For the past few months, I’ve been experimenting with different veggie burger recipes. This is my conclusion: making a pretty good veggie burger is easy; making a great one is a lot harder. By “great one” I mean a veggie burger that isn’t too dry, doesn’t fall apart, isn’t too mushy in the middle, has a crispy outer shell, and retains a chewy texture. A pretty extensive list, I know.
I can’t tell you how many veggie burgers I’ve tried and how many recipes failed. Fortunately, there’s lots you can do with a veggie burger that hasn’t quite worked out. You can:
- Crumble it over a salad.
- Heat up some corn tortillas and top them with the burger crumbles, fresh salsa, and cilantro.
- Mix the burger crumbles with some pureed red lentils and flax egg, and make it into a loaf.
It’s so easy to get frustrated by mistakes and mishaps, but sometimes those are the best learning experiences. Maybe, if I haven’t failed like hundred times at making a great veggie burger, I might have never come up with THIS veggie burger that not only tastes great, but it also holds really well on a grill. You can make it either on a grill or a skillet. The grill does provide a bit more blackening, but with the skillet you get a more evenly browned surface. So pick whichever method you prefer.
Tips for Making Veggie Burgers
Even before I made my first veggie burger, I knew that beans would be one of the main ingredients because the texture of beans is perfect for making tender yet hearty patties. The trick is to cook 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 the beans with a fork instead of using a food processor will help retain some of their texture better.
Using aromatic vegetables, such as onions and garlic, is also important. These vegetables have the ability to bring out the savory qualities of the other ingredients they are cooked with. You can use shallots, red onions, white onions, leeks … pretty much anything that falls into the allium family. Another vegetable I like to use when making veggie burgers are mushrooms. Mushrooms are rich in glutamates, which provide an umami (savory) taste to food. If you’re not a fan of mushrooms, you could use other glutamate-rich foods, such as seaweed or soy sauce.
To add a wonderful chewy texture, add some brown rice. Brown rice is on the starchier side so it absorbs quite a bit of moisture, helping to hold the burgers together. If you’re not a fan of brown rice, you could experiment with oats instead. Since grains themselves aren’t enough to prevent the veggie burgers from crumbling, I always add some breadcrumbs as well. As Mark Bittman writes in New York Times, 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 binder, your burger might completely crumble and fall apart the second it hits the grill or when you bite into it. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to use breadcrumbs. Any binder will do, including flax seeds, mashed potatoes, or ground nuts.
I do love using ground nuts in veggie burgers because they add a nubby meta-like texture. The pastiness of nuts also helps hold the veggie burgers together, so it’s a win-win. The burgers will remain soft but with enough texture that you feel like you’re actually biting into something.
Finally, every burger needs some seasonings. The sky is the limit when it comes to spices and herbs. Actually, that’s not true. With veggie burgers, I wouldn’t recommend using any liquid-based seasonings, such as soy sauce, mustard, Worcester sauce, Sriracha sauce … Opt for dry seasonings to avoid too much moisture.
You can make veggie burgers out of almost any vegetable. The trick is to sauté the veggies 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 soggy 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.
Preparing the beans is the trickiest part. If you’re using dried beans, cook them to the point that they’re just done – still firm and not falling apart. This way, the beans add a creamy texture without turning mushy. The degree to which you process the beans after they’re cooked is really important. If you don’t mash the beans enough, your patties will fall apart. If you mash the beans too much, the patties will be too mushy, having a paste-like texture. I prefer to mash them well, yet leaving about 3/4 of the beans only partially mashed.
The one advantage veggie burgers have over regular meat-based burgers is that you can taste them as you go. There’s no raw meat or raw eggs. So consider tasting the veggie burger mixture before forming it into burgers to see if it needs any additional seasoning.
Tools You’ll Need
1. Food Processor (Breville Sous Chef) | 2. Cookware Set (Calphalon, Stainless Steel) | 3. Mixing Bowls (Set of 3, Pyrex, Glass) | 4. Cutting Board (24″x 18″, Michigan Maple Block, Maple) | 5. Measuring Cups (Set of 6, Bellemain, Stainless Steel) | 6. Knife Set (6 Pieces, Utopia, Stainless Steel) | 7. Measuring Cup (2 cups, Pyrex, Glass) | 8. Mesh Strainers (Set of 3, Cuisinart, Stainless Steel) | 9. Measuring Spoons (Set of 6, 1Easylife, Stainless Steel)
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- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup crimini mushrooms
- 1 Tbsp. cumin powder
- 1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
- salt, to taste
- 1 cup raw walnuts
- 3/4 cup dried black beans*
- 1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked**
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
- 3 Tbsp. ketchup
Prepare the beans: place the black beans into a pot of water and let them soak overnight or for at least 8 hours. When the beans are done soaking, drain the water and rinse the beans thoroughly. Put the beans in fresh clean water and cover them with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil and remove any foam that forms. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook until tender. The time will vary depending on your own beans, but you are looking at approximately 45 minutes. Remove lid off to cool and set aside. Drain if there is any water left. If you're using already cooked black beans, use 1 1/2 cups,
Prepare the brown rice: using a large pot, cover the brown rice with 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) of water. Bring it to a boil. Then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until tender (for about 40-50 minutes). Let stand 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add raw walnuts and toast them for about 8 minutes or until they start turning golden brown. Let cool.
In the same skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions and garlic, and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Then add mushrooms and salt. When the mushrooms start releasing water, add the cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, chili powder, thyme, and black pepper. Keep sautéing until all the liquid evaporates.
In the meantime, grind the toasted walnuts in the food processor until they resemble a loose meal (breadcrumbs).
In a large bowl, add the cooked black beans, cooked brown rice, sautéed mushrooms with all the spices, ground walnuts, breadcrumbs, and ketchup. Mix until everything is well incorporated. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
Divide the burger mixture into 5 patties. Pack them firmly.
To grill the burgers, preheat your grill over medium heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, then flip gently. Cook for 4-5 minutes on the other side. To bake the burgers, arrange the burgers on a baking sheet coated with olive oil. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 30-40 minutes, flipping halfway through. To fry the burgers, heat a little bit of olive oil in a frying pan and cook the burger on one side until golden, about 6 minutes. Then flip and cook on the opposite side.
Serve on a bun with toppings of your choice. I used some lettuce, tomatoes, and mustard.
Store leftover veggie burgers covered in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. To freeze for later, cook burgers as instructed on the grill or in the oven. Then set on a baking sheet or plate and freeze. Once completely frozen, place the burgers into an airtight container and store for up to 3 months. Reheat in a 325°F (165°C) oven on a bare baking sheet until warmed through.
*3/4 cup dried black beans is equivalent to 1 (15 oz/398 ml) can or 1.5 cups cooked (drained) beans.
**1/2 cup uncooked brown rice equals 1 cup (150 g) cooked rice.