With a commentary by the chef’s daughter:
My mother raised me in tree-planting camps. We found space in the edges of the wild, near where the land was being crudely sliced and carved. There among the forests we discovered black bears upon the table, stored perishables in cold creeks and lived in billowing houses of plastic and greased canvas. While my mother sautéed in a kitchen cook-tent, I learned correspondence schooling and kitchen schooling.
Somewhere in the bones of my body there has grown a deep understanding that daily sustenance is actually reshaped, reconstituted dirt. Plants are the most ingenious ovens and chefs. They pull ingredients from the air as magicians, suckle light from the sky into vegetal flesh, wrench water into green-edged bowls of leaf and stem. The gritty elements are then spun and stirred into salad, bread, grain and gruel.
“Why did you start cooking?” I asked my mom the other day. We were sitting together eating the results of her different trial versions of this veggie-burger recipe.
“Why did I start cooking?” she said quietly to herself, and pondered the question. “I guess when you are raised in a place where lots of love is put into meals, then you know cooking as a source of this. Because cooking involves heat, fire and chemistry, and it also involves creativity… it is an art, really.”
If cooking is an art, then we all visit the gallery daily. Recipes are maps of journeys that have nourished, and reminders of a sustaining experience. Each recipe attempted, and each story told, evolves. Meals and life are made delicious by the intent and dedication that goes into their creation. It is interesting how linked the creative process is with the process of creating sustenance.
Recipes unravel according to the hand that measures. Every time a meal is prepared, in order for it to truly live on the heart and tongue there must be an element of intrigue, risk and daring. So go ahead, measure that salt with a pinch of forefinger and thumb. Go ahead, walk a new route home and adventure the fresh sapling green streets on an untraceable whim. Cook life like you live meals! This is the nature of oral traditions, literature and edibles. Each element blooms “soully” on the tongue, for brief moments before being consumed and transformed. My mother always says that the secret ingredient is Love. I can taste it. Can you?
Makes 7 burgers
2 c moist, cooked millet (1/2 cup millet cooked in 2 cups water)
1/2 c whole toasted almonds
1/2 c whole toasted walnuts
2 T cooking oil
3 medium-sized shiitake mushrooms (dried or fresh), finely chopped (If using dried mushrooms, soak them in 1 cup of boiled hot water before chopping.)
1 bunch spinach, chopped
1/2 a large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 T crushed sage
1 t thyme
1 t dill
1 t salt
ground black pepper to taste
1 T soy sauce
1 t engevita yeast
To begin, slow down, breathe, and calm your mind. Preheat oven to 350°.
- Place the nuts on separate cookie sheets and toast them in the oven for about 5 minutes. When they are nearly done, they will become fragrant and turn a warm golden colour. Remember to watch them, as they can easily burn! When cooled, grind the nuts in small batches until they are the texture of coarse cornmeal.
- Preheat 1 T oil in a sauté pan on medium-high heat. Finely chop the shiitake mushrooms, then sauté the mushrooms, spinach, onions and celery together. Cook for approximately 8 minutes.
- Finely grind the herbs in a spice grinder (or mince finely with a knife if you don’t have a spice grinder). Add herbs to mixing bowl, along with salt, pepper, soy sauce and engevita yeast.
- Add cooked millet, sautéed vegetables and toasted nuts to the spices in the mixing bowl and thoroughly mix together. Using your hands, form into burger patties and place on an oiled cookie sheet. You should be able to make 7 burgers.
- Bake 15 minutes on a lower-level shelf. Then gently flip over the patties and bake for another 5 minutes.
- Let burgers cool a few minutes on the cookie sheet. When the burger patties are hot, they are quite fragile. As they cool down, they will firm up. This cooling-down period is important, as it helps to keep the hearty patties together.
Now, enjoy with your favourite bun and burger condiments. YUM!
Risa Salsberg has been cooking vegetarian for over 25 years and is a graduate of Dubrille Culinary. She has studied macrobiotics and whole foods in California and trained at Sanko-in, a Buddhist nunnery specializing in shojin ryori (traditional Buddhist vegetarian cookery). Risa is currently studying fine arts in Vancouver. Craig Walker first began cooking vegetarian in tree planting camps. Craig has studied macrobiotics at the Vega Study Center and has cooked professionally in Japan.