This recipe combines two of my favorite things: literature, and vegan alternatives for animal products. Hemingway’s burger is full of unique ingredients, and packed with a flavorful punch that you won’t find in any other burger recipe. Even if you’re not a vegan, or you’ve never picked up a book in your life, this historical recipe is sure to impress.
As an English major in college, and a high school English teacher of over 10 years, I have been a big fan of Ernest Hemingway’s writing. So, what better way is there to celebrate the life of one of my favorite authors, than to cook his favorite burger recipes?
I’m not sure where I first heard about this recipe, but I do remember that moment I became aware of its existence, I had to look it up. Apparently the JFK library houses a number of Hemingway’s person documents from “Papa’s” time in Cuba, and among those documents are a number of lists, letters, and at least one recipe. (For a facsimile of the original document, go here.)
Although his short stories are a masterclass in the minimalism of language, his recipe for “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger”, or “The Hemingway Burger”, as it’s colloquially known, is quite the opposite. The original recipe calls for no fewer than 10 ingredients in addition to the ground beef. For someone who had mastered the art of the 6 word story, he certainly made up for his conservation of words with this recipe.
In order for a vegan version of this recipe to work, I knew that the “ground beef” portion needed to be a clean slate. The other ingredients have such distinct flavors, that I really wanted them to shine through. I could have made a quinoa or black bean patty, or some other “healthier” version of this burger, but I thought it was important to try and preserve the vision of the original without the use of ingredients that might cloud the flavor.
The original recipe contains a brief rant against the dry, grey, and thin burger patties of the time, so, I needed to make sure that whatever I used as a substitute for the ground beef, would need to be juicy, pink, and thick. And what better vegan burger is there on the market to achieve all of those properties than The Beyond Burger?
The Beyond Burger has really gone down in price and not be found in most major supermarkets. In fact, I was able to get the half pound needed for this recipes at Smith’s (Kroger) for less than $6. I paid just about the same price, at the same store, for the Spice Island Beau Monde seasoning.
Other than the meat and some egg (which I just eliminated completely) the other ingredients were already vegan. Most of those items were fairly easy to acquire, but the original recipe called for “India Relish” and Spice Island Mei Yen powder, which I was not able to source. The “India Relish” just isn’t available where I am, and when I looked online for the ingredients, it seems that there are actually a number of variations of the condiment. I concluded that the flavor profile that Hemingway wanted was something akin to an Indian spiced sweet relish, so I basically did just that: I added curry spices to a sweet pickle relish.
The Spice Island Mei Yen powder just doesn’t exist anymore, but from what I found online, it’s basically just salt sugar, and MSG. Now, I’m not here to defend or demonize MSG, but it is in most commercially processed foods. If you’ve consumed ranch dressing or chips, you’ve consumed MSG. If you don’t want it in your burger, don’t add it. The recipe for Mei Yen that I’ve used uses 5 parts salt, 5 parts sugar, and 1 part MSG (Accent). The amount of MSG is so small, that you probably wouldn’t even notice if it went missing.
I used a vegan friendly Sauvignon Blanc for this recipe, but the original recipe from “Papa” says that you can use a dry red or white wine. When tasting the final product, I did find that the wine flavor was prominent, so if you make this, choose a dry wine that you already love, or eliminate it completely if you don’t think you’ll be a fan of the flavor of wine in a burger.
The recipe below is my veganized version, which produces two burgers, and calls for one package of Beyond Burger. I’ve included all of my shortcuts to getting the flavors of the ingredients from the original recipe which I was unable to locate.
A veganized version of “Papa’s Favorite Wild West Hamburger”.
- 1 1/2 pound package of Beyond Burgers (2 patties)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
- 1 pinch madras curry powder
- 1 tablespoons drained capers, roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
- 1/4 teaspoon Spice Islands Beau Monde Seasoning
- 5 pinches salt
- 5 pinches sugar
- 1 pinch MSG powder such as Accent
- 3 tablespoons sauvignon blanc
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 burger buns
- Toppings and condiments of your choice
Place your Beyond Burger patties into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except the oil, and stir with a fork to combine. Allow the mixture to chill in the fridge for 5 minutes.
Heat a cast iron skillet to medium to medium-high heat, and add the oil. Using your hands, or a burger mold, form two patties. The mixture may be a bit on the wet side, so it does help to have some sort of form to help the burgers hold their shape.
Cook for about 3 to 4 on the first side, or until you are able to get a spatula safely under the burges to flip them. Continue to cook on the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until brown and easily removed from the pan.
Serve on your favorite vegan burger buns with condiments of your choice.