Why Bean Burgers?


When I imagine World War 2 rationing, the first few words that come to my mind are: difficult, despairing and dull. So when I was told that as an intern with Cambridge Sustainable Food, I was making bean burgers to publicise their rationing challenge, I was rather confused…

Personally I associate bean burgers with barbecues on the beach, not a time of hardship and restriction. And anyway, did people really eat bean burgers in the 1930s? Why on Earth was I being asked to make them?

The foolproof bean burger recipe which I was handed contains exactly 6 ingredients: carrots, onion, kidney beans, cumin, coriander and flour. As you can see, these ingredients are the real basics; I found them all in my kitchen when I received the recipe, and I am sure I could find them all in my kitchen now.

Grating a carrot, simple enough. Opening a can of beans, not too tasking. The most difficult thing I had to do to prepare the vegetables was stick my tongue out whilst chopping the onion, in attempt to stop myself crying. Note: it didn’t work.

Once the vegetables were briefly cooked together with the spices, I added the flour to stiffen the mixture, along with the all important beans, and then the real fun began! I shaped the mixture into patties, but you could leave them in balls or be creative and make, I don’t know, sausages?

The recipe suggests frying the patties in oil, which briefly scared me as I associate frying oil with burn marks on my arms, but not to fear! This recipe doesn’t ask you to deep fry the burgers, in fact you only need 2 tbsp of oil for frying 4 (large) burgers, which is good for your oil ration, better for your health, and good for the skin on your arms. If I haven’t managed to fill you with confidence about the frying, you can always cover your mixture in breadcrumbs and bake the patties instead.

What is wonderful about this recipe is that you can adapt it to your tastes and the season! You can change the herbs and spices, and add less or more dependent on your personal preferences. The recipe specifies kidney beans, but using British grown beans would be more sustainable! When the winter rolls around, you could use squash or sweet potato instead of carrot, and you can easily stir some spinach in to give yourself some all important iron.

So, why was I asked to make bean burgers? Well, this recipe is simple and adaptable. The ingredients are cheap, and can be grown locally. The recipe uses no meat or dairy, and it only requires a little bit of oil for frying. It is these elements of the bean burger recipe which make it relevant to the rationing challenge.

In hindsight, of all the recipes that I have come across whilst planning for the challenge, for me, this modern barbecue treat is the epitome of the challenge’s objectives. These burgers are good for your health, good for the planet, and they show you that reducing your intake of certain products isn’t boring and difficult, but can actually be a delicious, enjoyable and sustainable way of life.