Hollywood's First Rebel
Garfield survived growing up on the streets of New York before discovering a great talent and passion for acting. He trained with the Group Theater in NYC—alongside such acting greats as Lee Strasberg, the founder of “the Method” style of acting–before making his way to Hollywood. With his first movie role, Garfield became a star, playing what film historians consider to be Hollywood’s first onscreen rebel. He earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in the process.
John Garfield, or Julie, as his friends and family always called him, was one of the first movie stars to form his own production company and break from the studio system, setting the precedent for independent film production. But just a few years after establishing his company, Julie tragically died of a heart attack at age 39, brought on by the wrongful accusations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that Julie was a communist sympathizer. John Garfield’s death was one of the most tragic casualties of the communist witch hunts of the late 1940s-early 1950s in Hollywood.
In my research of Julie’s tragically short, but exuberantly lived life, I didn’t find any clues as to what his favorite foods were. We do know that his wife, Robbe, was an excellent cook, and Julie loved indulging in Robbe’s home cooked meals between films. But that’s about it on the food and recipes front.
So to celebrate John Garfield this month, I found recipe inspiration from my favorite Garfield film, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946).
For more about John Garfield, Lana Turner, and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), listen to my Classic Hollywood podcast, Vanguard of Hollywood. Episodes 42-44 are all about John Garfield and this classic film.
A Classic Scene and An Inedible Burger
In this classic film noir, Julie plays Frank Chambers, a drifter who finds employment at the Twin Oaks, a roadside diner and gas station just outside of Los Angeles. Frank’s new boss, Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), puts him to work right away, flipping burgers while Nick attends to a customer at the gas pumps.
And that’s when Frank’s life changes forever.
But it’s not because he finds flipping burgers so exhilarating.
As Frank mans the stove, he hears a small object drop to the floor. He turns and sees a tube of lipstick rolling towards him. As he raises his eyes, Frank takes in the gorgeous face and figure of Cora Smith (Lana Turner), the owner of the stray lipstick, and his new boss’ much younger wife. She’s dressed all in white, from her high-heels to her hot pants to her turban.
And no one ever made a turban look so good.
Frank is immediately engrossed in the beautiful image before him. He’s so taken with Cora that he forgets about the burger on the stove…
And it burns to an inedible crisp.
Obvious foreshadowing of what Cora Smith will do to Frank Chambers by the end of the film.
Back to the Homemade Vegan Burgers!
So back to those burgers.
I’m sure the burgers Frank flipped at the Twin Oaks were pretty traditional ones. But Cora Smith dreamed of turning her small diner into an elegant restaurant.
I’ll spoil a little bit of the film: Cora does succeed in giving the Twin Oaks a makeover.
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And I’m convinced that my Homemade Vegan Burgers are exactly the type of burger Cora would have served, and Frank would have flipped, after revamping the Twin Oaks.
If a burger can be elegant, then these homemade vegan burgers certainly fit the description. Filled with sautéed and caramelized bell peppers and onions, cilantro, and chickpeas, this is not your average burger or veggie burger flavor.
This is one classy burger.
As these are homemade vegan burgers, I don’t use egg as the binder. The secret ingredient here is vital wheat gluten.
Have you heard of vital wheat gluten?
Vital Wheat Gluten: The Secret Ingredient to Homemade Vegan Burgers
Vital wheat gluten isn’t a new ingredient for most plant-based eaters—it’s what the vegan meat substitute seitan is made from—but I think most of us probably don’t cook with it from scratch too often.
Vital wheat gluten is made from the main protein in wheat. And unless you’re gluten intolerant, it’s extremely healthy for you.
It looks like flour, but vital wheat gluten is full of protein. In 1/4 cup of this stuff, there are 23 grams of protein.
You should be able to find vital wheat gluten at stores like Whole Foods or Sprouts. But if you can’t find it at the grocery store, here is my favorite on Amazon [aff. link]. It truly is the secret ingredient to these burgers.
A Note on the Chickpeas
The chickpeas in these burgers are mashed, but not to a smooth, hummus-like consistency. We still want texture! The photo above shows the texture we’re going for. You can use clean hands, a fork, or a potato masher to get the chickpeas to this state.
Homemade Vegan Burgers This Week!
So next time you’re in the mood for a burger, make these elegant, homemade vegan burgers. Serve these burgers on a toasted pretzel bun with arugula, sliced tomatoes, cheddar (vegan—like Miyoko’s cheddar—or freshly sliced dairy) and a side of fries.
And maybe turn on The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) while you enjoy this delicious meal [aff. link].
Cora's Homemade Vegan Burgers
For the veggies:
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- ½ yellow bell pepper, finely chopped (use whatever color bell peppers are available)
- ½ orange bell pepper, finely chopped
- ½ red bell pepper, finely chopped
- ½ cup brown rice, cooked
- ½ cup cashew pieces
- 1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained
- ½ cup cilantro, minced
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ¾ cup vital wheat gluten
- ½ cup water
- toasted burger buns, (I prefer pretzel buns)
- cheddar, (vegan or freshly sliced dairy)
- tomatoes, sliced
- Vegenaise, (or mayonnaise)
Cook the veggies
- Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat for one minute. Now add the chopped onion, bell peppers, and ½ tsp salt to the pan.
- Cook over medium heat, flipping occasionally with your spatula, until the veggies start to brown a bit, about 8-10 minutes. If the pan gets a little dry in the process, add a little more olive oil.
- Now turn the heat down to low, and cook an additional 2 minutes.
- (Note: If you haven’t already cooked your brown rice, now is the time to do it.)
Mash the chickpeas
- Add the drained chickpeas to a large mixing bowl. With a fork, potato masher, or clean hands, mash those chickpeas!!! See my photo above for a visual of the texture. You definitely want there to be some texture, so be sure to leave some whole and half chickpeas. (We’re not going for hummus.)
Make the burger “dough”
- Once the veggies and the rice are cooked, add them to the mixing bowl with the mashed chickpeas. Now add the salt, garlic powder, onion salt, cilantro, panko breadcrumbs, and vital wheat gluten to the bowl. With your hands and/or a spatula, mix everything together.
- Once the dough is almost completely incorporated, add the water. Continue mixing until everything comes together.
Refrigerate the dough
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 days. I often make the burger dough the night before I plan to fry the burgers.
- While the dough refrigerates, it’s a good time to toast burger buns, make French fries, and prepare any burger condiments, such a sliced tomato or cheese, that you’d like to serve on the burgers.
Shape the burger patties
- After the dough has refrigerated for at least 15 minutes, take it out, and shape the patties.
- You can do whatever size burger you like, but I recommend using ¼ cup-⅓ cup of batter per burger. You should get 10-12 burger patties out of the dough. If you use more batter than that for each patty, your burgers may be a little undone in the middle after frying.
- Also, when I shape my burger patties, I don’t like them to be too thick. Aim for your burger patties to be between 3-4 inches in diameter.
Fry the burgers
- Add a few Tbsp of olive oil to a frying pan, and heat the oil over medium heat for 1 minute.
- Now add a few burgers to the frying pan. I do 3 burgers at a time in my 11 inch frying pan.
- Fry each burger for five minutes over medium heat, or until the side of the burger in the pan is golden brown. Now flip each burger, and fry for another 5 minutes, until the other side of each burger is golden brown.
- Take the burgers out of the pan, and set on a plate lined with a paper towel to remove excess oil.
- Repeat until you’ve fried all the burgers.
Baked burger alternative
- Alternately, you can bake the burgers at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Then flip each burger, and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
- The burgers do taste better fried in my opinion—the texture retains much more moisture—but the baked burgers are also delicious.
Serve and enjoy!
- Compile the burgers on your favorite burger buns with your favorite condiments.
- I prefer to pair these burgers with pretzel buns, cheddar/vegan cheddar, tomato slices, arugula, and Vegenaise.
- Serve the burgers with greens or French fries and enjoy!