Wholesome Burgers…Have Some Tonight

veg burger

Indian students are a pampered lot: pretty much all of us are fully supported by our parents, with mothers only too happy to provide good nutritious timely meals. And we take all of this for granted, including the state subsidy, and the scholarships for grad studies. (I have an opinion on GATE scholars and scholarships, but it doesn’t go down well with dinner for some. Later. But I would like to state, for the record, that it is not birthright, and yes, you are supposed to try to get at least passing grades.)

Attending grad school in the US taught me a lot of things. It is hard work for most American students to put themselves through school. In my pottery class, which I was taking for fun (but getting grad credit for, nevertheless – I wasn’t going to let my credit hours not count towards my degree – every cent counts!) I met this young girl, who had a full time job, was a single parent, and was getting herself an arts degree taking evening classes. And I thought what a cushy life most students in India have. We think school is work enough.

With that kind of student routine, it would be a miracle to not want to reach out for packaged, microwavable ‘food’. And it is expected that you are going to gain 15 pounds as you start college – the Freshman 15, as they are called. And, believe me when I tell you, that I lost 15 pounds in the first semester of grad school! Being away from my little son and husband had something to do with it; having to multiply everything with 35 (the exchange rate at that time) had something to do with it ; not having spare change had something to do with it. Eating home-cooked food had a lot to do with it, as did living 20 minutes (walking) from the studio.

That first semester the only coffee I had at the Union was the one that came free with a 3 hour work stretch at back kitchen. To buy it was 52c, and that was Rs20 I could save! The typical poor Indian student.

For a brief bit, before I became a TA, I worked in the college cafeteria. I would get up really early, at 5:30 (the hardest part!), so that I could still have my half-hour-meditation with the-morning-cuppa, then walk the 20 min to the Union and get to work rinsing and chopping spinach and lettuce, peeling carrots (mostly), and doing other vegetable preparation work for the salad bar. All this was fine. But the other workday, a late-morning-running-into-lunch-shift, also involved flipping burgers. In front of all those people! It took great will power to not throw in the apron and the hair net, and run out and go home. What was I doing flipping burgers in a college canteen, with a five year professional degree and seven years of professional work experience under my belt?

I learnt a lot in those 6 or 8 weeks behind the counter. I learnt why they don’t need to add fat to the meat patties when they ‘grill’ your burgers – the meat is so fatty that there is a little gutter at the lower edge of the sloping hot plate to collect the melting fat. It is removed by bucket-fulls. Indian lamb is way lean. I learnt how to make patty melt with ham: two buttered slices of white bread grilled with a slice of cheese and another of ham sandwiched between them. Very yum. I learnt that America wastes an unbelievable amount of food – fries have to be dumped in the trash if they have sat out for more than a few. As do burgers. It is the customer’s right. Imagine having to do that when I could not afford to buy one! Irony. And, yes, meat and chicken and fries and onion rings, are all fried in the same deep fryer.

And, another lesson I learnt was that there is no job that is lowering. It is the proud who work. There are other ways to make money. There is dignity in work. Period. And some of my co-workers were computer engineers from India.

One of the tasty meals that would sustain us during that time were the ‘burgers’ my sister used to make. She is a vegetarian and I, an omnivore. But I don’t suffer from dilemmas. In Rome, do as Romans do. So I ate beef burgers too. Like most Indians, I love my veges as much. And these burgers have lots of them: cabbage, carrots, peas, and of course, my fav, the potato, which BTW, is a very nutritious vegetable. Quick to put together if you use a pressure cooker to cook the potatoes, these can be dressed up to your taste. Ketchup, mustard, hot chili sauce, coriander chutney, slices of lettuce, onions, and tomatoes, a slice of cheese (or not), pickles – whatever you like. Guaranteed to keep those Freshman 15 at bay.

veg burger patty

Vegetable Burgers
(inspired by my Sis’ recipe)
makes 8-10 big burgers

4 medium potatoes
2 C chopped cabbage
1 C grated carrots
1C tender fresh peas
½ cup grated beetroot (optional)
3 T cracked wheat (dalia), soaked in a little water for half hour
1 slice of stale bread
1 t baharat (or garam masala)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped coriander and green chillies
lettuce leaves, sliced onions/tomatoes/cucumber

vege burger

Boil, peel and mash the potatoes. Blanch the cabbage till it wilts, squeeze, and add to the potatoes. Blanch the peas. Crumble the bread and mix all the ingredients, except the beets. Take a portion of the mix, stuff with a spoonful of grated beet, roll into a ball, and flatten to into 1cm thick patties. Shallow fry to a golden colour. Toast the sesame baps, layer the burger over the slice of cheese, lettuce, sliced tomato, cucumber, onions…You could serve the burgers with these good looking pickles, as I did. A very satisfying meal indeed. The son did not approve the addition of beets, BTW. Picky teens!

Visit Nandita at the Saffron Trail for another avatar of the vegetarian burger.


Published by Anita

A self professed urban ecologist!

26 thoughts on “Wholesome Burgers…Have Some Tonight

  1. fries have to be dumped in the trash if they have sat out for more than a few… agree .. but indian restaurants in America do not believe in all this:-) They still believe in serving spoilt sambar or dal. Half of them fail inspection. Its better not to check restaurant’s ratings on any city’s website. You’ll end up eating at home.

    burgers look great. nice idea to add dalia

  2. Anita your post brought back memories. I worked in an Indian restaurant before I got a TA job while doing my masters. Needless to say I learnt a lot of lessons during that short time. When I was asked during my first interview how my experience was as a post grad in another country I said that my academic lessons came from the univ but my life lessons came from an Indian restaurant!

  3. Anita,
    Lovely write up lady. You are so much true, back in India all of us are pampered by our parents by supporting us.Your veggie burger looks super delicious and professionally made.

  4. Beautiful write up.We all go through the travails of life ,moving,school,home sickness!!Schools are very diff.here indeed,much harder and gives you life lessons unlike the Indian schools.
    Burgers look fabulous!Enjoy!:))

  5. The true lesson of life!!!!! One can only learn things the hard way ….. and thats the lesson for life!!! Lovely write up 🙂 And yummy burgers!!! 🙂

  6. Can you believe I am a vegetarian who loves to cook, but has never tried making veggie burgers? Clearly, any excuses I have ever had are no longer valid after reading your simple, delicious-looking recipe. Thank you, Anita!

  7. Ah..just when I was thinking of making some for the weekend…but looks sooo good that i’m sure I can’t wait for the weekend now…:-)

  8. That was a wonderful post, Anita. Being away from your son and husband would have been the toughest part of your stay in the US. Nice recipe for a vegetarian burger. Thanks!

  9. Hi,
    Your burgers look so– appetizing!! I tried making these patties sometime ago but when I put them in the pan they fell apart!!!:-(( How do you manage to keep them together?I see from your recipe that you don’t even add corn flour?Thanks,Nalini

  10. Lovely burger Anita. Check out the Mumbai Pao I made from your classic white bread recipe that I tweaked.

    About the student life yes we are pampered here in India but due to our Parents sacrifices we have larger popluation of adults completing grad school today unlike the US.We cannot take that for granted for sure. I understand all you say as I have gone thru all the GRE, TSE, scholarship of 10K$+ was planning to borrow 20K$ from Dad for a Grad school in MA. My Visa got rejected and I thanked GOD. It was just too much sacrifice for me to handle. Since then my life here has become cushier with a great job that I love. Now I prefer to travel and come back.Yes but my life has taught me a lot here itself in India only in a different way.

  11. Yummy looking burgers.
    And excellent write up. Brought back so many old memories of life as PIGS (Poor indian grad student) though I’m very proud of that part of my life and the word isnt so funny anymore. We used to live on Ramen noodles (18c a packet) and if eating in the cafeteria it would be just soup (93c) OR a slice of cheese pizza (1.03). I cant believe I remember all this after 10 years.

  12. Dear dear A,
    Such a heart warming write up that! I couldnt even pay much attention to the burger bit…truly hard times, but times that make you a great person. Though I havent experienced any of this, (was more the cushy student kinds in India) i can realise that you’ll be stirring quite a lot of student emotions here. Hugs

  13. Nice write up Anita. I could so clearly visualize my grad school cafeteria reading through your post. They best I could afford was the subway “veggie delite” during those days and the lunch buffet at the local Indian restaurant on the weekends once in a while was an unbeatable treat! Being a picky vegetarian that I am, I somehow managed to refrain from eating those fries and o rings 🙂 It must have been so hard staying away from your husband and son, Kudos to you!
    The burger looks delicious, wholesome indeed!
    – Roopa

  14. I am still at the juncture you have mentioned, but luckily I have been able to sustain myself thru the scholarship and work on-campus. Looking forward to times when I’ll have money to spend !! I am sooo glad I have the time to cook and love doing it too !! Your burgers are going to be next on my menu 🙂

  15. I came across your website when i was doing some random search…really like your work..recipes, poems .I completely agree students work hard here.I am a grad student too , fortunately have an assistanship. I love cooking..but sometimes go for microvable..and thats when I wish I were home eating Mom’s meal! ..your burger definitely looks good…may be i should look for a job at the cafeteria:)

  16. Krithika: When will we put our ‘chalta hai’ attitude aside?!
    Ashwini: True. There is a lot that college cannot teach!
    Seema: It is also how parents ensure that we are able to take better care of them later! 🙂
    Asha: We live such protected lives in India. Being away (from home, in India or abroad) helps one grow up, and that’s a good thing!
    Coffee: And it’s great to look back and remember some of those lessons 🙂
    Carolyn: Well, now that you have this easy recipe, you must!
    Santhi: Yup, a great weekend food idea!
    Lakshmik: Let’s hear the verdict soon then.
    Hema: To achieve your dreams, some sacrifices are necessary…but, in the end, it was all very worth it.
    Ramdhanu: Let me know how they turned out.
    Nalini: There is nothing special really. Actually the recipe changes a little every time – this was the first time I blanched the cabbage and peas, so actually the mix was probably more moist than it usually is, and that is the reason I added the bread, which must have helped to hold it all together. But my earlier versions have been without any bread. This was also the first time I used the beets, the cracked wheat and the baharat!
    Just take care while frying – I use only a half teaspoon of oil for every burger. Don’t press the burgers, just put them in the scant oil and flip only when they are nicely done on one side.
    Try this way and see if it works for you.
    Anjali: the Mumbai paos look absolutely pro!
    Life will find a way to teach us all the lessons, wherever we may choose to be.
    Not only have I never regretted my decision to pursue my Masters in the US, I am actually glad I did. The education system is so different; good work is actually encouraged (in terms of facilities etc.) It was actually a great experience even though I had to be away from my family for a very long time. Today my students benefit from my exposure to a different school system.
    And it was joy to be in a society where corruption is not part of everyday life and to know that such a thing is possible to achieve! Where people don’t complain about the govt machinery but ‘volunteer’ to be where ‘the govt’ can’t be!
    Spice Lover: OMG, we were PIGS then?!! And look at us now…gluttons!
    Nandita, the cushy Indian student 🙂 : So was I, for the most of my student life! But setting up home in small town Manhattan (KS), and later, big town Denver was so much fun since I didn’t get to do so here – MIL already had a system!
    Roopa: The following semester I graduated to Subway, bought that big plastic mug so I could get ‘more’ for the same 52c…and the hashbrowns for breakfast at the Union – total splurge!
    Priya: No matter how much school work I had, I would always head home for dinner and TV time! And I rarely went to my studio on the weekends!
    Mo: Cafeteria jobs are overrated! 🙂 And cooking is theraputic, the perfect antidote for all the hard work. Now, if I could have had somebody do the dishes…

  17. I agree on that part Anita about society and govt. It is good you have brought back with you a wealth in the true sense and you even have students to share with. Good things do need to propogate!

  18. you studied at KState?? I am in KState…this is coincidence beyond belief!!! wow! I agree with you on grad life though I have a TA, but this life changes you in a way nothing else can!
    so when were you a wildcat? 😀

    Hi Disha, fellow wildcat! I was there from 94-97. You may find my name on a tiny board in the Wigel Library!

  19. Pingback: Aloo Tikki/ Aloo (Potato) Pattis « Red Chillies
  20. i like the burger but i dont have right now dalia at home what else i can add insteadof that. By the way what is the role of dalia here..just for nutrition or something else. kindly advise. Thanx in advance

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