Gone are the days, it seems, when a veggie burger was almost a shameful dark spot on a menu. Sure, a few restaurants had a good chef and they fixed their own, but many defaulted to a dry, mass-produced patty. That burger might well have been made of natural ingredients of sorts, e.g., mushrooms, oats, black beans and brown rice, but the changes they underwent while collecting ice crystals in the freezer for an unknown period of time were pretty big. Eventually, the patties would be lucky enough to be the served to the occasional hippie showing up at a restaurant.
But gone are these days! Veggie burgers have become super popular on menus and they're even in their own category. Sure, at times there is vigorous debate over how much a veggie burger should mimic the look and taste of real beef. I leave this up for discussion once people have tasted it.
In my case, I like the framework, the challenge, of trying to make a veggie burger that tastes good (and doesn’t fall apart) and that tends to free up a customer’s imagination. So at times I omit beets, which are usually added to give a patty a color reminiscent of rare steak, but then there are a good number of people that feel like it looks too much like meat.
Making a vegetable burger
There are different ways I go about creating veggie burger recipes, and to be honest it still is about exploration. An ongoing challenge is that the patties end up either to too dry or too wet. It has to do with knowing which seeds, nuts and vegetables to mash and which ones to leave whole. There are versions I have where I’ve been adding a touch of sweetness and stickiness via prunes, onions, carrot or sweet potatoes. For bulk, I add French lentils, quinoa, oats, chickpeas, beans and brown rice, and vegetables such as chopped and sautéed cauliflower and mushrooms add richness. Sometimes, to deepen the char-grill flavor, I smoke the patties and also add a small amount of smoked sweet paprika for a similar flavor note. In my experience, steamed tempeh and ground nuts add a nubby meat-like texture, and sunflower seeds and wheat berries worked well too. You might ask if a burger is not made with an animal protein, which makes it stick together, how do you prevent it from falling apart in the bun? I recommend not to throw in the usual binders such as egg and bread-crumbs, a la meatloaf. Yes, indeed most of the elements that go into a homemade veggie burger (vegetables, beans and tofu) are high in moisture, which can lead to a soggy patty that’s unpleasant to eat and nearly impossible to flip on the grill without it falling apart. So, sometimes I reduce the moisture by roasting the ingredients before shaping the patties.
Can’t do without condiments
Condiments, like mayonnaise, make burgers succulent and almost juicy. If you can't do without the usual condiments smothering your burgers then go the whole nine yards and mix ketchup, yellow mustard and mayonnaise or veganaise in equal amounts. Personally, I favor the following sauce along with thinly sliced avocado. A quarter avocado per burger is usually the right amount.
2 tablespoon tahini
3 tablespoon Dijon-style grain mustard
1 tablespoon dill, freshly chopped
1 tablespoon agave
Killer Veg Burger
For the patties:
(recipe yields 4 burgers)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup diced fresh mushrooms, such as oyster or Portobello mushroom
1 teaspoon sea salt
10 grindings black pepper from the mill
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed with water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, such as safflower (for cooking the patties)
2 teaspoons whole grain flour
4 1/4-inch thick steak tomato slices
4 butter lettuce leaves
4 sweet onion rings (I recommend Vidalia onions)
4 burger buns, such as potato rolls or whole wheat buns
- In a bowl combine olive oil, onions, garlic, mushrooms, smoked paprika, chili, salt, pepper, mushrooms and pinto beans, then toss.
- Spread mixture on a sheet pan in an even, 1/2”-thick layer. Cook mixture in the oven for 25-30 minutes. At this point the top of the mixture should have a roasted appearance, then cool on the kitchen counter for 30 minutes.
- Mash mixture with a fork or process in a food processor until chunky.
- Shape the mixture into patties.
- Dust burgers with the flour. Cook patties for 2 minutes on each side in vegetable oil on the highest heat setting. With a spatula lift patties onto a kitchen paper towel.
- Assemble burgers: Toast bun in the oven or in a skillet, smear 1 tablespoon of the special sauce over the bottom bun, add 2-3 onion rings, add patty, tomato slice and lettuce, then smear 1 tablespoon special sauce onto the lid bun and the burger.