You won't hurt Judy Czerenda's feelings if you tell her the veggie burger she serves tastes exactly like a McDonald's cheeseburger.
"It's not at all offensive," says Czerenda, who, along with her granddaughters Halle and Olivia Rossnan, runs the two-month-old Now Burger booth at the Yellow Green Farmers Market (1940 N. 30th Rd., Hollywood). "There's a reason McDonald's is one of the biggest restaurant chains in the country. They spent millions to create their burger, and if mine tastes just as good without any bad ingredients, it's not disparaging. It's great."
Nestled inside a soft potato bun and topped with a single slice of American cheese, sliced pickle, onion, and ketchup, it looks, smells, and tastes just like the fast-food giant's classic version.
The main difference between a McDonald's burger and a Now Burger veggie patty is that Czerenda's recipe uses all-organic, non-GMO ingredients and no meat, and each is handmade.
Czerenda, a retired nurse, began making the vegetarian burgers for her husband more than 30 years ago.
"He came home from work one day and told me he wanted to be a vegeterian," Czerenda recalls. "I was a mother to a toddler and a newborn at the time, so I had to figure out something that was not only meat-free but also healthy enough to feed myself, my husband, and my growing children."
Today the burger she serves is a simple combination of finely chopped nuts, cheese, eggs, sprouted-grain bread crumbs, and a secret blend of spices.
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The result is a vegetarian-friendly (nonvegan) patty that has the same texture, mouthfeel, and flavor of ground beef.
"The secret is making a veggie burger that's strictly vegetarian," Czerenda says. "Most veggie burgers on the market today are vegan too, which means they're made with soy, textured vegetable protein, or wheat gluten. And that's where the issue with texture and flavor happen."
Czerenda says her current burger was inspired by several recipes she stumbled across over the years, including one from her favorite book, Diet for a Small Planet. The 1971 best-seller by Frances Moore Lappé was one of the first to note the environmental impact of meat production as wasteful and a contributor to global food scarcity while endorsing vegetarianism.
"I'm fulfilling a need: a great-tasting, meat-free burger that's made with wholesome, healthy ingredients," she says. "That's why my slogan is 'No apologies.' Now you don't have to apologize to your friends that this burger tastes like beans or dirt. It tastes like meat."