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Story - Food

Oct 11, 2019 11:20 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The Complete Burger Redefines Meat For Vegetarians

Oct 13, 2019 12:08 PM


The distinguishable sound of a burger patty hitting the grill is the instant, quick-working sizzle that grows louder at first before settling into its own rhythm. Sure, this mouth-watering sound is often associated with a traditional beef patty, maybe even turkey burgers, but in reality, anything cold you slap onto the grill will make you hungry just thinking about it. Taking it up a notch by creating a healthy burger that offers complete proteins and is vegan and gluten-free, friends, business partners and Sag Harbor residents Jessica Taccone and Drei Donnelly have served up the Complete Burger.

Made of a 50 percent shiitake mushroom base with red quinoa, lentils, black beans and ground flax, the Complete Burger offers complete protein, something many vegetarian burgers do not. With an oat flour binder replacing traditional flour, it’s also gluten-free. A go-to topping is Donnelly’s garlic aioli, which some have referred to as “crack sauce,” an easy mix of mayo or veganese with crushed garlic, lime juice, salt and pepper. Taccone enjoys it in patty form served over sautéed spinach with melted swiss and avocado or on a hero with sautéed peppers, onions and melted mozzarella.

The possibilities for the Complete Burger are not limited to a bun with traditional toppings like lettuce, tomato and onion — though that’s always a solid choice. Instead, the patties can be broken up and used in a similar way to ground meat. Tacos, Bolognese, chili, and lasagna are just a few options. It also goes great on pita with tzatziki, cucumbers, red onion and lettuce.

First concocted by Taccone, the Complete Burger wasn’t created out of her own necessity. The meat-eater had worked at Open Minded Organics in Bridgehampton with farmers and owners David and Ashley Falkowski managing the processing kitchen, making soups and pesto with their produce.

“I noticed a lot of mushrooms were being added to the compost pile,” she recalls. “They sold a ton of mushrooms, but had a lot left over. They are great for compost but are even better as food. Coming from a background in environmental studies with a focus on food policy and waste, I was inspired to create a product that would use up those mushrooms.”

Taccone spent a winter in research and development to put together different ideas for a plant-based burger. Though not vegan or gluten-free herself, she knew it was a direction a lot of people were heading and she also wanted to eat less meat. The burgers did well. They were sold just on the farm and ended up with a bit of a cult following.

One of the devoted was Donnelly. Working on the farm one summer and living with Taccone, she happened to grab a package of burgers from the freezer and took them home. She had almost finished the bag, which holds six patties, and was hooked. When her friend came home she demanded to know where she had been hiding these delicious burgers. “I couldn’t wait to be hungry again so I could eat the rest,” Donnelly half-joked.

A former vegan due to health reasons, Donnelly had tried nearly every veggie burger in hopes of finding something that could satiate her taste for meat. After Taccone had left the farm, there were no burgers for a while, but Donnelly couldn’t get them out of her mind.

“I thought she should do something with this,” Donnelly shares. “It’s a lot of work but she was sitting on gold. We did a popup restaurant last winter, Hawaiian food. I didn’t care these burgers aren’t Hawaiian, I wanted them on my menu.”

The burgers did well, of course. The rise of the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, plant-based burgers that mimic meat, were perfectly timed with the public release of the Complete Burger. Vegan or not, consumers are looking to lessen their carbon footprint by eating less meat. This variation also excludes other meat options like chicken or turkey, as well as soy. Typical veggie burgers are just four ounces, but the Complete Burger rises to the occasion of its meat counterparts as a six-ounce patty. The trick is to cook the patty while still frozen so it holds together on the grill, getting a nice crisp and char on the outside. Otherwise, as learned through the trial and error phase, it will disintegrate right through the grates.

That wasn’t the only trial and error story. One of the most devastating experiences was leaving the only copy of the perfected recipe on an airplane after a long flight to Hawaii for research for their popup restaurant, Hamptons Hawaiian, which enjoyed a residency last winter on Wednesdays at Dopo la Spiaga.

“I never got my folder back and I had to re-create the recipe from memory,” Taccone says. “That was a nightmare, but I actually think the recipe is even better now and lesson learned, multiple copies exist on multiple platforms in multiple locations … just in case!”

Local businesses have caught on to the Complete Burger. Cromer’s Market was the first to stock it on their shelves. It is the fourth bestseller on Montauk Circle Burger’s menu. Open Minded Organics remains a supporter, and North Sea Farms, Balsam Farms, and Green Thumb Hayground Market carry the burger. Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic just signed on as a client as well. Donnelly, who grew up in Los Angeles and Hawaii, says they are looking into bringing the burgers to Los Angeles, and home chefs can buy the frozen patties online.

“For fall, I’m interested in trying it in a version of shepherd’s pie and as a chili,” shares Taccone. “And since its squash season, it would be a delicious substitute in my roasted stuffed squash that I usually make with ground beef.”

Learn more at thecompleteburger.com

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