I suppose it was probably about seven years ago that I sat down at the dining table and bit into a kabanos. Kabanos is a kind of Polish cured sausage, all smoke and gristle, seasoned sparsely with a little pepper – a farmer’s food, nothing more than a distant cousin to the bags of herbs and stale bread we’re used to here.
Obviously, eating a sausage isn’t in itself an occasion to bring up seven years later. I eat sausages on a semi-regular basis without even breaking a sweat. I eat sausages without even thinking about it. I once ate a whole pack of 20 cocktail sausages in a five minute walk. But this sausage, this slender little minx of a kabanos, broke my vegetarianism.
My reasons for being a vegetarian were manifold at the time but the only one I can remember is that lambs are quite cute and I didn’t like watching them getting culled during the foot ‘n’ mouth troubles. I suspect I also did it as an exercise in self-assertion – I would be the vegetarian Harding, the inconvenience be damned. I still sympathise with vegetarians to a certain extent and certainly don’t hold anything against them when I’m cooking, which is lucky given that I often cook for my vegetarian girlfriend. Vegetarianism presents a challenge, particularly if the same meal has to feed my largely carnivorous housemates.
2011 was in its nascency when I was staying at Alakina’s and hit upon these roasted vegetable burgers, which I firmly believe are better than their beefy equivalent. The rich softness of the vegetables and the goat’s cheese combines perfectly with the tangy tomato relish and spiced oven chips. I made these for a couple of meat-eating reprobates who we charitably invited into Ali’s house on a Saturday night as well and they went down well. Though possibly not as well as the litres of wine and vodka that followed.
Don’t get put off by the seemingly endless list of ingredients, it’s all pretty easy. Honestly.
Enough talk, let’s either bone or eat.
Better than beef roasted vegetable burgers with a tangy tomato relish & thick cut oven chips
For the burgers:
- One aubergine, peeled and sliced into circles.
- One courgette, thinly sliced and chopped into thirds.
- One red onion, halved and thinly sliced.
- One red pepper, de-seeded and sliced into smallish batons.
- Four cloves of garlic, crushed.
- Soft goats cheese.
- Olive oil.
- Salt and pepper.
- A squeeze of lemon juice.
For the tomato relish:
- Tiny tomatoes. I like those ones that come on the vine, but any small sweet ones will do.
- One red onion, roughly chopped.
- One clove garlic, finely chopped.
- Cider vinegar.
- White wine, nothing posh. Just whatever dry plonk you’re drinking whilst you cook.
- Salt & pepper.
- Olive oil, the nicer the better.
For the thick-cut oven chips:
- Some potatoes. Like…four maybe? Depends how much you like potatoes and how big they are. Slice them into thick chip shapes, keeping the skins on.
- Salt & pepper.
- Smoked paprika.
- Cayenne pepper.
- One finely chopped garlic clove.
Holy fuck that’s a lot of ingredients, right? It all looks pretty daunting, but it’s really fine. Get everything all chopped and sliced before you start otherwise it might all get on top of you a little bit but other than that just relax, take it slowly and make sure there’s a steady stream of booze.
First up, parboil your chip shaped potatoes. Get them soft enough that it’s no effort to push the point of a knife into them. It should take about 5-10 minutes, but basically just keep trying until they’re ready. Drain the potatoes and lay them on some kitchen towel, then put another sheet on top of them. Allow them to dry out.
Preheat the oven to a medium high heat. I’ve only ever made this in Alakina’s ancient gas furnace of an oven, so I’m afraid the only number I know here is “7”, which isn’t much use. Put all of the vegetables and the onions and garlic into a roasting dish. It’s good if they have some space, but not a problem if they’re overlapping and touching. Coat in olive oil and season liberally with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. Put them on the middle shelf of the oven to roast and turn your attention to the chips.
Take the dried potato chips and put them in an ovenproof dish. Very thinly coat in oil – to0 much oil will make them go soggy, which is fine with the vegetables but hardly appealing in chips. Season to taste with salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika and the finely chopped garlic. Put on the top shelf of the oven and keep checking to make sure they’re nothing’s getting burnt. The vegetables and chips should be done in about 25 minutes from when the chips go in.
So, 25 minutes to make a tomato relish. No problem. Chop the tiny tomatoes in half and fry them gently chopped side down in liberal quantities of good olive oil with the chopped onion and garlic. The tomatoes will begin to soften and when you can squidge them into a pulp with the back of a wooden spoons, throw in a big glug of white wine and a good dash of cider vinegar. Allow to simmer to boil off the alcohol and turn off when the liquid has boiled away. Taste and correct the seasoning.
By now the veggies and chips should be done. Take everything out of the oven and cover the chips with tin foil to keep the heat in. Get the grill hot, then spread pesto on the bottom half of each bap and pile the vegetables evenly on each one. Crumble the goats cheese with a knife or your hand and spread fairly across each pile of vegetables. Flash the burgers under the grill until the cheese has melted into the vegetables. Serve them open with chips on the side and the relish in a bowl.
I can’t remember what I drank with these. It was either a bottle of soft red (possibly a Merlot but that’s just conjecture), vodka tonic or gin with whatever I could lay my hands on. The only necessary accompaniment to better than beef roast vegetable burgers is impolite company.