Sunday, November 6, 2011

Botanical balls, improved

I've blogged these before, where I made them according to the recipe in the Rebar ModernFoodCookbook, in their original incarnation as botanical burgers.  Click the link to see the Rebar recipe.

The original burgers look peculiarly like ground beef patties, which I suspect was one of the main reasons for the recipe being written as it was, with mashed potatoes, rice, and bread crumbs as binder/base.  This makes for a meaty-looking but mushy burger (unless, I suppose, you added a whole lot of breadcrumbs, which in my opinion makes a bun superfluous and far too much starch-on-starch going on in the recipe).  The idea of them, however, with their gorgeous and tasty vegetable palette, the insanely fragrant combination of roasted hazelnuts, dill, and tarragon, haunts my dreams.

Here's an altered version which ups the protein content considerably, gives a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside texture, and will freeze beautifully.

I'm also confident that you could use pretty much any combination of dryish squashes and/or root vegetables in this recipe and it would still be delish.  Think of carrot-parsnip-butternut, for instance, or zucchini-potato-rutabaga with walnuts in place of the hazelnuts, and a nutmeg-based spice mix...yes, you'll probably see all that and more here, in time, because I really, really love this template.

Botanical balls, improved
inspired by Rebar's Botanical burgers
makes about 50 balls

1/2 cup hazelnuts
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow or red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup grated turnip
1 cup grated beets
1 cup grated zucchini (give this a good squeeze over the sink to remove some of the water)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried dill weed
1 tsp cracked pepper
1 cup cooked white beans (I used limas)
1 cup cooked rice, any kind (I used a rice/grain mix)
2 tbsp peanut butter, almond butter, or tahini (optional)
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp nutritional yeast

2 tbsp dried tarragon
2 tbsp minced parsley
1 cup (or more) dry TVP

A food processor is your friend in almost every step of this recipe, so if you have one, you should use it.

Start by roasting the hazelnuts in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat while you chop and grate the vegetables and assemble the other ingredients; no need to remove the skins.  Once the nuts are fragrant and turning brown, remove from the skillet and set aside to cool.  Add the olive oil to the skillet and, when hot, the onions.  Fry the onions over medium-high heat until they begin to brown at the edges, then add the garlic and the other vegetables, sprinkle with the salt and the dill weed, and continue to fry, stirring often, for about 10 minutes, until there is no more water in the bottom of the pan and the vegetables are beginning to want to start to brown.  Remove from heat and let cool a bit.

While they're cooling, grind the hazelnuts finely in the food processor, then add the beans, rice, and peanut butter (if using).  Pulse it all together until well combined and most of the rice and beans are broken up.  Tip into a large bowl:

It's kind of mauve from the red rice in my mix and some residual beety-ness in the food processor
Add the cooled cooked vegetables to the food processor and pulse them too.  Add them to the bowl with the rice mix and the remaining ingredients except for the TVP, and mix well:

Subbing beans for mashed potatoes, this mix is much more red and less "beefy" than the original
The mix will be quite soft and moist.  The fragrance of the hazelnuts and tarragon will fill your kitchen with intoxicating aromas, even raw like this.  Now you need to add something here to soak up some of the moisture and make the balls firm up and hold their shape during cooking.  The Rebar recipe uses breadcrumbs, and you could too, or oatmeal, or those crumbs at the bottom of a package of Soy Curls given a quick whiz in the food processor, or oven-dried okara, or, my choice, dry TVP.  Start with a cup and see how it feels.  If it's still moist, continue to add more in 1/4 cup increments until the mixture seems fairly firm, like it would take molding into balls without sticking too much to your hands.  I ended up adding about 1 1/4 cup.  Now set the bowl aside for the TVP to absorb some of the moisture from the other ingredients for about 20 minutes while you tidy up the kitchen and/or work on other dishes.

Form the mix into balls and place on a lightly-oiled baking pan or a silicone mat:

I forgot the trick of rolling them in whole wheat flour, which makes them look better once they're cooked, but you can do that if you like.  These balls are lightly sprayed with canola oil; however, on the second tray I tried them without oiling them at all, and they turned out exactly the same in looks, texture, and taste, so from now on I won't bother.

Bake in a 375F oven for about half an hour, turning them at least three times so that they'll brown more or less evenly.  Here's what they look like when they're done:

Beautiful firm texture and lovely colour inside!  Nor did they threaten to squash or fall apart or stick to anything in the oven.  These are really wonderful.  I served them with some of the Super-quick tomato basil cream from Vegan Yum Yum, but actually, as nice as that sauce is (and it is nice), it's better with pasta, and the botanical balls are so flavourful and rich-tasting on their own that they're best with a simple side of some yogurt- or sour cream-type substance, either incorporated into a warm sauce, or just alone, straight from the fridge.

Also seen here are some mixed mushrooms fried up with garlic, steamed green beans, and mashed sweet potato.  Next time I'll try coating the balls in something before baking them, or serve them stirred up with a sauce, but here you see the naked thing in all its honest splendour.


  1. These look awesome! I can imagine having a lot of fun with the template. Thanks.

  2. I like the change you made to the heading for Airy Way. Great quote (or, did you make it up?).

  3. Thanks, Foodfeud and Moon Goddess. The quote is by Edward Bulwer-Lytton...though I wish I had made it up!

  4. Thank you for this recipe!! It looks great. Balls!!


  5. Fun colors! Great recipe too. It's on my list!