatable.

On a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being "thanks, but I'll have a salad instead", 10 being "I'll never have beef again!") President's Choice 9-Vegetable Patties score a well-deserved 1. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

President's Choice Turkey Burgers

We have also tried President's Choice Turkey Burgers, and enjoyed them much more. The only problem I have found with processed turkey (or chicken) burgers, regardless of who makes them, is that they take skill to cook correctly. If I'm cooking a breast of poultry, it's pretty easy to tell when it's done and time to take it off. With processed poultry burgers, it's not quite as easy.

Such is the reason that I'm kind of half-hearted when it comes to the PC Turkey Burgers we tried. The first time they came off somewhat dry, flavourless, and looking pretty much like a processed puck of turkey that had been browned. The second time, I somehow managed to cook them through but retain much of the natural juices, making them look no more appealing but taste tenfold better. If you're willing to unlearn your beef-based barbeque knowledge and hone your skills on poultry, PC Turkey Burgers could be the way for you.

Due to their learning curve, and lack of taste if you don't get it right, President's Choice Turkey Burgers rate a 5.

M&M Veggie Burgers

We had M&M Veggie Burgers at a friend's barbeque at the start of the barbeque season, which were the first non-beef burgers we tasted. I must say, they set the bar pretty high. First off, they come the closest to actually looking like the real thing. They're not pale pink like turkey or chicken burgers, and they don't have mixed vegetables sticking out of them. They actually look beef-ish. Once they're off the grille and in your mouth, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a boxed-meat beef burger and one of these babies. The texture is almost perfect - quite beefy, substantial. There is no doubt in your mind that you're eating a burger.

The only critique I can claim is that they lack a distinct taste. There is some sort of taste there, but it's really not in the foreground. It seems that M&M decided to go for an authentic texture instead of an authentic taste. With the number of condiments usually piled on a hamburger, it was probably the right choice. I'd likely cook these with a nice sauce or even lightly marinate them before hand to produce an exquisite burger meal.

M&M Meat Shop's Veggie Burgers get a happy 7 from this omnivore.

Bean Burgers

My wife and I both enjoy cooking, so you have to expect that we'd try our own hand at cracking the good burger barrier. The first recipe my wife came across was Bean Burgers. As the name implies, the main ingredient is black beans. Being a chili man myself, I'm quite fond of beans, and had reserved but nonetheless positive hopes for this recipe.

Sadly, a burger made up of chopped beans tastes and feels pretty much like chopped beans. Barbequing these bean burgers was interesting, as they don't brown, they don't start getting juicy, they just kind of sit there getting hot and perhaps forming a slight crust on them. The flavour itself wasn't anything to write home about, although one could get around that by loading in a bunch of your favourite spices and flavourings. As we had them, however, they were a far cry from a perfectly executed puck of beef.

Bean Burgers score a 4, but could do much better with some creative seasoning.

Turkey Burgers

The most recent burgers we've tried were homemade turkey burgers. Unlike the standard beef burger patty recipe of meat, egg, onion, and breadcrumbs, these turkey burgers started out with meat and onion and added spinach, mayonnaise, and my favourite bottled flavour perk, Worcestershire sauce. It sounds odd, but let me tell you, these were the most flavourful non-beef patties I think I've ever had. Period. I'll put it this way: I did not use any condiments, and my mouth was still eagerly watering down to the last mouthful.

We only experienced one problem with these wonderful creations. The recipe calls for one cup of fresh spinach. In my unending wisdom, I decided that it would be a lot easier to purchase a package of frozen chopped spinach instead. Well, frozen spinach has a lot more water that fresh spinach, even after draining. As a result, the patties were extremely loose and could barely keep their shape. I had to scoop them off the plate and re-form them to get them on the grille. Of course, they were not that cohesive, and when I attempted to flip them they nearly completely disintegrated.

Despite our sloppy Joe-esque patties, they were hands down the tastiest we've tried yet, garnering a standing ovation and a score of 9. I'm hoping for 10 when we use fresh spinach next time!

Hopefully I've provided some interesting suggestions and/or valuable warnings that will allow you to experiment a bit with your summer dinner fare. While I highly recommend experimentation with your meal planning, I must remind you that mistakes - and there will be mistakes - still have to be eaten. Keep a bottle of your favourite sauce handy, just in case you have a texture to mask. Happy eating!



Popeye's Favourite Turkey Burgers

500g (1 lb) ground turkey
250ml (1 cup) chopped fresh spinach
125ml (1/2 cup) dry bread crumbs
75ml (1/3 cup) chopped onion
50ml (1/4 cup) light mayonnaise
25ml (2 tbsp) Worcestershire sauce
1 minced garlic clove
1ml (1/4 tsp) pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Shape into 4 large patties. Place patties on oiled grill. Grill over medium-high heat 4-6 minutes on each side, until no longer pink in centre.

Courtesy of the Canadian Turkey Marketing Agency. Thanks!!


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