Wednesday, January 25, 2012

make your own Trader Joe’s vegetable masala burger

That’s likely the longest title one of my posts has ever had, but anyone who has ever tasted the contents of this box…


… probably just perked up.

Trader Joe’s vegetable masala burgers are the BEST! They are so perfectly spiced, so delightfully crunchy, so indulgently rich and satisfying (if, er, a bit low on the protein). All it really seems to be is vegetables- real, identifiable, chunky vegetables; not some mushy pureed burger- somehow miraculously bound together with wonderful Indian spices.

Those of you unfortunate enough to live somewhere in the US where there isn’t a Trader Joe’s, and haven’t moved away from that place for some reason, take heart.

I was in a cookin’ mood (as so often occurs), and I was in a masala-burger-eatin’ mood (as even more often occurs).

I thought the original could stand to be a bit healthier, oil being the second ingredient and all.

And so I dissection of the (totally reasonable) ingredients began.


Potatoes, well that’s easy.


In teeny teeny TEENY dice.


Then spices. This is a compilation of some of my favorite Indian spices; the spices explicitly stated on the box; and spices other people on the Internet theorized they tasted in the burgers.


I toasted my spices, ‘cause everyone knows they taste better that way.


I did not purchase these frozen vegetables, because I am a food snob and eat vegetables from the farmer’s market.

My sister is not and likes her vegetables to be ready in two minutes. (And doesn’t really like vegetables, from what I can tell, so doesn’t put a lot of thought into them.)

Anyway, we had these and they seemed to perfectly approximate the veggies in those burgers. (In all likelihood, Trader Joes’ frozen vegetable department and frozen vegetable burger department have probably had their own collaborations).


Breadcrumbs were highish on the list, but I didn’t want to use our Italian seasoned breadcrumbs since they tasted Italian, not Indian.

So I took a (sort of old and dried out) whole wheat wrap and ripped it up.


Other copycat recipes I found pureed their vegetables.

But… but… these burgers are CRUNCHY and TEXTURAL! My copycat version must also be so!

So here’s my brilliant thing I did: I partially pureed the filling to make a thick and starchy binder for the rest of it, which stayed chunky.


My first thought was pan frying.

Uh… they dissolved even more than this picture lets on. Binding FAIL.


And a whole lot stayed in that pan.


Let’s try again- baking!

These definitely need some oil to get the wonderful crispy exterior those who’ve tasted the real burger know and love.

So a drizzle in the pan…


… a brush for even coating…


… and a brush atop the patties.


After a trip in the oven, GOSH! Look at those CHUNKY BURGERS OF DELIGHT!


Full disclosure: these burgers are beta. And by that I mean they taste good but are hilariously crumbly.

Try them! Tell me what you think! Give me suggestions! (Or just compliment me, that’d be fine too.)

Copycat Trader Joe’s Veggie Masala Burgers

1/2 tsp. dried ginger
¾ tsp. dried coriander
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/8 tsp. ground ground turmeric
1/8 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. canola oil
3 red potatoes (12 oz.) finely diced
½ c. minced onion
½ c. minced green pepper
1 c. frozen mixed veggies
½ c. whole wheat breadcrumbs
½ c. water
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. water
2 tsp. canola oil

Heat a large skillet on medium high. Add spices and toast until fragrant. Remove to a separate bowl.

Add 2 tsp. canola oil. Add potatoes, onion, and green pepper, and cook for ten minutes. Add frozen vegetables and cook an additional five minutes. Add breadcrumbs and water and stir vigorously to scrape up flavorful brown layer from the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low. Return spice mixture, add salt and pepper to taste, and sprinkle with sugar. Cook an additional five minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Remove skillet from heat,

Remove ¾ cup of the mixture from the skillet and puree in a food processor. Stir the puree and the remaining vegetable mixture together in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.

Chill overnight, or at least until cool (this seemed to help them bind).

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. If small, brush with 1 tsp. oil (and make burgers in two batches). If large, brush with 2 tsp. I used a small baking sheet to bake this in my toaster oven.

Form the burgers into patties (I used my hands, and patted them down as flat as possible) and put on baking sheets, evenly spaced. Use a brush to brush any oil on the sheet that isn’t under the burgers on top of the burgers (so they brown on top and the oil doesn’t burn on the sheet). Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then broil until golden and crispy on top, rotating baking sheet in oven as necessary, about 10 minutes. (Adjust times as needed if using a conventional, rather than toaster oven.) Repeat with remaining potato mixture and oil, if making in two batches. 


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

upping the veggies

It is good to eat plants. But let’s be honest, it can be a bit harder this time of year.

In the summer, you can chuck corn on the cob in the microwave, saute zukes on the stove, or just chop up some tomatoes or green beans and boom. You’re done. It’s awesome. Summer vegetables are LOW MAINTENANCE. (I mean, you can get all the aforementioned things in the winter but they taste terrible. Do your taste buds a favor. Try to eat seasonally.)

I’ve been trying to amp up my veggie intake because winter vegetables are a little trickier, and they’ve been lacking. I’ve been sometimes eating them more out of duty than pleasure.

Like this meal. This meal wasn’t so great.

Ugly salad:


Just sardines ‘n greens. Which is great if you have the sardines in mustard sauce (SO GOOD!) but if you just buy plain sardines you must season them, which I was too lazy to do this day. And the arugula was none too attractive. I did not buy it, ahem.

Also tried to make a mini green monster with some even older greens that needed using and a frozen kiwi. Yeah, doesn’t sound appealing, does it? It wasn’t.

The bread and PB apple slices were good!


But eating veggies shouldn’t just be about duty.

As my sister seems to see it. So she drinks V8.

One of which I just found abandoned in our freezer?!


With winter vegetables, you just have to be a bit more creative.

For example, making a big pot of butternut squash oatmeal and then getting to eat it for breakfast for a solid WEEK! Yes, root veggies take awhile but if you prep in advance they can be your savior!

Also, so sweet and delicious and you’ve had a serving of veggies before 8 am :D


Mmm, veggies and pecans, too!


Another method I am trying to utilize is called Salad of the Week (or SotW).

Also aided by prepping on the weekend, I’ve been trying to make a salad (but a HEFTY salad, with veggies and protein and no flimsy lettuce that will have dissolved by Tuesday) that I can eat for a few days in the following week.

This was SO GOOD! 3 lunches (and a few nibbles as snacks):

2 small bulbs of kohlrabi, peeled and chopped
~1/2 c. chopped carrots
~6 olives
1 can chickpeas
1/2 an avocado
1/2 cup plain nonfat Trader Joe’s European style yogurt
juice of 1/2 a lemon


On a bed of kale (which does not get soggy) for even more veggies!

salad of the day

Next SotW:

Roasted beets
plain nonfat Trader Joe’s Greek style yogurt
a few dashes allspice
a few splashes red wine vinegar


Beets are like CANDY right now. I read somewhere that when it’s really cold, root vegetables try to conserve their energy by transforming their complex starches into simple sugars. Which equals sweet and delicious veggies for us! 

And finally two veggie rich lunches that I photographed ages ago but haven’t shared yet.

Obvious ways to get veggies are to blend them into soup (and what’s more inducing of childhood nostalgia joy than grilled cheese and tomato soup?!)


(English muffins make SUCH great grilled cheese)


Or dunk ‘em into some tasty hummus.


A very WELL ROUNDED lunch!


One can also blend veggies into purees, as I did with frozen but flavorful green peas and mint to make this yummy pesto.


(this meal includes anchovies that DID taste good cause I made them into a salad with oil, lemon juice, chopped carrots, and curry powder)

And when in doubt, roast a bunch of sweet potatoes.


Monday, January 23, 2012


I made some extremely delicious dumplings on Saturday, then realized it was just in time for Chinese New Year!


When I traveled to Asia, (link to those posts at my About Me page! They’re fun!) I JUST MISSED Chinese New Year. (My guess would be that my dad booked tickets before the holiday because they probably jack up flight prices for it. Understandable.)

I have always wanted to get to experience the (I have a feeling) delightful lunacy of the holiday in Asia. According to my stepmother, her family plays Mah-johnng (spelled wrong, I am sure) until 2 in the morning. And the food sounds amazing. And parades! And red envelopes!

This is the year of the dragon we are beginning. The ultimate awesomeness in Chinese Zodiac! I point this out because I am a dragon :D But ACTUALLY, my mom had an acupuncturist who said that it is excellent luck to have a baby in the year of the dragon but if you are a dragon,  you have bad luck during that year! Oh dear.

Anyway, in all honestly Steve and I did not plan a Chinese New Year celebration. We just wanted to go to HMart. Actually, I wanted to go to HMart because I wanted more dried shiitake mushrooms and had a guilty, carbon-hogger craving for tropical fruit.

Reason I love My Neighborhood #8235723464508902835

This is the shopping center where there is an HMart. It’s in an area with a lot of (vaguely) affordable apartments and a pretty healthy immigrant population (from all over). There’s also a place called “Chicken House Panaderia” where I have been known to impulsively buy horchata and yuca fries.


After buying Korean awesomeness at HMart, I noticed a woman who seemed to be selling drinks from a STEAMING container. Yknow, just hanging out in the middle of the parking lot.

It was cold and gross outside, and something hot looking called to me. I went “… Want to go over there?” and Steve agreed because like me he loves him some adventures in ethnic eating.

Well, the woman with the container and I had a delightful conversation (in Spanish! Of which she thought I was a native speaker!) about her native pais of Venezuela and its wonderful looking and smelling drink of elote y leche (corn and milk).

Steve, class act that he is, had cash and treated us to a cup to share, which we enjoyed in my car. (I felt guilty making Steve the environmentalist buy styrofoam, but we agreed, this woman probably could use the money, so it felt good to support her).

Plus, it was SO GOOD! Hot milk and corn!


On the one hand, it would be great to make this in the summer when the corn is ripe and sweet and wonderful. On the other hand, having it on a blustery winter day warmed our souls.


Back to Steve’s and we decided it was dumpling time. (Steve came up with the whole idea, which turned out GREAT!)

Filling was made by sauteeing in peanut oil (much less than would’ve been used had Steve been in charge of filling), oyster mushrooms (YUM! So huge and meaty), carrots, tofu, Steve’s homegrown green onions, fresh basil, and oyster and soy and chili sauces.


I got out our (green! How fun! No extra nutrients but they had spinach powder to make a fun color) wonton wrappers, and started a filling station, wetting the edges with a water/peanut oil mix.


Steve upped the ante by adding pieces of bacon to his dumplings (!). He said the bacon grease was great for making the sides stick together. And still has a lot of birthday bacon, because I am a good girlfriend :D


Oh, then he went ahead and proceeded to fry the (bacon filled) dumplings. In bacon.


I chose to boil the non-bacon ones that I had filled :D But it was fun having both textures!


Also at HMart, we took advantage of their (incredibly affordable and fresh) deli section and bought some premade things.


Pickled veggies, in ascending order of deliciousness from bottom to top of spinach, bean sprouts, and long green beans. Just salt and sesame oil. SO yum!


Annnnd Korean sushi, which is made exciting with the addition of black rice (!) and pickled veggies. Also imitation crab, spinach, and egg.



The spinach wrapper turned out SO pretty looking. And won tons are so fun to make, cause though they take forevvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvver to fill, as I am freshly reminded every time I make them, they boil in seconds.


As for the fried ones, holy crap. Bacon stuffed wontons fried in bacon. Of COURSE they were amazing. They were amazing!


And bacon boy also made some collard chips (in the same style as kale chips) with soy sauce and bacon. Didn’t totally go, but we still ate them with chopsticks :D


Happy Chinese New Year!

Sunday, January 22, 2012


I am someone who recharges when I am alone. Somewhat the classic definition of the introvert. I like people (even love some of them), but my energy reappears when I have time just me, processing what’s in my head, going through the little rituals of the day with no one interfering.

Yesterday morning I woke up to snow in an iffy mood. In part due to the fact that it was 7:30 and I had barely slept all night. Read in bed for a bit. Finally, padded downstairs, made myself a dimly lit breakfast.


I’ve turned into such a grouch about snow in my old age. No more childhood delight. Replaced with panic over power outages and driving on ice.

I made protein pancakes, because I wanted pancakes with butter and syrup but wanted them to keep me full longer than thirty seconds.

So, protein powder it was.

Like all protein pancakes, these were kind of just mediocre because my protein powder (from Trader Joe’s) just doesn’t taste very good. The texture was a lot better this time, though, so I spose I’ll share what I did in order that if you have protein powder that tastes okay you can make and appreciate them:

1 scoop protein powder, 1/4 C. plus 2 T whole wheat flour, 1 egg, 1/4 cup plus 2 T milk, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, pinch of cinnamon, dash vanilla. Serves 2.

With hot tea, naturally.


And butter and syrup :D (I pulled out almond butter but I ignored it. These were good with BUTTER and SYRUP because they are PANCAKES and sometimes you should just go for it)DSC09197 

They did indeed do a pretty good job of leaving me full. And I got to eat butter and syrup. Did I mention that?


I did my next Saturday ritual of the farmer’s market which was sort of nice but I still couldn’t shake the persistently low mood.

So, in what may perhaps an enduring Saturday tradition, I took a hot bath and listened to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me in the tub. It was GREAT!

Nothing so revitalizing as a hot bath. Even Sylvia Plath said so in The Bell Jar, and Lord knows, she could use some cheering.

My brain is still a bit jumbled, evident from my general daily feeling of craziness and from the fact that I seem to’ve quit sleeping at night.

I’ve also been ruminating on the difference between feeling alone and being alone.

Feeling alone is wretched. Feeling like your thoughts are in a constant, inescapable cycle that leaves you feeling stressed and freaked out and disgusted with yourself.

For me the antidote to being alone is reaching out to others. First, reminding myself that everyone feels that way sometimes, especially at points in their lives where things change and the future is uncertain and one lacks control over how things are progressing, and at what pace.

Also, just hearing how everyone is doing. Dissecting our lives with Steve over cafe au laits (or cafes au lait?) at Dean and Deluca. Hearing “Forget You” on the radio and having to call my girl Erin to reminisce about duetting that song and singing it to our Americorps kiddos, then catching up on life. Getting an unexpected jingle from my friend Marisa and spending an hour catching up on our past years (she is doing Teach for America and makes any stress I get right now look like small potatoes). Checking in on a family member who’d been having some serious struggles and seems to be getting help. Bringing dinner to church friends with a death in the family.

I need others to survive and find meaning! It’s worth remembering, reaching out, and appreciating the feeling of togetherness.

And then I can be alone, eating my lunch under a bouquet of lilies from our church friends.


I am still trying, with only some success, to eat well and take care of myself. As Steve pointed out yesterday, nobody has to be perfect. Nobody is perfect. Nobody CAN BE perfect. If you do something better, that’s still something.


This was actually a HIGHLY delicious meal, with the star ingredient (my first taste and tragically the last of what had been a large jar, quickly decimated by the family), OKRA PICKLES!


FANTASTIC veggie wrap: mashed avocado, carrots, heavenly sweet wee farmer’s market cucumbers, greens.


And for Steve, who literally asked me yesterday, “So how is your yogurt stash doing?” because these are the romantic and normal conversations I have with my boyfriend, a bowl of yogurt. With apple and cinnamon.