I could’ve made it if it weren’t for Jimmy Buffett. My boyfriend, J (short for John), and I were into our third week in the Cayos Holandes, in the San Blas islands of Panama, and the food supplies aboard Gitane, our Kendall 32, were running low. The fresh vegetables were almost gone. The fruit had long ago been devoured. Without a refrigerator, we can never keep fresh meat on board, although cheese and eggs keep for quite some time, even with the humidity and heat. We were doing fine on meals of pasta and beans, loading up on carbohydrates to counter the calorie expenditure from endless snorkeling and unsuccessful lobster hunting, the two activities that consumed our days. Then, on a sunset-soaked evening, Jimmy’s voice floated across the crystal-clear water of the Swimming Pool anchorage. When I heard “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” my stomach sang the refrain in anticipation of a nonexistent juicy bite. I never craved hamburgers when I lived on land, but for some reason, burgers and ice cream are coveted delicacies among cruisers. I definitely fell prey to the cravings. In search of something to quell my cheeseburger longing, I rooted through the dry stores in search of a substitute. I wasn’t going to settle for a Spam sandwich. Then I unearthed a package of textured vegetable protein. Also called textured soy protein, these cereal-like granules are sold in supermarkets and health-food stores throughout the Americas. They make an excellent substitute for ground meat in burgers, chili, tacos, and soups. TVP isn’t tofu, but like tofu, it takes on the flavor of whatever sauce and/or seasonings you combine it with, and many people can hardly tell the difference between it and ground meat in recipes. Thrilled with my discovery, I mulled over what to add to create my dream burger in paradise.
When the burgers were spiced, sauced, and cooked and complemented with slices of cheese, I nestled them between pieces of toasted pressure-cooker yeast bread. With the velvety blackness of the islands surrounding us and the stars our lofty chandelier, we sat on deck, toasted Jimmy Buffett, and devoured our burgers in paradise.
Paradisial Burgers Our Way
1 1/2 cups textured vegetable protein
1/2 cup salsa (chipotle-flavored is good)
1 cup vegetable or beef broth
1/2 cup soda crackers, crushed, or bread crumbs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
Fresh cilantro, chopped, if available
Oil for frying
3 to 4 slices cheddar or other cheese
Combine all ingredients except eggs and let sit for 15 minutes so that the TVP absorbs the moisture. Add eggs and let sit for another 5 minutes. Form into patties; these ingredients yield four good-sized “burgers.” Fry patties in oil on medium heat in a covered pan for about 5 minutes on one side, then flip, add cheese, re-cover pan, and fry for 5 minutes more. Garnish with whatever you have on hand, and top with all your favorites condiments.