One of the few meat products I miss are my mum’s beef burgers, which she makes using this Jamie Oliver recipe from Jamie’s Ministry of Food (go show it to all your non-veggie friends, it honestly makes THE BEST burgers and they will love it). Basically it involves mixing mince beef with chopped red onion, crushed crackers, and a few other ingredients, binding it with egg.
So naturally I decided to replicate it without the meat, and since halloumi has the closest texture to meat as you’re going to get without actual meat, I thought that would be a good place to start.
But a quick google gave me nothing but “grill a slice of halloumi and stick it between two burger buns”, which is not what I wanted. This had me wondering, “is what I want to do even possible at all?”
Attempt 1: Chopped Halloumi
I did this waaaay back in the May of my first year at uni, but nevertheless, I, by some miracle, still managed to find pictures of this meal.
All I did was follow the recipe, but instead of adding 500g of mince beef, I added 250g cubed halloumi, and fried it rather than grilled it. At least, I assume it was 250g, as that’s the size of the standard halloumi pack, and being a stingy student, I doubt I’d have bought two of them.
Unfortunately, this attempt undoubtedly failed. Although it tasted great, I’m sure you can tell from the picture that the result was… nothing at all like a burger. The chunks of halloumi were too big; the “burgers” completely fell apart.
Since the recipe makes a batch of burgers but I only wanted one, I wrapped the rest (uncooked) in cling film, in nice burger-shape, and froze them. I sort of hoped that freezing them in the shape I wanted would make them less likely to fall apart when I defrosted them and cooked them, but alas, it was not to be.
Attempt 2: Grated Halloumi
I made this attempt with my non-veggie boyfriend approximately a year later. He doesn’t like halloumi, so we basically made two batches of burgers, one with mince beef for him, and one with halloumi for me. This time, I’m pretty sure I bought two packets of halloumi to make it up to 500g, but this was far too much and took ages to grate.
Another thing I found, though, was that it didn’t combine nearly as well as the mince version did; I ended up adding at least one extra egg before giving up and just hoping it wouldn’t fall apart. As a result, the burgers were a bit hard to shape; they refused to stick tightly together.
The plus side, though, was that this attempt worked much better! While my burgers did still fall apart a bit, especially if I wasn’t careful with them in the pan, they were recognisably burgers!
You can see from the picture below comparing my halloumi burger to my boyfriend’s beef burger, though, that mine was much bigger. The lesson here is that even if the recipe says 500g of mince beef, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll need to replace it with 500g of your chosen meat substitute! A 250g packet would have worked fine.
Attempt 3: Blended Halloumi
Since grated halloumi didn’t combine with itself or the other ingredients very well, I wondered what I could do to make it more like the readily-combine-able mince beef. The only thing I could think of was blending, so although I was skeptical that it would work, I thought I might as well give it a go. That way, at least I’d tried and had gotten a concrete answer as to whether it works or not.
I cut the (one 250g packet of) halloumi up into rough chunks, and threw it in the blender. I was hoping for a smooth, thick, sticky consistency, but was very doubtful I would get it. And I was right to doubt: blended halloumi is actually more like couscous, in both how it looks and how it feels.
The mixture combined much better than the previous attempts.
It did loose some of the texture so it didn’t taste as much like halloumi as the others did. Since I hadn’t needed as much as I’d thought for the grated halloumi burgers, I used less for these, but really I could’ve done with more.
But there was little worry of it falling apart as I ate it!
Attempt One, although it tasted great, was a complete failure. Attempt Three, while quick and easy to make, and stuck together well, didn’t retain the taste or texture I wanted. So while Attempt Two took longer, it was a good compromise between taste and the shape.