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With a vegetarian teenager in the house, and me avoiding red meat as far as possible, we've tried quite a variety of veggieburgers over the past couple of years. Not that I buy convenience food very often, but it's useful to keep some in the freezer for those days when there's half an hour between activities and something has to be cooked and eaten quickly.
There seem to be two main types of veggieburger: those which look much like beefburgers,and those which are clearly full of vegetables. The former tend to be made of soya, or quorn, or some kind of wheat/vegetable mix with various bindings, and colourings that make them brown. Since my son doesn't actually like the taste of meat, he dislikes the quorn and soya ones, but will eat the Linda McCartney veggieburgers, which manage to look like beefburgers without tasting like them. For a barbecue they work well, since they don't fall apart easily.
But on the whole he would rather eat something that's clearly made of vegetables, as would I. There are several brands of this type of veggieburger, including shops' own brands. They're sometimes held together with a cheese-potato sauce, and usually come with a crunchy breadcrumb coating, a little like you would expect on fishfingers. They can be oven-baked, shallow-fried or grilled, but tend to fall apart on a barbecue. They always have to be cooked from frozen.
Birds eye crunchy vegetable quarter pounders
We hadn't found any brand that we liked more than any other until recently, when I noticed a new frozen product called 'Birds Eye 4 crunchy vegetable quarter pounders'. The packaging - a green box with a rather appetising photograph on the front - didn't stand out from any other veggieburger product, but I know Birds Eye to be a reputable brand, so we decided to try them out.
Opening the packet when I was ready to cook them, I found that the four veggieburgers were well packed - not sticking together, but taking up the entire box without an extraneous plastic packaging inside. They are about 9cm in diameter, and a little over 1cm thick; bigger than many similar products we've used.
Although only oven-baking and grilling were described on the side of the pack, I decided to shallow-fry these in a little oil, as I find this the quickest and easiest. I always use olive oil since it's the least carcinogenic at high temperatures. I've learned from experience that the oil has to be reasonably hot before putting in any product coated with breadcrumbs, or they start to collapse, thawing before the coating is crispy. I was pleased to see that these veggieburgers held together very well while cooking, not even scattering crumbs around the frying pan. I turned them a couple of times, so that they cooked evenly, and served them when they'd developed a dark golden brown coating on both sides, which was after about ten minutes. I was also pleased to see that they didn't shrink much while cooking.
They looked and smelled more appetising than I had expected. Cutting into them, we could see a pleasant contrast between the outer crunchy layer and the inner vegetable filling, which was steaming, so clearly well-cooked. The taste was much nicer than any similar product that we'd had before! There was no hint of monosodium glutamate or other artifiical flavour-enhancer, and the crunch of the breadcrumbs went well with the softness of the filling, which seemed to be potato-based. We could clearly distinguish various vegetable pieces - broccoli and carrots in particular - and could just about taste them individually too, rather than the whole thing being a bland mixture. There was a very faint hint of cheese.
We had one each, with some salad and a little tomato ketchup, and found them to be surprisingly filling.
Reading the ingredients, I was pleased to find that they all sounded quite natural and healthful: 44% vegetables, including the ones we had recognised, and items such as wheat, rice, potato flakes and vegetarian cheese. There were no artificial flavourings or colourings, and no hint of any E-numbers. There aren't even any warnings about nuts, so this must be one of the few ready-made products that those allergic to nuts can eat - although of course they're no use for people who are intolerant to wheat or lactose, nor are they suitable for vegans.
Per 100g, they provide 211calories, 4.8g protein, 24.9g carbohydrate, 10.2g fat and 0.4g sodium. That puts them just out of the low-fat category, but since only 1.7g of the fat is saturated, eating one with some salad is not going to ruin any diet (other than Atkins!)
Availability and price
Supermarkets seem to have different policies about where they store vegetarian products. Some have freezers dedicated to a wide variety of meat-free dishes, some put them amongst the pizzas and other ready meals, still others store them next to the whatever is the most similar meat product. So you might find these in a general vegetarian freezer, you might find them near frozen hamburgers, or you might find them in a 'ready meals' freezer.
We bought ours in Cyprus, and paid the equivalent of about £2.30 for a pack, which weighs just under half a kilogram. This is comparable with similar products, though higher priced than supermarket own brands. UK prices are usually about 20% less, but currently none of the online supermarkets are listing them; it's possible that some don't stock them yet, so it's worth asking if you can't find them.
We've never before been loyal to any brand of vegetable-based burger, but I have no hesitation in saying that we'll be sticking with the Birds Eye product in future.