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Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers

Years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching for three semesters at Toronto’s renowned Ontario College of Art and Design (affectionately known as OCAD–or, when I taught there back in the Paleolithic, pre-“Design” era, simply “OCA”).  I loved teaching at a place so much the antithesis of the college I’m now at, with its focus on technology, science and computers (not, as Jerry might say, that there’s anything wrong with that).

But as someone who’s drawn to art in all its iterations–and cake decorating, as we’ve seen in recent years, is also a bona fide art–and considering I find creativity in any form pretty much irresistible (at times to my detriment–to wit, three months with Rocker Guy*), I had a blast at OCA.

The students I taught at OCA were often just as embellished as their canvases, some with tatoos adorning every exposed patch of flesh, others with rainbow-striped hair in asymetrical spikes; some with handcrafted jewelry dangling from neck, waist, or ankles, and others bedecked in outfits so bohemian they practically carried their own passports. The students were also eccentric in the way only artists can be eccentric, asking questions and writing essays that, precisely because they were “out there,” elicited my utmost affection.

During those years, I had the great fortune to meet Morris, a faculty member who took me under his wing and later became a dear friend. Sweet, erudite, and the very embodiment of integrity, Morris helped me navigate the otherworldy campus politics and academic wranglings that were about as intelligible to me as a Cubist landscape. And because he was also a vegetarian, Morris introduced me to one of my favorite vegetarian restaurants in the city–and one I haven’t been to since I left OCA.

In the heart of Toronto’s downtown shopping strip, Le Commensal peeks unassumingly from the ground floor entrance of a towering office building.  Inside, this Montreal import offers a huge, buffet-style, culinary Disneyland for vegans.  Glass cases overflow with platters of every conceivable delectation from colorful, glistening salads to grain pilafs to an ever-shifting assortment of seitan stews, skewers, casseroles, or steaks.  And it attracts customers with all dietary preferences, not just the crunchy-granola set.

I can clearly remember one of the first lunches Morris and I shared there.  While he attempted to explain the concept of “artist’s statement” to me, I chowed on a plate of roasted eggplant, marinated mushrooms, salad, and a sizeable slice of something I’d never had before, Sweet Potato and Buckwheat Shepherd’s pie. The combination of meaty, nutty toasted buckwheat set against the smooth, sweet and creamy potato was a heavenly match.  And while I promptly forgot what an artist’s statement was (if I ever really knew it), that Shepherd’s pie, with its magical pattern of ochre potato and sepia buckwheat, was etched permanently in my memory.

Imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, I came across a recipe for Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers while flipping through one of my favorite cookbooks, one of the first I bought when I started experimenting with vegetarian cuisine: Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Nettie Cronish.  The book contains one of my all-time favorite recipes, Almond-Curry Tofu Stir-Fry . In fact, I was so taken with that recipe once I discovered it that I proceeded to cook variations of the dish at least twice a week for the following six months or so (at which point the HH tersely informed me that he would never eat a single MORSEL of tofu EVER AGAIN, as long as he LIVED. Odd, since I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t have had the same reaction to, say, steak a couple of times a week for six months. . . but I digress.)

Steak?  Did someone say ‘steak’?  Ooooh, we haven’t had steak in ages. . . years, maybe. . . ”

Elsie, what’s steak?”

I couldn’t believe my luck: the recipe featured that elusive duo of sweet potato and buckwheat! I knew I had to try it.  And just what made this particular pattie so special, you ask? Well, it seems to me that in any duel between veggie burgers, you have your tofu-based on the North American side, and you have your nut-based on the UK/Antipodean side.  But Nettie’s burger–while still a realistic, objective representation of “burger”–featured neither of these.  The patties are based on the combination of grain and tuber, with a dash of almond butter as a binder.  I have to admit, I was initially doubtful and wondered if they’d hold together, but they worked beautifully.  Even the HH, with his skepticism for any non-meat proteins, enjoyed them immensely.

Mum, I’m quite sure I heard you say ‘burger”! You know we’re always happy to help out with meat of any kind. . . Oh, Chaser, you’ll love burgers!  They’re sort of like steak.”

I served this hearty dish (substantial enough to eat sans buns) alongside a favorite recipe for spring salad. The interplay of colors on the plate struck me as so artistic, in fact, it made me immediately nostalgic for those artsy days back at OCA.

Since these burgers were the cornerstone of a delectable vegetarian meal, I’m submitting this post to Eat the Right Stuff’s blog event, Vegetable, Beautiful Vegetables.

* he of the black leather pants. . . of course.

Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers

adapted from Nettie’s Vegetarian Kitchen

Surprisingly hearty and filling, these burgers are quite easy to throw together and offer a savory, almost smoky flavor.  Leftovers stored in the fridge will firm up even more overnight. I halved the recipe with no problems.

1-1/2 cups (375 ml.) dry buckwheat (kasha)

3 cups (750 ml.) water or vegetable broth [I used veg broth]

1 tsp. (5 ml.) sea salt, or 1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) if using vegetable broth above

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 Tbsp. (60 ml.) toasted sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 celery stalk, finely chopped

1 large carrot, grated

2 large sweet potatoes, cubed, steamed or boiled until tender [I actually baked mine] and mashed

1/4 cup (60 ml.) almond butter or tahini (sesame paste)

1/4 cup (60 ml.) chopped fresh basil

2 green onions, finely chopped

2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) tamari or soy sauce (for ACD, use Braggs)

Dry-roast the kasha in a heavy skillet over medum heat for 5 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Add 3 cups (750 ml.) water and salt; bring to boil over high heat.  Reduce heat; cover and cook over low heat until water is absorbed and kasha is tender, about 15 minutes.

Cook onion in 1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) oil over medium heat until softened. Add celery and carrot; cook for another 5 minutes until softened.

Stir together kasha, vegetables (including sweet potato), almond butter, basil, greeen onions and soy sauce until combined.  Keeping hands moist, form into 8 large or 16 small patties.  Heat remaining 3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) oil in large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Cook burgers 5 minutes, turning once, until golden brown and crisp on the outside.  [Note:  I baked half and fried half of these, just to see how they’d hold up in the oven. They worked just fine with both cooking methods, though the baked burgers never acquired that crispy blackened exterior that the fried ones had. Still yummy, though!]



34 comments to Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers

  • Great recipe for kasha! My boyfriend had it for breakfast as a kid, but we don’t know many recipes and we never cook it. Time to change that!


  • Wow, you taught at OCAD?? That’s fabulous!! And how wonderful that those burgers (which sound too delicious for words) brought back memories of your lunch with Morris :0)


  • Celine

    I don’t enough burgers. feed me?


  • Oh, this sounds absolutely wonderful, Ricki. I’ve been making a veganized version of a mushroom-kasha burger from Epicurious that I like very much, but my husband isn’t terribly crazy for mushrooms. I think we’d *both* love your sweet potato-kasha burgers. I’m going to make these for dinner one night this week.


  • veganhomemade

    This looks so wholesome and tasty. And a nice story to explain your affection for the flavor combo.


  • Your post reminds me that I haven’t used kasha for quite some time. Great recipe Ricki. I love patties full of veggie and grain goodness.


  • YUM YUM YUM!!! Holy smokes I think I will make these! I happen to have a ton of raw buckwheat if you will recall lol…

    Really cool about OCAD too, I was there last year for Nuit Blanche…way neat.


  • Joe

    I’ve only had kasha couple times and this looks like a fine recipe to give it another try!


  • These sound, and look, fantastic! I am definitely looking forward to trying these soon, as I have a lot of buckwheat sitting around, waiting for the perfect use.


  • i know i have said this many times before, but I LOVE YOU.


  • How delish!

    Artist’s Statements…I think mine went along the following lines…’I like to draw, and I’m enjoying etching, but please, please don’t make me do another Installation…’

    Or something like that.

    Can I just add that your photos are becoming VERY alluring?!!


  • giz

    I love this recipe and I love Le Commensal. For another really fine vegan choice, have you tried Annapura (Indian cuisine) at Davenport and Bathurst? Really good.


  • buckwheat is one of those grains I have never really cooked with but want to and this sounds like a wonderful way to eat it – on my to do list – your lovely photos seems what I would call an artist’s statement!


  • ”cake-decorating is also a bona fide art”
    I agree with that statement 100%! And I’ve found my future wedding cake–


    If my cake-decorating skills ever get to be even half as good as the Hippie Chick decorators, I will be one happy CCV.

    Of course, the burgers sound/look great too.


  • wow, i am so impressed by these burgers. and i love your story that accompanies them.

    thanks for sharing with vegetables, beautiful vegetables.


  • Alice,
    I’ve never heard of kasha for breakfast–sounds intriguing! I may have to give it a try that way and report back 🙂

    OCAD was loads of fun. (Do you have a connection. . .??). The burgers were really yummy, too.

    My pleasure–any time!!

    Your version of the mushroom/kasha burgers sounds great, too! Let me know how you like these if you do give them a try.

    Thanks so much! And while they are wholesome, they just taste good!

    Thought you might like the grain-based aspect here 😉

    Glad to provide another use for it. And I’m thinking I have to give that buckwheat breakfast a try, too! 🙂
    (PS–never been to nuit blanche, but it sounded like lots of fun!)

    Thanks so much for your comment, and for visiting my blog! Given how adventurous you are on your blog (love it!), glad I could inspire you to use more kasha!

    Glad that you now have a way to use up the kasha! Let me know how you like them if you do give them a try 🙂

    happy herbivore,
    The feeling is mutual 🙂 (can’t wait for that cookbook. . . !)

    Love the artist’s statement. . . very much like the ones I remember reading 😉 . I had to laugh when I read your comment about the photos, though–totally by chance, as my free (bought with Airmiles) camera has no settings and is point-and-shoot; I point, shoot, and hope!


    I’ve been to Annapurna many times (though more frequently when we used to live nearby). Believe it or not, my meat-loving HH is the one who first took me there!

    Thanks so much! I think this recipe is a good one to start with, as the buckwheat is nicely balanced by the sweet potato.

    I, too, was smitten by the bakery cakes. Quite the artist, no?

    Thanks so much! Always happy to promote veggies in any context 🙂 .


  • These look lovely.

    I am becoming increasingly vegan and need good recipes to tempt my boyfriend, these will be a good change form the virations of bean and chickpea burgers that I have been making.

    I am going to enjoy having a read of your blog.


  • Oh wow do those look and sound good. Sweet potatoes are one of my favourite things to eat so I can’t wait to try these!


  • Katie

    I made these and thought that they were pretty mushy. I fed them to my roommate and he was confused by their flavor.


  • Katie,
    Thanks for your comment. Since you didn’t leave an email address, I will hope that you return to read this. I’m dying to know what was confusing to your roommate, of course 😉

    As to the burgers, I don’t know whether you’re familiar with vegan foods or not, so it’s a bit hard to respond to your comment. I find that a lot of vegan burgers are moist compared to “regular” burgers. It often depends on how long you cook them, or how, or even how long the mixture sits at room temperature before being cooked. It’s also a bit of a crap shoot with sweet potatoes, since some contain much more moisture than others.

    As it turns out, I actually know the chef who created the recipe, so I can ask her how they were meant to come out. Mine were soft but I wouldn’t say mushy. . . or maybe I just happen to like them that way!


  • Sandra

    I just made these burgers tonight. It is probably about the 6th time I have made them. We love them. Even my teenage son eats them. I vary the vegetables depending on what I have, and also add about a cup of ground sesame seeds. Thanks for such a great recipe, and a great blog.


  • These sound fantastic and so easy AND they are gluten free, so these will be a definite on my “must try” list. Thanks!


  • […] adapted this recipe from the site, Diets, Desserts, and Dogs. The recipe was for Sweet Potato and Kasha Burgers. As you know, I had to improvise…the result was doggone […]

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  • Made these tonight (although I used peanut butter and 1/2 cup brown rice to make up my shortfall of buckwheat) and they were amazing! Thanks so much!


    Ricki Reply:

    Jude, thanks for commenting–and SO glad you liked them! I bet they tasted great with PB. . . wish I could eat them that way (no PB for me, for now). These are one of my favorite burgers! 🙂


  • Micki

    Wow, great looking patties! Making them tonight…just wondering, did anyone add garlic to theirs?


    Ricki Reply:

    Hi Micki–thanks so much! If they did add garlic, no one mentioned it. . . but I bet it would be fabulous in these. 🙂


  • Amy

    This may be a dumb question, but is there a difference between buckwheat flour and kasha?


    Ricki Reply:

    Not a dumb question at all! Buckwheat isn’t that common in a lot of places. Kasha is the whole buckwheat groats (ie, the seed), but toasted (as opposed to whole buckwheat, which is raw). The buckwheat flour is ground up buckwheat–a powder. If you ever need buckwheat flour and can’t find it, you can always grind up the dry (uncooked) groats in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. 🙂


  • Amy

    Thanks for the info! So for this recipe, buckwheat flour is no bueno then, yes?


    Ricki Reply:

    Exactly. I think it wouldn’t quite work. You might try cooked quinoa instead, though–similar texture (I’m guessing. . . but think it would probably be okay). 🙂


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