Sparrow Tavern’s Veggie Burger . $3.75 for 8

Diners, Drive Ins & Dives is on Netflix this season and this episode features the Sparrow Tavern in Astoria, New York – a run down rock & roll type bar with gourmet style. One of their star items was the Sparrow Veggie Burger and even the carnivores were going on about it.

Sparrow Veggie Burger
Sparrow Tavern Veggie Burger – early version, I fixed the “cracking” flaw.

There was no actual recipe, but with a few rewinds I sailed blithely into the kitchen. The taste was fantastic! The burgers, not so much – they crumbled into what looked like a hash. I searched online for hints, but it seemed everyone who had posted about this burger had come up with the same initial recipe I had…they just preferred not to mention the flaws. Shove it all in a Pita, get a shot and who cares, huh?

It became apparent that my attempt to go light on the grains, potatoes and Panko (what I deemed the less healthier aspects) in the recipe was a partial cause of my failure. Too much moisture was another. Then there was the cooking time/temperature. A bit of tinkering, a few adjustments in the recipe and cooling the burgers before cooking made a huge difference. These burgers need to be handled with care, but they’re vastly improved.

Frankly, there’s a good bit of work here, but its all worth it, I promise! These burgers really are great. Even child number 2 asked for seconds, then asked if he could make one up later that evening. Then wandered into my room in the a.m. and said, “I was thinking about making up a couple veggie burgers, do you want one?” Yeah, I do! I love it when a veggie burger can bridge the gap between vegetarians and those who follow a Standard American Diet.

The potatoes, mushrooms, barley and brown rice all had to be cooked. I maximized my time by making larger amounts of the rice and barley. What I didn’t use was bagged and tagged and tossed in the freezer (short-term only) for down the road. My pressure cooker helped speed this recipe along, too. You do have a pressure cooker, right?

Had I planned ahead and made and served corn, potatoes, mushrooms and/or the peas earlier in the week for a dinner or two, making enough extra to use in this recipe, things would have really moved along quickly. I also left the skin on the potatoes, carrots and zucchini – healthier & easier!

This recipe makes eight good-sized, six-ounce burgers (depending on how large the zucchini and carrots are) but the burgers, after being baked and cooled, freeze well. Separate them with a bit of parchment or plastic and keep them in a Ziploc, ready to pull out and saute at a moment’s notice. I’ve started doubling the recipe just to have them stashed in the freezer. You’ll need a huge bowl if you do – I had to use my Dutch oven!

At the restaurant, these Veggie Burgers are served with a Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce (it is fantastic!) and frisee lettuce in a Pita Bun. I used my Super Easy Flat Bread with Romaine and red onion – these tend to be a bit *meh* on a hamburger bun. Accompanied at the restaurant by Sweet Potato Fries with rosemary and onion, my Stupid Simple Sweet Potato Fries make a great (and easier) substitute.

Eight burgers ran me about $3.75, not counting buns, Sparrow Tavern’s Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce or extras, leaving plenty in the budget for all kinds of add-ons and sides. Talk about a bargain! Sure beats one burger for about 10 bucks at the restaurant. Better, it costs about half that of the cheapest stamped out, premade hamburgers – and these rock!

Sparrow Veggie Burgers, makes 8 six-ounce burgers

  • 2 shredded carrots*
  • 1 medium shredded zucchini*
  • 1 cup cooked and drained barley (about 1/3 cup raw)*
  • 1 cup corn, thawed if frozen and drained by pressing against a strainer.
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed if frozen and drained by pressing against a strainer.
  • 1 1/2 cups (2 medium potatoes, about 10 ounces) mashed with an egg*
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced scallion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, diced and cooked until quite dark*
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (about 1/2 cup dry)
  • 1 tablespoon plus one teaspoon Olive oil, divided. 1 teaspoon for mushrooms, one tablespoon for cooking burgers.

Using hands, heavily mix all ingredients except oil until it forms one cohesive mixture. The mixture should not feel “wet” but rather very thick and heavy, and the mashing should be firm enough to distribute all ingredients through out the mixture, but not so hard as to break open the peas. Refrigerate and leave for at least one hour, overnight is fine.

Measure out six-ounce portions (this works out to about a cup, loosely packed.) Form into a tight ball, really pack it. Place on a well greased baking tray. Gently press and form into uniform patties, rounding edges.

I found it easy to form patties by placing mixture into a one cup measure, pressing down firmly, packing to about 3/4 cup, then tapping the mixture out on the baking tray and then forming.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Do not turn patties. Rotate sheets from top to bottom about halfway through if using more than one baking sheet. Remove from oven, let cool, then cover and refrigerate. Once refrigerated, the patties are easier to remove intact from the pan with the help of a thin spatula.

When ready to serve, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add desired amount of patties and cook until golden brown, flipping once. It’s best to cook quickly over a fairly high heat, starting with the side that was on the bottom when baked. Over cook and they can be a bit mushy and crumbly, under cook and they won’t be crispy, so look for a good golden brown color.


  • Barley: A medium grain barley is perfect in this recipe, adding a good bite and chew. It’s not critical, however, and anything you have on hand will work. The amount dry varies depending on which type of barley is used.
  • Zucchini and carrots should be shredded with a large grate. I found the ideal texture was to push them very hard and quickly through the food processor, forming large shreds. The shredding option on a mandolin would work as well. This helped with excess moisture. If grating by hand on a box grater, drain as much moisture as possible by pressing against a strainer.
  • The amount of potato in this recipe is pretty critical. To cook potatoes, cut in quarters, cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes. Drain, then mash while dry. Add an egg when slightly cooled and mash thoroughly.
  • To cook mushrooms, roughly chop. Add to a saute pan with about a teaspoon of oil. Turn on heat, stirring several times, then  place a lid on the pan. Cook for about six to eight minutes until the mushrooms have given up most of their moisture. Remove lid, continue to cook until moisture is gone and mushrooms have turned a deep color, slightly toasted in places.
Zucchini and Carrots should be grated carefully
Zucchini and Carrots should be grated carefully, then strained if necessary

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area isPocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.
Bag & Tag long cooking grains and freeze (short term) to make the most of your time
Bag & Tag long cooking grains and freeze (short term) to make the most of your time

Strategies Applied:

Maximize your time, here! See hints above on how to speed things along!

  • Zucchini: A common garden vegetable, zucchini can be expensive at the store. Watch for specials, look at Aldi. 3 were $1.68 at Aldi, 56 cents a piece.
  • Carrots: An inexpensive item even not on sale – but it keeps so well I buy a couple of packages if it is cheaper. $1.00 a pound is standard in our area, but the larger packages of 5 pounds are often on sale for $2.50 – that’s 50 cents a pound, or about 10 cents for two. Carrots will keep longer if you rotate the package, which is so often on the bottom of the drawer, so they don’t sit in condensation.
  • Frozen Corn and Peas:  Fresh corn is best in the summer, when sales run around 17 to 20 cents an ear, but in the winter frozen is reasonable. Fresh peas are often expensive and hard to find. Buy frozen on sale with a coupon – mine was free, but 30 cents a pound is not unreasonable. Left over corn or peas will be just fine if you have it. Even just on sale, a cup of the basic frozen will run you about 30 cents each, total 60 cents.
  • Bell Pepper:  There are two types of sales, per pound or per pepper. I usually look for the per pepper pricing; in my area it’s generally cheaper – I’ll then buy the biggest, most gorgeous ones I can find. The peppers are often bagged and sold by a unit price, too. A really good price in our area is about a fifty to seventy cents a pepper for the red, yellow or orange ones, and 40 to 75 cents for the green bell. This is one item I seldom buy at Aldi unless I can’t get a better price at my store. Cost at Aldi 89 cents, half is 45 cents.
  • Mushrooms: They are often on sale at my grocery for about 1/2 price, especially around holidays. I pick them up when they run 89 to 99 cents a package. I’ve seen them at Aldi for about the same price. Turns out, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods, the simple button mushroom has as many good qualities as it’s more expensive siblings! Go underdog! 98 cents.
  • Green Onion: I try to buy on sale for about 50 cents a bunch (usually during Holidays) then put the white tips in a jar of water in a sunny window to regrow. Kids love taking ownership of the project. I only need to replenish every few months. Cost is so minimal that I don’t even count it.
  • Russet Potatoes: Potatoes are dirt cheap – look for a great sales price of $1.99 for 10 pounds in the fall and winter; regular sales price is $1.99 for five pounds in my area. Store in a cool dry area, not near your onions – I like to store in a loosely closed paper bag.
  • Don’t know what to do with a large bag? Make what recipes you’d like to, then make Freezer Twice Baked Potatoes with the rest. I often pick out the smaller, misshapen potatoes for mashing and save the more regular sized ones for baking or other recipes. Whenever possible, I scrub and keep the skins on, even though they may not be shown that way in a recipe…cost for 2, about 12 cents.
  • Eggs: Stock up on eggs when they’re inexpensive, normally during Holiday weeks. Low prices in my area range from free (often with other purchases) to anywhere from $1.89 for 18 eggs. They last for weeks in the fridge – The date on the container is a ‘buy’ date, and you can expect them to last a good six weeks past that date. If you pick up two or three packages when they’re at their low, you’ll rarely need to pay full price.
  • Refrigerate right away and never store in the door; eggs keep best in a colder part of the refrigerator, in their own box. (Then put your partially used vegetables in the door where you’ll see them and remember they need to be used ASAP – the half a bell pepper or onion, etc.)  In doubt about an egg? If it floats in water, discard, just to be on the safe side. If they float, it means the egg inside is drying out, not that it is bad in any way. Cost for 8 cents.
  • Panko Bread Crumbs:  I generally just use homemade (which I keep in my freezer) but Panko is a larger, very crisp bread crumb and is quite a bit crisper than, say, Progresso. I do find coupons every now and then for Panko, and it does go on sale, quite often when other Asian items do – stock up on things like Soy, etc. after the US New Years when the Chinese New Year is coming up.  On sale, a box of Panko ran $1.99, a cup 50 cents.
  • Brown Rice:  Really look for coupons and sales – and stock up when both are available.  It’s worthwhile to get a good brown rice – don’t be fooled by the instant or quick cooking varieties or the ones that just look like brown rice.  Riceland often has coupons available – check their site – I count on about 20 cents a cup.  If I don’t have a coupon, I’ll buy a larger bag (cheaper per ounce.) Remember, though, brown rice is only marginally better than white rice – a few trace minerals and a smidge more fiber – but it is fantastic when cooked right.  Cost 10 cents.
  • Barley: Barley comes in different types and you’ll find it in different areas of the store. It may be near the oats in the cereal aisle – hunt high and low, and may be in the bulk aisle. Generally a small box runs about $2.50 but a little goes a long way. One cup yields about 3 1/2 cups cooked. Cost about 15 cents.
  • Olive Oil: I have a little strategy for buying olive oil – using coupons and sales to lower the price, so click on the link. I also look for new brands and stock up – heavy competition means that when a new brand comes to the store, it is often at a fantastic price for a few weeks, then settles in at around the same price as the others. I think it’s important to use olive oil as opposed to many others – the health benefits outweigh a bit more extra cost, and it can be had at a very reasonable price. I also like the fact that Olive oil contains no hidden trans fats like Canola or Vegetable oil. Cost for this recipe: 8 cents.

Put Your own Spin on it:

  • I imagine you could change out some of the vegetables. Sweet Potato may sub in nicely for the potato.
  • Although not tried, perhaps the grains could be changed – I could see wild rice or quinoa working well here.
  • I did use Panko rather than my home-made bread crumbs. Home-made would cost considerably less and seems a reasonable substitution.
  • While wonderful just as they are, these could easily be varied by adding different seasonings or seasoning blends. Cajun, Mexican, Curry, etc.


Cal 214, tot fat 4g, 4%; sat fat 1g; mono 2g; poly 1g; chol 23mg; sod 193mg; pot 580mg; carb 40g; fib 6g; sug 6g; prot 7g; vit A 87%; vit C 55%; calc 3%; iron 8%.

Put Your own Spin on it:

  • Although I’ve so far only made these with Panko, another dry toasted bread crumb would likely work in this. Perhaps just a bit less if using a commercial one.
  • Another grain other than barley could probably be used, but it should have some moistness to it.
  • Vegetables other than those stated would likely work well, just make sure that they’ll “act” the same way in the recipe. Lima beans for peas, for instance. Perhaps other squash for the zucchini.
  • The flavor is wonderful just as it – actually rather of a surprise! Still, variations could be made to suit another profile, perhaps curry, adobo seasoning, Cajun, etc.

The Sparrow Tavern’s Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce .50 cents

A bit of spice tempered by a touch of sweet, this creamy Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce is a bit different and totally awesome. Developed by the Sparrow Tavern in Astoria, New York for their Sparrow Veggie Burgers, you’ll want to try a little on just about anything you can think of.

Sparrow Tavern Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce
Sparrow Tavern Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce

Note that I had no actual recipe to go by, but watched a video on Diners Drive In & Dives, so this is my approximation. I did make one small addition, adding a touch of sour cream for just  a bit of thickness and richness. Feel free to adjust to your taste!

If you’re looking to use this sauce with the Sparrow Veggie Burgers, it needs a good bit of spice to balance out all the flavors. A half cup is a great amount for four Veggie Burgers, double if making eight.

Sweet Cayenne Mustard Sauce, makes about 1/2 cup

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon cayenne

Whisk ingredients together, taste and adjust.

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read below for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Strategies Applied:

  • Maple Syrup: I’m a freak for real maple syrup, and will happily take a lesser grade over a big, old jug of maple “flavored” corn syrup. It can be expensive, but I’ve recently found some at Aldi at a decent price, and it’s not half bad for $3.99. If you wish to substitute, try a little honey. Cost 20 cents.
  • Mayonnaise:  Buy your condiments in the summer when there are coupons out there and big sales – I look for about a dollar for a 32 ounce jar (notice I said jar – the squeeze bottles generally cost the same and hold less, plus you can’t get all of it out.)  If you miss the summer sales, another great time of the year for condiments is right before the Super Bowl. Cost for 1/3 cup is about 20 cents.
  • Mustard: I’ve seen couponers say they never pay for mustard: in my area I rarely get it for free, but pay pennies for it during the summer months. I look for sale prices and coupons and I’ll often buy the “off” brands. (Make a salad dressing right in the jar or bottle to use up the last bit – just shake it up.) Cost for a tablespoon $1.89 a bottle is about 4 cents.
  • Sour Cream:  This is on sale so often, and goes on a deep sale right before almost any holiday. I expect to pay $1.00 for 8 ounces or even less – it lasts a long time in the fridge if you keep it clean and don’t dip into with dirty utensils, and put the lid back on when using. I also like to keep mine upside down. If it separates, just stir back together.  A tablespoon is about 6 cents.



Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisps

Dulce de Leche – does it translate as cream of the Gods? I love it in these marvelous Apple Crisps; just a dab of Dulce de Leche simply transforms these crisps into deeply caramelly goodness. If I have no Dulce de Leche, any caramel or butterscotch sauce is great. I hafta take just a moment to pitch my Home-Made Butterscotch, here!

Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp
Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp

See, there’s apple crisp, and then there’s Apple Crisp. Earlier today I posted a basic apple crisp from my Any Fruit Crisp recipe, but as long as I had the apples out (and recently bought cute  1/2 pint Mason jars) I went a little wild. See, the jars may look more decadent, but are an ideal way to portion control. Custard cups are too small, individual dishes often too large, but these babies are just right!

Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp
Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp

Added bonus? Easily make as many or as few as you’d like, and these are portable! Toss in a purse or briefcase for lunch. It’s easy to customize for those in the family who need a little less sugar, too. Even a whisper of the Streusel topping or just a faint drizzle of the Dulce de Leche is delicious.

Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp - one apple, a dab of caramel.
Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp – one apple, a dab of caramel.

One apple per person, a dab of Dulce de Leche or a drizzle of caramel or butterscotch and a topping of streusel. It simply can’t get any easier and looks so impressive, browned and bubbly and crispy all hot from the oven. Toss the apples in a bit of lemon juice before adding to jars to preserve the color.

Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp
Individual Dulce de Leche Apple Crisp

For the streusel topping, an Oatmeal Streusel topping like the one in my Any Fruit Crisp is very good, but in this concoction, I prefer the gooier Brown Sugar Streusel that I use in my Big, Beautiful Muffin recipe. Scroll down to Toppings. As you can see in the above photo, I really piled it on and used all of it for four.

One hint? Make the streusel first, then freeze while you prepare the fruit. Or make a bunch and keep in the freezer! This is my secret for great streusel, and then you can make a crisp like this for one or for four anytime you’d like. If you’d like, a few nuts in the topping add to the crunch. Almonds or Pecans play very well with apples.

Make Streusel Topping ahead and freeze.
Make Streusel Topping ahead and freeze.

Bake your Dulce de Leche Apple Crisps at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes until the apples are tender when pierced with a knife and the topping is brown and bubbly.



Any Fruit Crisp with Streusel Topping

Apple Crisp is American as Apple Pie, but fruit crisps are so good with many fruits or combinations. I’ve been making variations with this simple recipe for years – so easy it’s almost a non-recipe. Don’t let that fool ya, though, these crisps are always beautiful, brimming with fresh fruit flavor.

Classic Apple Crisp made with Any Fruit Crisp Recipe
Classic Apple Crisp made with Any Fruit Crisp Recipe

This isn’t “my” recipe – I have it in my head it might have been developed by Pam Anderson, author of How to Cook without a Book and many other cookbooks! Go figure, huh? I don’t know about you, but I need my recipes! For one thing, I have no memory for details, but I can and do remember marvelous food! And want to have it again and again and pass on treasured food memories to my kids and grandchildren.

My first fruit crisp?  Apple crisp, with a recipe almost like this, made in 7th grade. I learned it in 4-H and made over and over until the whole family was over it! Then I moved on to Chocolate Pudding! So here’s one to make, to teach and to pass on.

Note that this has an unusual baking temperature, which works very well. The streusel topping, I think, is best made by hand. I often double or triple the streusel and toss in the freezer, which is how I discovered how much better it turns out when sprinkled on frozen! Make the streusel first, spread on a plate and put it in the freezer as you prepare the fruit. Nuts can be added to the topping, if desired.

Any Fruit Crisp with Streusel, six to eight servings

  • 7 cups prepared fruit
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or apple or pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter in small pieces, well chilled

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss fruit with lemon and zest, spread evenly in an eight inch square pan, pressing down lightly.

Mix brown sugar, flour, oatmeal, spices, and salt. Add butter and and mix into coarse crumbs. May be done in the food processor, about 10 pulses, then five seconds. Sprinkle over the fruit.

Place in oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake until topping is brown and fruit is tender when tested with a fork, 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

Fruit for Any Fruit Crisp:

  • Apples: Two and a half pounds of baking apples, about six, peeled, cored and thinly sliced.
  • Apricots: Three pounds, 15 to 20, peeled, pitted and quartered.
  • Berries: Two pounds, rinsed and drained well. Toss with a tablespoon of sugar.
  • Nectarines or Peaches: Three pounds, about eight to ten. Peel, pit and cut into sixths.
  • Pears: Two and a half pounds, six to seven. Peel, core and thinly slice.
  • Plums: Three pounds, 15 to 20. Pit and quarter.
  • Frozen Fruit: May be used.
  • Combinations: Try combinations of fruit or of fruit and dried fruit, as desired.

 Put Your own Spin on It:

  •  Topping: Omit oatmeal, if desired. Add nuts, pecans are lovely with the apple, Almonds with the pears.
  • Crisp: A bit of a flavorful extract or a spoonful of liquor is wonderful mixed with the fruit. Rum and apples go well, pears and Frangelico, and so on.
  • Add ins: try a dessert sauce over the fruit before topping. A caramel or butterscotch is lovely over apples in apple crisp.



Fabulously Frugal Cooking & Shopping


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