Brian Shaw: Pursuing perfection: Evolving toward a healthier recipe

A quinoa veggie burger is on the menu at Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.

A quinoa veggie burger is on the menu at Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.

My former employer up in Lake Tahoe and I used to have the same argument every time we put a new dish on the menu. He would contend the dish shouldn’t go on until it was perfected. And I would argue it would never be perfected until it was on the menu. There’s nothing like doing a dish 10, 20 or 30 times a night, night after night to dial it in.

Even some of the items on our menu we have been doing for 15 years get tweaked now and then. And our nightly specials always evolve over the course of the evening. I don’t feel like we are doing our job if we aren’t trying to improve it a little every time we make it.

Today’s recipe is a case in point. We started playing with a quinoa burger about five years ago, right after my doctor insisted I cut out all the foods I thought made the civilized world civilized — pizza, pastry, butter and cheese.

The original recipe had eggs as a binder, oats as a filler, and a little cheese mixed in for richness. But it bothered me it didn’t work for vegans or people with problems with gluten. So, over time we realized you could replace the oats with textured vegetable protein which is gluten free and adds a good dose of protein. The eggs were replaced with flaxseed meal, satisfying the vegans and adding some significant omega 3s. As for the cheese, we left it out, opting to put a slice on if requested.

There are some pecans in the burger for texture and a little flavor, but you could probably leave them out if you have issues with nuts.

I do think it’s worth the effort to seek out red quinoa instead of the yellow or white variety. It’s a little harder to find, but it makes the burgers look remarkably like beef. Walmart sells a good one for the same price as the regular stuff.

And don’t be put off by what looks like a lot of steps. It’s really easy to do each of the steps while you’re doing something else. Then once everything has been soaked, sautéed or processed, you just throw it together. The mix can sit in the refrigerator for a day or two if you don’t feel like baking it right away. It will be perfect.


Makes 8 burgers


2 cups water

1 cup red quinoa

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 medium onion, diced

1 pound medium cremini mushrooms, chopped

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons dried whole thyme

1 teaspoon dried whole oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

4 tablespoons flaxseed meal

1 cup toasted pecans, finely chopped

2/3 cup textured vegetable protein (we like Bob’s Red Mills)

2/3 cup hot water

1/4 cup soy sauce (substitute Tamari for gluten free)


Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil, stir in the quinoa, return to simmer, cover and cook for about 18 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed and the quinoa has opened. Remove from heat, let rest covered for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork and allow to cool.

Place the textured vegetable protein in a heat resistant bowl. Heat the 2/3 cup of water along with the soy sauce to steaming, and pour over the textured vegetable protein. Stir to combine, and allow to sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté the chopped onion in the canola oil until translucent, then add the mushrooms, garlic, dried thyme, oregano, cumin and pepper and cook until the mushrooms are tender. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Place the mushroom mixture along with the soaked textured vegetable protein in a food processor, and pulse it a few times to combine. Get it to about the consistency of course ground beef. Don’t overdo it.

Add the contents of the processor to the cooked quinoa along with the chopped pecans and flaxseed meal. Stir to combine.

Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop the mixture onto an oiled (we use spray) sheet pan or cookie sheet, and shape each scoop into 3-inch patties about an inch apart. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Serve on buns with your favorite toppings, or allow to cool, wrap individually and freeze until ready to eat. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat in an oiled sauté pan.

Brian Shaw and his wife, Ardie, own Cafe Del Rio in Virginia City.


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