The “V” Word continues its celebration of VeganMoFo, the vegan month of food, with its theme “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” Today’s episode stars Food Network’s own Bobby Flay.
Bobby Flay is all over Food Network and The Cooking Channel. I swear that one day he will take over as president of the network. He’s the host of multiple shows (Boy Meets Grill, Grill it! With Bobby Flay, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Brunch @ Bobby’s, Food Network Star and Iron Chef America). He has written multiple cookbooks and has a dozen restaurants including his famous Mesa Grill and Bobby’s Burger Palace.
This native New Yorker has a great life story: born and raised in New York, asked for an Easy-Bake Oven at age 8, dropped out of high school at 17, started at the very bottom working at restaurants and worked his way up the ladder until he went to culinary school. Flay’s tuition for the French Culinary Institute was paid for by his then-boss, Joe Allen, who saw potential in the young man. Perhaps that is why Bobby established The Bobby Flay Scholarship which awards full tuition for someone with promise to attend the same culinary school. It’s always nice when people pay it forward.
Flay achieved some notoriety in 2000 when he appeared on the original Japanese Iron Chef. The show traveled to NY for a special battle. Flay challenged Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. After the battle ended but before the dishes were judged, Flay stood on top of his cutting board and raised his arms in victory. This highly offended Chef Morimoto who felt that real chefs consider knives and cutting boards sacred. He declared that Flay was “not a chef.” Bobby ended up losing that battle.
He later challenged Morimoto to a rematch in Japan. At the end of the battle, Bobby threw his cutting board on the floor and then stood on the counter to raise his arms in victory. Flay won this battle. Flay and Morimoto, who are both on Iron Chef America, are now close friends.
Since I didn’t start watching food TV until 2006, I had never heard of Bobby Flay. I got to like him watching Throwdown with Bobby Flay. What appealed to me was his humility. The same chef who often appears arrogant and intense on Iron Chef is completely humble and friendly when he is dealing with people. Flay is funny, personable and while he does his best in the throwdowns, it’s clear that he really doesn’t want to win. Or at least, he feels really bad when his competitors lose. He doesn’t like showing up the people he challenges and if he wins, he usually declares that the judges were wrong.
That, his spicy Southwestern flavors and the fact that he is so obviously still in love with his wife, actress Stephanie March, and gets all gushy when he is around her or speaks about her, makes me melt. So yes, I’m a Flay Fan.
I veganized one of Bobby’s recipes when I first became vegan. I made a vegan version of his Meatloaf with Balsamic Glaze. It’s a great recipe. I made it with Gimme Lean back then but it works just as well with lentils. But for this post, I had something very specific in mind. See, as much as I like Bobby Flay, I do have a bone to pick with him. Bobby opened Bobby’s Burger Palace in 2008 as an homage to his memories of burger shops from when he was a kid. He now has about half a dozen Bobby’s Burger Palaces or BBPs but they do NOT serve veggie burgers.
When asked about it in an interview, Flay said, “I’m not interested. And I say that only because I’ve never had a veggie burger that I really liked. I’m very sensitive to vegetarians’ needs; I deal with it every day of my life. I think it’s a very, very important part of cuisine these days. It’s challenging to create creative vegetarian meals. That’s something we do at the other restaurants. But a veggie burger, I think it’s something I have not found that I can do well, so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to serve something that’s subpar.”
Blah, blah, blah. That’s a very nice, diplomatic response but come on, it’s not hard to make delicious veggie burgers or for that matter, vegan burgers. Or even vegan, gluten-free burgers. I’ve made amazing chickpea burgers, lentil burgers, kidney bean burgers, black-eyed pea burgers. If I can do it, am I supposed to believe that such a talented Iron Chef, one who proclaims himself “The King of Burgers,” can’t do it? There are rumors Flay said he was going to add one to his menu but it hasn’t happened yet. The only vegetarian sandwich you can order is a grilled cheese and there is no sandwich for vegans.
So I made a new burger. It’s vegan and it’s gluten-free and it’s the most delicious of all the burgers I’ve ever made. It’s made from eggplant. That’s right, no beans, no tofu, no TVP. The flavor of this burger is so deep and rich, it’s really amazing. Tom has declared it his new favorite burger!
The first time I made them, I topped them with caramelized onions and a simple spread made with mayo, mustard and vegan, gluten-free Worcestershire sauce. I served them on gluten-free English muffins.
But for this post I wanted to recreate Bobby’s signature burger, The Crunchburger. This is the “house” burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace. It’s a basic burger that can be garnished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and horseradish mustard. Then comes the crunch – a big handful of potato chips. Bobby loves the combination of the juicy burger, the oozy cheese and the salty, crispy chips all in one bite. At BBP, any burger can be “crunchified.”
So at my Burger Palace, AKA my kitchen, I challenged Bobby to a throwdown (in spirit) and “crunchified” my eggplant burger to create The Eggplant Crunchburger.
|My Vegan Eggplant Crunchburger|
It’s big, it’s messy, it’s incredibly delicious. Honestly, I like it better with the simple toppings I originally made. I don’t like masking the rich flavor of the eggplant with mounds of toppings and potato chips but the point is I DID IT! I’m throwing down the cutting board, getting up on the countertop and raising my arms in victory for Battle Vegan Crunchburger! Enjoy!
Vegan Eggplant Crunchburger with Horseradish Mustard Mayo
For the Horseradish Mustard Mayo:
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. prepared horseradish
A pinch of dried tarragon
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. The sauce can be prepared 1 day in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.
For the Eggplant Burgers:
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 shallot, finely minced
1 cup vegan cheese shreds, any flavor
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
For the toppings:
1 cup vegan cheese, either slices or shreds (as long as it melts)
4 gluten-free buns
4 slices beefsteak tomato
4 leaves romaine lettuce
4 slices red onion
Horseradish Mustard Mayonnaise (recipe above)
4 handfuls of potato chips
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant cubes and sauté until they are browned and very soft, about 10-12 minutes. Make sure they are super-soft becausethey need to be mashed. You could also roast the eggplant to make it soft.
Transfer the eggplant to a large bowl. Mash the eggplant up until there are no whole pieces left. I use a potato masher to do this. Once you have a big bowl of mush, add the shallot, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley. Mix it into the eggplant. Add the bread crumbs. Don’t add them all at once; you want to feel the mix and see whether you need a whole cup. I add ½ cup of bread crumbs and mix it.
Put the eggplant mixture into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Take the bowl out of the fridge and with your hand, divide the mixture into 4 parts. To form the burgers, I use a 3 ½ inch cookie cutter. I spray it with a bit of cooking oil spray and then pack the eggplant mixture into the cookie cutter. Pat it down, let it sit for about 20 seconds and then gently lift the cookie cutter off. Let your perfectburger sit for a few minutes undisturbed while you make the other 3 burgers.
In the same skillet that you sautéed the eggplant in (but cleaned), heat the other Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat and add the burgers to the pan. Let cook until slightly browned on one side and (this is very important), you can lift the burger with a spatula without breaking it. I use 2 spatulas to gently turn the burgers. Flip them and let them cook on the other side. When the 2nd side gets golden brown, flip them back over and let the first side cook until golden brown.
To make the Vegan Crunchburgers:
Top the burgers with either 2 slices or ¼ cup of vegan cheese. Add about a Tbs. of water to the pan and cover it. This will create steam and allow the cheese to melt and get ooey-gooey.
If you want your buns toasty, put on some pants. If you want your burger buns toasty, preheat the broiler while you are cooking the burgers. Split the buns and put the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and cook them until they are lightly golden brown, about 30 seconds. Don’t burn them!!
Place the burgers on the bun bottoms and, if desired, top with tomato, lettuce, onion, and a dollop of horseradish mustard mayonnaise. Pile on the potato chips, top with the bun tops, and serve immediately. Make sure you have tons of napkins because it’s going to be messy.
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.