Introduction: Super Easy Tofu Burger (Vegan or Vegetarian )

About: I'm a self-taught do-it-yourselfer. What else is there to say?

So, you want a tofu burger, huh?
Sounds awful.
But that's the old sentiment.
With this burger and a little practice/experimentation, you could turn a T-rex vegan, and you can make it in about 15 minutes.

This instructable is designed to not just teach you how to make it, but why to do it that way. The goal is to make you better educated about the process so that you can go onward and make your own brilliant tofu creations (and hopefully share them back here with me <3).

If you just need the recipe and you've already read it, I'll put the basics below. If you haven't read the whole thing yet, I really encourage you to. It'll make you a much better tofu chef and give you the tools to fix other tofu recipes you find around the internet.

That said, if you want to read it all, go ahead and move on to step 1 now.

For everyone else, here's the basic burger. If you are upset there's an egg in there and you wanted a vegan burger, you should have read the long version first ;P

7 oz firm/extra firm tofu (half package)
1/4-1/2 onion minced
Dry bread crumbs (about 5 oz or 130 grams)
1 egg
Salt, oregano, basil
A bit of oil

1. Drain and press tofu.

2. While tofu is pressing, mince or finely chop onion and mix with 1/3 of the bread crumbs.

3. Add tofu and mix until bread is moist and incorporated.

4. Add further bread crumbs, egg, spices, and salt to taste (tofu is usually better salty).

5. Continue slowly adding/working in crumbs in small batches until tofu mixture is dense and can reliably hold its shape.

6. Heat frying pan or skillet on near high (9/10) and put a bit of oil in pan (I have no idea what size pan you're using). While oil heats, form patties.

7. Place patties into hot pan/oil and cook until golden brown on under side, checking occasionally and tipping oil back under patties.

8. Flip patties carefully and add more oil if needed.

9. If cheese is to be added, flip a second time and melt onto second-cooked surface. This is also a good time to start toasting buns if desired.

10. Favorite this recipe and say nice things about the instructable.

11. Eat your tasty tasty burger.

12. If burger was not tasty, try again but do something different this time.

13. Repeat 1-13 as needed.

Step 1: I Don't Have Sawdust or Disappointment. What Should I Use?

Get your tofu. I wanted to put all the ingredients together on one step, but enough people do tofu wrong that I've decided to split it out. If you're a Tofu Olympian just checking out a new recipe, you can skip this and go to the bottom. Otherwise, even if you use tofu from time to time, the refresher probably won't hurt. I'm writing this so a first timer can make a burger they're proud of.

Important things to note:
-Tofu is a trochee, not an iamb. You pronounce the "Toe" strongly and the "foo" kind of falls off the word. It is also not a kind of martial art.
-Tofu is made out of soybeans. Don't eat it if your allergic, and don't serve it to people who can't eat soy.
-Tofu can go bad. Check the expiration date or get it fresh from a marketplace. That's absolutely impossible here, so mine is store bought. It lasts quite a while in the fridge.
-Tofu can be anywhere from yogurt creamy to meatloaf dense, and even into fruitcake territory. That's the FIRMNESS. To make a burger, you'll want firm or extra firm. Ultra firm works great, super ultra deluxe omega firm would also probably work. If it's dry and crackery or doesn't squish at all, that's not tofu. Don't eat that.

BEFORE you cook with tofu, you need to press it. Failure to do so is ONE of the TWO major reasons people think tofu is awful. Everyone has great ideas for how one should do it, but honestly all you need to two plates and something heavy. Supermarket tofu sits in a small bath of water to keep it fresh and moist, but you need to get a bunch of that out before you can cook with it. If you didn't, this would be like trying to pan fry some jello salad into a hearty burger.

To drain your tofu, slit one end of the package and poke a small air hole into the other end. Pour out the water until it's mostly gone, but dont worry about getting it all. Take or dump the tofu out onto a large dinner plate. We'll only need half of it, so either cut it now and put half back in the container (and nearly cover it with water for storage in the fridge) or otherwise split it after pressing and store it then. Flip a second smaller plate over and place it on top of the tofu to act as a presser plate. Set some weight on top to press gently down on the tofu over time. If you get too aggressive and use too much weight, the sides of the tofu cake will rupture and tofu curds will squelch out. That's not that big a deal, but it does mean that it'll be more difficult to get a lot of water out. I tend to start with a full container of salt as weight (26 oz) and then about halfway through I may add a second item of roughly equal weight, depending on how it looks.

All told, you should press your tofu in this manner for about 10 minutes, stopping briefly after 5 to pour off the water you've expelled and adjust the weight as needed. This 10 minutes is when you'll get everything else ready to go.

As for myself, I'm using the basic Costco 4-pack of firm tofu. This thing costs 4-6 bucks in Alaska and gets you almost 4 pounds, which can make about 8 meals for 2-3 people. Definitely the cheaper burger up here.

Next we'll talk about the remaining ingredients

Step 2: Tofu and What?

Critical ingredients: bread crumbs, salt, oil.
Optional ingredients: onion, egg, other seasoning.

If this is your first time making a tofu burger, go for the simple setup I provide here. If you're starting to branch out, let your imagination soar! Mix in some green olives or jalapeños, throw in crumbled bacon (tofu doesn't have to be vegetarian, you know) or experiment with something really off the wall, like cinnamon.

For us newbies though, we're going to start easy.

Chop (or better yet, mince) 1/4 to 1/2 an onion. Even if you really love onion, stop there and just add some rings to the burger. Larger onion pieces or too many will prevent your mixture from adhering to itself and lead to a crumbly patty, or at the least make it fracture when you try to flip it.

For your bread crumbs, if at all possible, go get some from your local bakery. They don't need to be seasoned, and a baker will probably have more-basic and tastier handmade goods than what you can find on a walmart shelf. It also seems that a small size crumble is best, but not tiny crumbs. Panko style has presumably been the cause of some problems I've had in the past, and too large (like a crouton) will be impossible to incorporate properly. The best size I've found is about the same as a pea. I was in a hurry this time and decided on tofu burgers about 20 minutes before I wanted them done, so I grabbed some classic style stuffing, which was excellent. If you do go for stuffing and are making this for a vegetarian, be cautious of natural flavorings or other mysterious ingredients. They LOVE to throw meat bits and gravy/fats into boxed mixes to make them tastier and don't much advertise it.

NOTE: it is VERY IMPORTANT to use dry bread crumbs rather than fresh moist ones. This is because one of the functions of the bread is to absorb excess moisture from the tofu. Fresh soft bread just can't handle as much uptake.

Toss your onion prep into a medium bowl (I have a pho bowl that's perfect for it) and then add bread crumbs in a quantity roughly 1.5 to 2x what you have in onions. Next we'll go back to our delightfully draining soy cake.

Step 3: Tofu and Fine Tuning

Okay, time for the tofu.

Pour off any remaining water on the plate and call it good enough. The tofu should have been pressing about 10 minutes (more is fine) and you should have poured the water off at least once. Tofu is very soft, so you can just dump it into the bowl and start mushing it with your hands. If it makes you feel better about having gotten out a knife and cutting board for just an onion, you can go ahead and slice it first. It won't matter at all. It is fun though.
Incidentally, you can slice tofu in its original box quite handily with a butter knife after pressing.

Work the tofu into the hard crunchy bread and onions. Take your time and don't be overly aggressive, or those bread crumbs will shred your hands and make your meal decidedly less vegetarian. As you go, you'll notice the bread starts to absorb the water and get soft, eventually melding into the other bits. This is important, and in my hurry to eat the first couple of times I made these, I didn't mix them long enough to get the bread squishy. That squishy bread will glue everything together, so take your time and enjoy the texture.

At this point, use your clean hand (you kept one clean right?) to turn on your stove. CRITICAL NOTE: This is the SECOND of TWO things that people do wrong and ruin their tofu. Tofu is like the waterbear (tardigrade) of the plant-foods world. You can burn it, but you have to really, REALLY want to. I cook my tofu burgers on setting 9/10 on my glass top burner. Go ahead and get the pan hot now, but don't add your oil until a minute or so before the patties go on. If you try to cook tofu at a low or even medium heat, it'll literally take half an hour to even get the lightest golden brown. If you don't believe me, take a small slice and fry it beforehand to experiment. Add some salt to that for a nice snack.

You'll doubtless notice now (maybe even in a panic since I just told you to turn on your stove) that there is absolutely no way this mixture would hold patty form, even once the bread is all squished in. That's supposed to happen, and it means you need more bread. We do it in stages so it's easier to mix and we don't overdo it with the bread. Too much bread won't ruin it, but your denser bread-patty won't cook as nicely and will have more of a spongy softness inside. Pour another round of crumbs on as I did in the pictures and mix some more. This is also a good time to add any spices you want and some salt, as well as that single egg to bind it together. The egg isn't strictly necessary, but it'll help keep your patty from shattering when you flip it or crumbling with each bite. If you forgo the egg, really take your time kneading in bread crumbs and get a good dense consistency.

That second round of crumbs ought to be good enough, but you want your (dough?) pretty thick to hold its form. The picture where I'm holding a log of it is the upper limit of how dense it should be. That made a good patty, but it was at that spongey stage mentioned previously. To someone particular about textures, this may be mildly unpleasant. Delicious, but I'd recommend you stop adding crumbs when the log breaks slowly if you form it and lift it up.
Keep in mind, it takes a bit after the crumbs are in for the mixture to reach its final density. The bread doesn't just absorb the water to get dense, it also needs to be mixed and mushed to get gummy. If you're not sure, let it rest a minute and then mix it again and see how it feels.

In the next step, we'll finally get around to cooking these things.

Step 4: Time to FRY.

Oil that pan. The tofu won't stick, but the oil is important to get a crispy exterior instead of some burned tips. In a hamburger, the fat melts out of the meat and then sizzles over the various pits and lands to get it crispy and delicious all over the burger. Your tofu didn't need fat to survive, so it's critical to use a substitute, and oil is just that.

Split your tofu mixture into 3 or 4 portions and begin forming patties. Also unlike meat burgers, these proteins won't shrink as they cook. Since there's no contracting muscle chains and no fat running out, your patties are basically going to stay the exact same size during cooking. If you make them significantly bigger than your bun, it's liable to crack on flipping and will hang awkwardly over the edge of the burger.

Stick all your patties on, and don't stress too much about burning them. I mentioned before that you dang near can't burn tofu, and I wasn't kidding. Make sure to move them around a bit or tip the pan once or twice to keep the oil under and around the patty while it sizzles to perfection.

Something like 2-30 minutes in, depending on how wet your mixture is and how much you trusted my temperature recommendation, it'll be time to flip. Consider adding a bit more oil to the pan. You usually need to, but that'll depend on how much you started with.

Good news, another plus over the beef, you can flip these a dozen times and the juices won't all run out and leave it dry. It'll be moist and juicy no matter what, so if you flip and later decide you want it crispier, go for it! After you're good with one side, add cheese or cheese substitute if you wish.

Know what's next? I'll bet you do!


And it was good.

You can basically dress it up any way you'd like. We've found you can treat these like any traditional burger and they take well to it. Lettuce, tomatoes, various pickles, ketchup, you name it. I've recently discovered thst it pairs excellently with a mild yellow mustard, but honestly we haven't run across a poor match to it that isn't equally poor on a beef burger (like cotton candy or something. I dunno. What's bad on beef burgers?)

Eat up :D

If your first burger doesn't work out, that's okay. This is pretty vague on measurements specifically because it needs to be adjusted to your bread, additions, tofu pressing length, and preferences. After a time or two making these, you'll be able to adjust or modify the recipe and make more elaborate and extravagant burgers, and certainly MUCH cheaper than you can buy them at the store.

What's better, at least with the ingredients I used, a burger was about 400 calories, and half of that was the bun.

If you have any questions or have made any enlightening tofu discoveries, please share them!

Bonus for reading to the end: play this while you're cooking your tofu, because you're going to want to sing it by the time to finish eating your first good burger ^_^

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