I’m back! After a few weeks’ hiatus for moving, I have regular internet access again at my lovely new home in Kanazawa, which means I can stop watching cooking shows on my phone and get back to writing.
Japan doesn’t really have much in the way of pre-made veggie burgers, so I’ve taken to making my own, typically from the fantastic Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks. Who knew it was so easy? Although lentils, chickpeas, or black beans mixed with breadcrumbs, egg, and seasonings are the standard route for American-inspired burgers, Japan is a land of tofu, and one thing I particularly like about Japan’s tofu culture is that Japanese cuisine employs tofu byproducts.
Okara（おから), or unoha (卯の花), is the fluffy byproduct that occurs when the soy milk is squeezed out of soy beans in tofu production. Raw okara (as opposed to powdered, sometimes used in baking) is incredibly cheap at about 55-60 yen for 200 grams, and because it is also incredibly bland, it makes a great blank slate for cooking. Because its shelf-life is quite short–perhaps only 1-2 days refrigerated–if you plan to cook with okara, be sure to have some recipes ready!
In May, I went hunting for bamboo shoot (take no ko, タケノコ), and I tried out 「お肉無し！たけのこ入りおからハンバーグ」(“No Meat! Bamboo-Shoot-and-Okara Hamburg”) : a patty made of okara, onions, and take no ko, held together with eggs, and seasoned with dashi and ponzu. This time, I decide to swap a yellow bell pepper in place of the now out-of-season bamboo and to add grated ginger to the patty instead of the recommended grated daikon. While this dish is by no means spicy, the ginger adds a zing and complements the tartness of the ponzu. I recommend topping this with mitsuba (Japanese parsley) and/or green onions, as well.
Of course, since the flavor of the patty itself is mostly egg and onion and this is essentially a non-vegan veggie burger with okara as the protein rather than beans, I tried one with melted mozzarella, lettuce and avocado on a hamburger bun. (They do exist, but can be a trick to find. An English muffin works just as well in my opinion.) The patty is moist enough to work well on a bun, and the melted cheese helps it hold together a bit better.
Makes 4-6 patties. Serves 4-6.
Time: 20 minutes
For the burgers
100 grams onion (tamanegi, 玉ねぎ)
50 grams yellow bell pepper (kîro pîman, 黄色ピーマン)
200 grams okara（おから), also known as unoha (うのは、卯の花)
1 2/3 Tbsp men-tsuyu* （麺つゆ）
1 teaspoon sugar (satô, 砂糖)
100 mL water
Pepper, to taste (koshô, 胡椒)
3 eggs (tamago, 卵)
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (orîbu oiru, オリーブオイル) for cooking
Ponzu sauce, to taste (ponzu, ポン酢）
Grated ginger, to taste (shôga, ショウガ)
Diced green onions, to taste (negi, ねぎ)
Mitsuba, to taste (三つ葉)**
Veggie Burger Style:
4-6 hamburger buns (hanbâgâ banzu, ハンバーガー・バンズ)
Lettuce (retasu, レタス)
Sliced avocado (abokado, アボカド)
Mozzarella (motsarera chîzu, モツァレラチーズ)
(Or any other favorite toppings)
1 large frying pan
1. Heat ~1 Tbsp of olive oil in a large frying pan. Dice the onions and peppers and add. Saute until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softened.
2. Add the okara and the seasonings and heat through so that the sauce is absorbed. Remove from heat.
3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl and add the okara mixture. Stir well to incorporate.
4. When the mixture is cool enough to handle, form into 4-6 patties. Wipe the frying pan out with a clean damp cloth and heat on medium. (May use more olive oil for cooking if desired.)
5. Cook each patty until browned on the each side and cooked through. The patties tend to be a little crumbly, so flip with care.
6. Serve hot or cold with condiments from the above serving suggestions. For the ponzu version, top with onions and grated ginger and pour a little ponzu on top. For the hamburger style, build a hamburger with your favorite condiments, such as the ones listed above. Melted cheese will help keep the patty together on the bun.
7. If you plan on serving these later or have leftovers, cool, store in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to 4 days. They’re good cold (I often bring them in my bento) but also reheat well.
*Men-tsuyu just means “noodle sauce.” I used soba tsuyu, a concentrated soy-sauce-sauce based sauce for dipping cold soba in, a la zaru soba. This is available in the grocery store with the soy sauces or you can also make your own.
**Mitsuba is Japanese parsley.