These veggie burgers are flavorful, hearty, and slightly chewy with a crispy outer shell. There is a little bit of prep required, but these veggies burgers are worth it. The recipe is vegan (dairy-free, egg-free), grain-free (gluten-free), soy-free, and can easily be made nut-free.
For the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with different veggie burger recipes. I can’t even tell you how many veggie burgers I’ve tried and how many times I have failed.
Making a great veggie burger is hard. That is, a veggie burger that isn’t too dry, doesn’t fall apart, has a crispy outer shell, isn’t too mushy in the middle, and retains a chewy texture. A pretty extensive list, I know.
So, what exactly makes the best veggie burger?
- Robust flavor: eating healthy is great, but at the end of the day, what you’re eating needs to taste good. Whether you want a Southwestern burger with chili powder and cumin or more neutral burgers with dried herbs, stick with the flavor profile you are going for and be generous with the seasoning(s).
- Meaty texture: sautéed mushrooms are a goldmine of umami flavor and juicy, tender texture. There is a reason mushrooms take the center stage in many meatless recipes. There really isn’t an adequate substitute for mushrooms. However, if you really don’t like mushrooms, roasted eggplant is the best alternative to get that meaty texture.
- Substantial crust but moist interior: the main problem with many plant-based burgers is that they are either too dry (crumbly) or too wet (mushy). The solution? Binders. I use two types of binders whenever I make veggie burgers – flaxseed meal (for binding) and chickpea crumbs (for structural integrity). You absolutely need both.
Tips for Making Veggie Burgers
A veggie burger typically consists of five types of ingredients – base, texture, structure, binders, and flavor.
- Black beans: the base ingredient in this recipe is black beans. The best substitute would be pinto beans because of their thick texture and similar color to traditional burgers. Whichever beans you go with. I recommend cooking the beans from scratch. I’ve said it before and will say it again – the flavor and texture of dried legumes is so much better than that of the canned kind. Of course, you can use canned beans. However, they can (and often do) have a mushy texture. To reduce their moisture content, a chef James Kenji López-Alt recommends roasting the beans in the oven first. Also, mushing canned beans with a fork instead of using a food processor will help retain some of their texture better.
- Walnuts: I typically use either chopped nuts/seeds or cooked grains in veggie burgers to add that nubby meat-like texture. A veggie burger without texture might turn out too mushy and lack the characteristics required to really feel like you’re actually biting into something. The pastiness of nuts also helps hold the veggie burgers together, so it’s a win-win.
- Chickpea breadcrumbs: breadcrumbs do a great job at bridging the gap between liquids and solids by capturing the moisture and transforming it into a binder. Without a structural binder, a veggie burger might completely crumble and fall apart the second it hits the grill. Structural ingredients go hand in hand with the next ingredient category – binders.
- Flaxseed meal: my favorite binder in veggie burgers is golden flaxseed meal.
- Onions and garlic: aromatic vegetables are really important for building flavor. These vegetables have the ability to bring out the savory qualities of the other ingredients they are cooked with. Any vegetables that fall into the allium family – shallots, red onions, white onions, leeks – work here.
- Mushrooms: as I already mentioned, sautéed mushrooms provide a wonderful umami flavor as well as a tender, juicy texture.
- Cumin & smoked paprika: these two spices are commonly used in a Southwestern burgers. Cumin is earthy while smoked paprika is, well, smoky. If you like a little bit of heat, you can also add fresh green chili pepper or cayenne pepper.
- Salt: nothing brings out the flavor of spices (all ingredients, really) like salt. You can also add a little bit of soy sauce for more umami flavor.
- Olive oil: I find that when I brush the black bean burgers with a little bit of olive oil before baking, they crisp up nicely on the outside while staying moist on the inside (as opposed to drying out).
How To Make Vegan Burgers
Making homemade veggie burgers can be a challenge. However, with a few pieces of advice, you can make incredible vegan burgers:
- Use dried beans and cook them until they are just done. Since the beans are the base ingredient, their texture is really important. So, cook the beans, uncovered, until tender, 45-90 minutes (depending on the size/freshness of your beans). Sample a bean at the 40-minute mark to see how tender the beans are. You’re looking for a just tender bean with a tiny bit of bite. The beans shouldn’t be too soft or falling apart otherwise the veggie burgers will turn out mushy. Once cooked, drain the beans.
- Sauté the vegetables. You can make veggie burgers out of almost any vegetable. The trick is to sauté the vegetables first to eliminate their water content and condense their flavor. Same as legumes, veggies are high in moisture and can cause your burgers to turn out wet and mushy on the inside. This is the number one reason veggie burgers don’t hold well on a grill. Another benefit of cooking the vegetables is that you can season them to make them even more flavorful.
- Pulse the walnuts. Add the walnuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse them until they are coarsely chopped. Be careful not to overprocess the nuts. You want them to retain a lot of texture.
- Process. Add all the ingredients into the food processor and pulse them until just combined. The degree to which you process the ingredients is really important. If you don’t process the ingredients enough, the patties will fall apart. If you process them too much, the patties will be too mushy, having a paste-like texture.
- Season. The one advantage veggie burgers have over regular meat-based burgers is that you can taste them as you go. So, taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more salt for saltiness, garlic for pungency, cumin for earthiness, and smoked paprika for smokiness.
- Form patties. Scoop out about ¼ cup of the burger mixture and pack it firmly between your hands to form ½-in/1.3-cm thick patties.
- Bake. Place the veggie burgers on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or a well-seasoned cast iron griddle and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let the veggie burgers cool slightly to firm up, 5-10 minutes.
How to Serve Veggie Burgers
Whether you’re making your own black bean burgers or using store-bought, the right toppings can really take them to another level. My favorite toppings are lettuce, caramelized onions, grilled tomatoes, avocado, sprouts, and mustard or homemade ketchup.
Other than serving the burgers on a bun, you can also serve them alongside grilled vegetables, corn on the cob, or sweet potato fries.
How to Store Veggie Burgers
You can store leftover veggie burgers either uncooked or cooked. I prefer storing uncooked and baking them when needed. However, if you’re trying to get ahead and prepare meals you can just quickly reheat, storing cooked veggie burgers might be a better option for you.
- Refrigerating: allow veggie burgers to cool to room temperature (if storing cooked veggie burgers). Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for 3-4 days (uncooked veggie burgers) or for up to 5 days (cooked veggie burgers).
- Freezing: allow veggie burgers to cool to room temperature (if storing cooked veggie burgers). Transfer to an airtight, freezer-safe container, separating each row with a piece of parchment paper (so the patties don’t stick to each other as they freeze), and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Reheating: transfer frozen veggie burgers into the refrigerator 24 hours before reheating. If reheating uncooked veggie burgers, follow the instructions for baking above. If reheating cooked veggie burgers, arrange the veggie burgers on a plate and microwave to reheat. Then transfer onto a baking sheet, spray with a little bit of oil, and bake in a 400°F/204°C oven until the surface is crispy again, about 5 minutes.
- 3/4 cup dried black beans , soaked*
- 1 cup walnuts
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion , chopped
- 3 cloves garlic , minced
- 1 cup cremini mushrooms
- 1/3 cup chickpea breadcrumbs **
- 2 Tbsp. golden flaxseed meal + 5 Tbsp. water
- 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 Tbsp. cumin powder
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- salt, to taste
- Cook the beans. Add the soaked beans into a medium pot, cover with water by several inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, season with salt, and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are fully tender, 45-90 minutes (depending on the size/freshness of your beans). Top with water as necessary to keep the beans submerged at all times. Sample a bean at the 40-minute mark to see how tender the beans are. You're looking for a just tender bean with a tiny bit of bite. Once cooked, drain the beans.
- Preheat the oven. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 400ºF/204ºC.
- Sauté the aromatics and mushrooms. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt, and sauté until the mushrooms have softened and reduced in size, 5-7 minutes.
- Process the walnuts. Add the walnuts into a food processor fitted with the S blade and pulse into a coarse meal. Make sure not to over-process the walnuts.
- Pulse. Add the cooked beans, sautéed mushrooms, chickpea breadcrumbs, flax egg, tomato paste, ground cumin, smoked paprika, and salt into the food processor with the chopped walnuts and pulse to loosely combine, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary. Be careful not to purée. If the mixture is too wet, add more chickpea breadcrumbs. If it's too dry, pulse a little more.
- Season. Taste and adjust the flavor as needed, adding more salt for saltiness, garlic for pungency, cumin for earthiness, and smoked paprika for smokiness.
- Form patties. Scoop out about ¼ cup of the burger mixture and pack it firmly between your hands to form ½-in/1.3-cm thick patties. Repeat until all the veggie burger mixture is used up. Brush the patties with a little bit of olive oil before baking, so they crisp up nicely on the outside while staying moist on the inside (as opposed to drying out).
- Bake. Place the veggie burgers on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or a well-seasoned cast iron griddle and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly to firm up, 5-10 minutes.
- Serve the veggie burgers in a bun or atop mixed greens with desired toppings. Some of my favorite toppings include lettuce, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, avocado, sprouts, and mustard.
- Store. Leftover veggie burgers keep well covered in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. For longer term storage, freeze uncooked pre-shaped burger patties in an airtight container, separating each row with a piece of parchment paper (so the veggie burgers don't stick to each other as they freeze) for up to 3 months. (You can freeze cooked burgers as well, but they are never quite as good).