You may have noticed things got a little quiet around here. I’m also going to assume you probably know why. Given the protests in the US and around the world, I decided to take a back seat and give the BIPOC members of my community the floor. I won’t say much on the topic beyond this, I wrote a more involved post on my Instagram page. But I will definitively say that I believe black lives matter and as I return to posting my own content, I promise to make changes big and small in my own life to further the objectives of the movement and my own education. So, with all that being said, let’s talk about these Sticky Shiitake Barley Burgers.
I like to think of myself as a veggie burger connoisseur. I’ve eaten quite a lot of them and I’ve made quite a lot of them and as a result, I don’t suffer bad ones. There are, unfortunately, a lot of bad veggie burgers out there. And I suppose it’s not hard to see why. Veggie burgers are, quite frankly, hard to get right. They have to be sturdy enough to shape, flip, and sear. But they also have to be tender and flavorful enough to eat. Veggie burgers have to achieve a level of food engineering a carnivorous burger never does. In fact, when it comes to the traditional 80/20 beef patty, the less you do to it the better it is.
And yet, I love veggie burgers. I particularly love veggie burgers that in no way resemble meat. I prefer to think of them as vegetable patties more than anything. What I like about making and eating veggie burgers is they’re never the same, never one-note, and always infinitely adaptable. When you have a regular burger, the novelty comes from the toppings, not the burger itself. With a veggie burger, the possibilities are endless.
Most veggie burgers are comprised of some kind of grain, some kind of legume, spices and aromatics, and some sort of additional binder. With so many potential ingredients and steps, there is a lot of room for play. Will it be a curried kidney bean, brown rice affair? Or a kimchi, sweet potato, farro situation? The complexity of the veggie burger is what makes it fun. But enough about the excellence of veggie burgers in general, let’s talk about the excellence of these Sticky Shiitake Barley Burgers.
These Sticky Shiitake Barley Burgers have a lot more going than just shiitakes and barley. They get their durability from a miso-spiked chickpea puree, a handful of panko bread crumbs, and an egg. What I love about this binding solution is it not only adds texture and flip-ability to the burgers, it also adds extra umami. Miso really is a veggie burger’s best friend.
Now, even though I dismissed the barley and the shiitakes earlier, they are, in all honesty, doing a lot of the heavy lifting here. Shiitakes are umami-bombs in their own right, which makes them a worthy stand-in for meat. But when you braise them first in a soy sauce, mirin situation, those umami-levels go through the roof. When you take into consideration the meaty texture of the mushrooms, these shiitakes are pretty much a veggie burger no-brainer.
Then there’s the pearl barley. I like barley in a veggie burger because it has a good chew. While it certainly isn’t meat, barley does have a springy, toothsome quality, that I find satisfying. It’s also super good for you and simple to prepare. Honestly, I think pearl barley is one of the most underrated grains out there. Be the change, show it some love.
Now, let’s talk toppings. Remember that soy sauce, mirin braising liquid? Yeah, let’s repurpose that. The soy sauce, mirin cocktail follows the same ratios as traditional unagi sauce…because it is unagi sauce. Now, for those of you who are looking at the word “unagi” and feel like you’ve seen it somewhere before, you likely have. It’s the Japanese word for eel. Unagi sauce is the salty, sweet sticky sauce you find in your favorite unagi hand roll. There’s no actual eel in the sauce, it’s just the sauce typically used to coat the eel.
So, once the are shiitakes tender and perfect, we remove them from the pan with the fledgling unagi sauce and we cook that sucker down. Bring it all the way to a syrupy texture. And from there, pour it over the burgers with abandon. This not only doubles down on the flavor, but it also gives the burger a little extra moisture. Juiciness is generally associated with veggie burgers but it is in this case.
A few notes on the final toppings – these are in no way mandatory. These burgers can be dressed any way you like. Well, except for the wasabi mayo – you should probably keep that around. You can, of course, ease off on the amount of wasabi but don’t give up on it completely. I dressed my burger with pickled ginger, salted white onions, and romaine lettuce. You may also recognize the bun. This is the same bun I used for my Korean Rolled Omelette Breakfast Sandwich but this time I topped them with black sesame seeds and finishing salt.
So that’s everything you need to know about these Sticky Shiitake Barley Burgers. They may not be the most convincing stand-in for a quarter-pounder but they are convincingly delicious.
Sticky Shiitake Barley Burgers with Wasabi Mayo
- 400g (14 oz) shiitake mushrooms
- ¼ cup mirin
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp sake optional
- 1 cup uncooked pearl barley
- ½ white onion
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ mayo
- 1 tbsp wasabi paste
- 1 can chickpeas drained
- 1 tbsp white miso
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 3 scallions thinly sliced
- 8 burger buns*
- ¼ cup pickled ginger drained
- ¼ head romaine lettuce torn
- Remove the stems from the shiitake mushrooms. Either discard the stems or save them for a future stock.
- In a bowl, whisk to combine the soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. Pour the mixture into a skillet and add the shiitakes. Place the skillet over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and let braise for 15 minutes.
- Once the 15 minutes are up, remove the mushrooms and set aside. Increase the heat to medium and reduce the soy sauce mixture until it reaches a syrupy consistency – about 10 minutes more.
- While the shiitakes are braising, place the barley in a saucepan. Add 3 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, if desired. Place the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the barley is tender and the liquid is mostly absorbed. This should take about 25 minutes. Drain the barley if any liquid remains and set it aside to cool.
- With the barley and the shiitakes underway, you can work on a few of the toppings. Place the white onion in a small bowl and add the salt. Toss to coat. Set the onion aside.
- Place the mayo and wasabi paste in a small bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
- Once the barley and the shiitakes are cooked and cooling, make the chickpea puree. Place the chickpeas and miso paste in a large food processor. Blitz until the mixture resembles mulch. Turn the food processor on and stream in the water, followed by the olive oil and sesame oil. Blitz until the mixture is smooth and velvety in texture.
- Place the barley in a large bowl. Coarsely chop the shiitake mushrooms and add them to the bowl. Add the chickpea puree, panko breadcrumbs, egg, and scallions. Using a clean hand, mix until the ingredients are evenly dispersed and fully integrated.
- Form the mixture into 8 patties, using a half-cup measure as a guide. Heat 2 tablespoons of neutral oil in a cast-iron skillet or griddle and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the patties 3-4 at time and sear until golden on both sides – this should take about 3 minutes per side.
- To build your burger, split a burger bun and spread the wasabi mayo on the interior of the bottom half. Place the burger on top and drizzle with the reduced soy sauce mixture. Top the burger with pickled ginger, the white onion you set aside earlier, and a few leaves of romaine lettuce. Place the remaining half of the bun on top and serve immediately.