VEGGIE BURGERS once a favorite of vegetarians only are now showing up in restaurants everywhere. President Clinton is purportedly a big fan of the veggie Boca Burger. In America several brands of veggie burgers are available in natural-food stores and supermarkets, and gourmet veggie burgers are served at fine restaurants from Maine to California. Whether served as is, inside a sesame-seed bun, or between slices of British bap, French croissant, Italian foccacia, or Middle Eastern pita, veggie burgers are here to stay.
India's closest equivalent to the veggie burger is a family of street snack foods called tikkis, translated as "veg cutlets," "veg chops," or "veg burgers." Tikkis are deep-, shallow-, or pan-fried, they're soft on the inside and crisp on the outside, and they feature the tastes and textures of several vegetables. Some tikkis are bound together with a little flour or some bread crumbs, and others are given a rich texture with chewy cooked grains.
Tikkis are traditionally served alone or as part of a full meal, with little more than a squeeze of lime juice or a dollop of chutney or tomato sauce. But India's food habits are in transition. I predict that soon classic tikki will more resemble American-style veggie burgers and be served as a fast meal sandwich from Chowpatty Beach to Howrah station.
Srila Prabhupada and Tikkis
Each region of India has favorite renditions of this food. My first Bengali sampling was cooked by Srila Prabhupada's sister Bhavatarini, lovingly known as Pishima, or "Auntie." She made tikkis for Prabhupada's lunch. They were somewhat complex spicy mashed green peas enveloped with mashed potatoes and then with brayed panir cheese. She flattened them into small patties, dipped them into a thick chickpea-flour batter, and shallow-fried them in ghee until they were crisp and richly browned.
The minute Srila Prabhupada saw the tikki he smiled, nodded, and said, "Oh, she has made veg chop."
"Veg chop?" I asked, somewhat amazed.
Srila Prabhupada then said that this was a kind of tikki, a dish from his childhood. With my first bite I wanted to know more about tikkis.
Most of the tikki recipes in Lord Krishna's Cuisine I later prepared for Srila Prabhupada. They're versions he liked or requested. Now I'm always coming up with new versions and rarely make tikkis the same way twice. If you follow this series of cooking classes, try several tikkis from the book. If not, at least try the recipe below. (Don't be put off by the lengthy list of ingredients eleven are pantry items.)
The yield for this recipe is generous. Use the recipe as a formula for inspiration and come up with several seasonal variations to your own liking.
NOTE: You may use more or less oil while frying, but too little will make the crust dry and brittle. Non-stick pans keep the patties from sticking to the pan. I find that these burgers are at their best when fried in flavored ghee or any type of flavored Consorzio olive oil.
Tikkis freeze well. Stack the cooled burgers between sheets of waxed paper and freeze them in well-sealed containers.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in care ofBTG.
Tikkis: Indian-Style Veggie Burgers
This tikki is inspired by one served at the Mayfair Resort Restaurant in Jagannatha Puri. It includes beets for a red hue, potatoes and oats for binding, cooked grains and veggies for texture, and spices, chilies, and herbs for zest, heat, and flavor. I've never had any two batches of this recipe turn out exactly the same, so be ready to add more oats if the mixture is too moist, or more chilies if you want more heat.
1 tablespoon cold-pressed corn oil
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 ½ tablespoons grated ginger root
1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes, or to taste
½ teaspoon yellow asafetida
3 cups finely chopped carrots (5-6 large)
2 cups finely chopped zucchinis (2 medium)
3 cups finely chopped yams (3 medium)
3 cups minced beets (3 medium)
2 cups finely chopped turnips (2 medium)
2 cups finely sliced green beans
¼ cup whole wheat flour
4 cups instant rolled oats or 5-grain cereal
3 cups cooked white or brown rice
4 cups mashed new potatoes
1 ½ tablespoons curry powder
2/3 cup chopped cilantro or mixed herbs
salt and freshly ground pepper
ghee or extra-virgin olive oil for pan-frying
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat. Drop in the mustard and cumin seeds, and when they begin to pop add the ginger and red pepper flakes. Fry until the cumin is toasty brown but not black.
Drop in the asafetida and within 5 seconds all the vegetables. Fry for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Sprinkle in the flour, keep stirring, and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Combine the remaining ingredients and cooled vegetables in a large bowl. Mix well with your hands. Season with salt and pepper. Using an oiled measuring cup, scoop up ½-cup portions and flatten each one into a 3 ½-inch smooth-edged patty. Place the patties on baking trays lined with waxed paper. Cover them and refrigerate them at least 4 hours, or better overnight.
To cook the patties, place 2 or 3 large nonstick frying pans over medium-high to high heat. Warm 2 tablespoons of oil in each pan for each batch. Place 3 or 4 patties in each pan and fry until richly browned, charred in places, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Use a gentle hand with the spatula as you turn the patties over. Transfer the patties to cookie racks to cool slightly and firm up while you fry the remaining patties. Offer to Krsna.
For entree service: Spoon hot tomato sauce on warmed dinner plates and place 2 burgers on each. Surround with 1 to 4 vegetable dishes.
For an Indian-style snack: Serve with a lime wedge or cashew chutney. To serve as burgers, melt a slice of good cheese on top and serve with your choice of toppings between rolls, rustic bread, or sliced foccacia.