I was around eleven years old when I first saw a magnificent redwood tree on the cover of a National Geographic magazine.  The tallest trees in the world captivated me as I stared at a person looking like a tiny doll along side one of them. It seemed pretty impossible for a tree to be that large as I had never seen one come close to this size in South Carolina, and we had a lot of trees.  I tore out a picture and pinned it to my bulletin board so I wouldn’t forget them.

This year was my chance to finally feel the thrill of walking into a forest filled with redwoods. As I stepped along side those mats of moss and inhaled the ancient earth, I was suddenly the awe inspired girl who first saw these giants.   As an added bonus, across the San Francisco Bay from where I stood, Berkeley waved hello.  I was again the young girl who was inspired by the1960’s Free Speech Movement.   My admiration continues for a group of people who stood together for what they believed in.

Back in San Francisco the inspirations kept on flowing my way as we searched out restaurants in this culinary mecca.   I picked up a local food magazine that highlighted some new trends of fusion dishes like ramen burgers, Indian pizzas and Korean tacos.  My wheels began turning as I thought about adding an unexpected ingredient to my ever-evolving veggie burger.

What if I added some umami to my recipe? Um-what? For those of you who might be scratching your head, umami is one of the five main flavors we can taste.  Along with sweet, salty, sour and bitter.  This fifth taste can influence flavors adding complexity and fullness to dishes.  I had found from my culinary classes that umeboshi paste was a great item in working with this flavor.

Umeboshi is made from fermented plums and are a staple in Japanese diets.  It is often made into a paste, which makes a lively seasoning. These sweet- sour-salty plums are said to have lots of health benefits and medicinal properties.  According to legends, Samuris use to consume these pickled plums to increase energy levels and stimulate digestion.  When I added umeboshi paste to my veggie burger recipe suddenly other flavors came to life too.  This is when I knew that I was onto something good.

Let me not forget to talk about what I think is the most important part of this burger, the high protein base of chickpeas, quinoa and tahini.  These ingredients do not have much flavor, but they accept flavors beautifully. Which is exactly what they do with the sauce made from the umeboshi paste and the other condiments. Most store bought veggie burgers add protein soy or vital wheat gluten. These are two things I try to stay away from since they are difficult to digest. Here is a great article that gets into more details about it if you are interested. Also, start checking out ingredient labels at the store and you will see what I’m talking about. Many brands of veggie burgers are also off the charts with sodium levels.

I highly recommend using dry beans over canned beans.  I know it can be intimidating at first if you aren’t familiar with how easy it is to cook these but once you give it a shot, you will see it takes very little time.  I love soaking and cooking dry beans because they taste better, they are more economical and healthier to eat. For one you eliminate the amount of sodium and other ingredients they add to cans.   Not to mention the waste of the can.  When you soak beans you are making them easier to digest, which means less gas and bloating.  You are also unlocking enzymes and nutrients with a good soak.  I like to leave them overnight to soak so they are ready to cook in the morning. If I can, I change the soak water three times. Another plus is the cook time for beans is much faster after soaking them. You will want to discard soak water as it contains hard to digest starches. I like to add a piece of dried kombu seaweed to the pot and skim off foam while they’re cooking for another way to prevent digestive woes.  By adding kombu you are also adding some great minerals to the chickpeas.

I have to tell you, when these burgers come out of the oven, they often get eaten before we pull out the toppings. On the days when we can control ourselves, we like to add pickles, tomato, lettuce, cheese and presto pesto (see below for recipe).  These also freeze beautifully well, which I highly recommend.  On the nights you are running short on time to prepare a meal, these burgers will save the day.  Just heat them up in the oven on 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

You know the saying “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”?  I kept thinking about this quote while I was writing and now I can see it has been a reoccurring theme.  First, I see it in the roots of the redwood trees who have stood to be the oldest living things in existence.  Then I see it in the group of people who stood together in their beliefs in Berkeley for the Free Speech Movement.  And finally, I see the Samurai eating umeboshi stood for honor, nobility and service. What great examples of standing strong!  Now let’s get to the recipe!


You will need these ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoons umeboshi paste
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons almond butter
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4 Tablespoons tahini
  • 3 cups chickpeas cooked or 2 cans
  • 6 cups cooked quinoa
  • 2 sweet potatoes, diced and roasted (4.5 cups)
  • 2 medium onions, diced and roasted (3 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or oil of your choice
  • 4 stalks (1 cup) celery, chopped
  • 1 t liquid smoke (optional)


1. Prepare all ingredients.  Cook, chop and measure.
2. Mix together first 7 ingredients to create the sauce.
3. Add chickpeas, onions, half the potatoes and pulse to bits.  Pour this into a large bowl.
4. Add remaining ingredients and shape into patties.
5. Line tray with parchment paper and bake 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
6.  Layer burger with toppings.

Step by Step

In culinary school I learned that if I organize and prepare all my ingredients first, the cooking process with be more smooth and enjoyable.  The French call this “Mise en place”, which means “everything in its place”.   If you want to prep the chickpeas, quinoa, potatoes and onions ahead of time, cook them and store them in the fridge until you are ready to assemble and cook the burgers.

I like to start the night before with soaking my chickpeas.  Put the dry chickpeas in a bowl and cover with that is about 2 inches from the top.  In the morning (or when you can) cook the chickpeas by adding them to boiling water and a dash of salt.  Turn down heat to medium high and cook for about 20 minutes or until you easily mash one with the back of a spoon. If you are making this recipe at a later time, pop the chickpeas in the fridge until you are ready.

If you are using canned chickpeas rinse them several times to remove some (not all) of the sodium.  Recycle the can.

Next, cook the quinoa by boiling 4 cups water with 2 cups dry quinoa.  Turn down heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Prepare the potatoes and onions by cutting them in small cubes. Try to cut pieces all the same size so they’ll cook evenly.  Sprinkle them with oil and place in oven at 400 degrees.   Cook the onions for 20 minutes and potatoes for 30 minutes.

The fastest way to make the sauce is by throwing into a food processor the almond butter, tomato paste, mustard, molasses, tahini, lemon juice and umeboshi paste.  It also makes the sauce creamy, which I love.  Pour this into a large bowl.

If you don’t have a processor, don’t fret.  You can mix all of this by hand.

Add quinoa, potatoes and chickpeas.  Stir and mash together.

Finally add the celery and onions.

Shape this mix into patties.  You can use an egg ring to create the patty shape.

Place patties on trays lined with parchment paper.  This way you can gently flip them off of the tray once they are done cooking.  I find this is helpful in keeping the burger together while they are still hot.

Bake 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Top with pesto, pickles, cheese or any other of your favorite burger toppings.

Presto Pesto

This pesto can be whipped up in three minutes and it makes yet another layer of flavor when spread on the buns.  It is simply delish!

  • 1 cup pinenuts
  • 1 cup lemon balm, basil or cilantro
  • ¼ c olive oil
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced or ¼ t garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend until everything has combined.
  • Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

In thinking of all I experienced on this trip, a quote comes to mind,  “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.  I saw the proof in the roots of the redwood trees in which some have stood for over 3,000 years.  It was demonstrated in Berkeley with the Free Speech Movement of people who stood for what they believed in.  And the legend of the umbeoshi eating Samurai still lives on.  These men who stood for honor, nobility and service were the epitome of integrity. What amazing inspirations surround us.  These great reminders are before us so that we can remember what strength lies inside all of us.

Stand tall,


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