Gather 'round while I give you the pertinent details behind this meal. Everyone settled in? Good, because this may take while....
Did you ever have a favorite food experience that reached mythical proportions in your memory once it was no longer accessible? I'm not positive this phenomenon has to be restricted to one-time eating experiences, although such cases may be particularly likely to lead to potent future obsessions. I'm talking about eating something that you absolutely fall in love with, and then you are somehow tragically cut off from that something. Maybe you move away from the restaurant that sold it, maybe they stop offering it on the menu, maybe (as in the present case) the place goes out of business. Regardless of how, you are now stone-cold S.O.L.
Or are you?!?! Maybe you can reverse-engineer your beloved food obsession!!! Oh sure, you may hear objections from gloomy skeptics (like your very own mother, just say for instance, who may be nursing her own tragic obsession with the exact same food item). Such pessimistic nay-sayers may try to tell you it can't be done. They may insist that you leave the past in the past, that you are setting yourself up for further heartbreak. They may further insist that the reason your beloved object tasted so great was because it was cooked on a grill with grisly meat products, which you (as a vegan) are in no position to simulate.
Yet you (despite a reputation to the contrary) are not a pessimist. You are a confident cook who knows her way around a kitchen. So you set out to resurrect the world's best tempeh burger from beyond the grave. You don't even really like tempeh all that much usually, preferring tofu and seitan, but something about this burger was magic and you are determined to recreate it. It was smoky, blackened, and served with grilled mushrooms and green chile. You start by marinating your tempeh overnight in soy sauce, tomato paste, liquid smoke, and brown sugar. You make your very own homemade sesame seed buns. You make a slaw and sweet potato fries for sides, and you grill up some red onions, mushrooms, and chile to go with the veganaise and Tofutti slices you procured. After frying up the tempeh, you assemble it all, and it looks, well, pretty much perfect***.
Then you sit down to eat, and it tastes, well, disappointing. It's certainly not bad, but it's just not quite right. The condiments are pretty much spot-on, but the burger itself is lacking something, a certain smokiness, greasiness.....it's hard to say exactly what. The texture is part of the problem in that your burger is a little mushy, lacking the crispiness of the original.
So now what? Keep trying or concede defeat? Anybody got a great technique for cooking up crispy tempeh burgers? Or is the problem not with the food, but with the memory of something so perfect that any real-life facsimile is bound to disappoint?
***seriously, usually my food looks pretty questionable, but this is pretty much textbook, no?