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Burgers That Go Beyond Beef
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— July 15, 2015

Burgers That Go Beyond Beef

By Michele Wojciechowski
  • These veggie burger options put the cow out to pasture.
Burgers That Go Beyond Beef

Summer is upon us and so is one of its staples—cookouts. While a feature of a good cookout is a great burger, what do you do if you’re vegetarian or vegan? Sure, you could buy a frozen veggie or vegan burger, but a homemade one would be so much better.

Vegetarian and vegan chefs say you can make and enjoy great meatless burgers. You just have to know what to do.

“If you can get away from the idea that it has to replicate meat and just have something that’s tasty between a bun, then you’ve really opened yourself up to a trillion options,” says Miyoko Schinner, vegan chef, founder and chief executive of Miyoko’s Kitchen and author of The Homemade Vegan Pantry: The Art of Making Your Own Staples (Ten Speed Press). Lukas Volger, cookbook author and founder of Made by Lukas, a line of fresh- vegetable veggie burgers, agrees, saying, “For me, a veggie burger is an expression of vegetables.” Roberto Martin—vegan chef (he was formerly Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi’s personal chef), cookbook author and soon-to-be restaurant owner—says that vegan and veggie burgers won’t pass a blind taste test as meat burgers, “nor should they.”

The key is to start with tastes you like. If you like black beans, use them. If you don’t, then don’t.

Texture—Getting it Right

Volger says the biggest challenge to making your own veggie burger is the texture. “If it’s too wet, then it squirts up the bun, and if it’s too dry, it crumbles.” 

The way to improve the texture is to use a binding agent with your veggies. Volger loves to use potatoes—blanched, boiled or dry-roasted. He mashes them and incorporates the mix into his veggie burgers. The most popular veggie burgers are bean- and grain-based, he says. He also likes to use sturdy vegetables that aren’t too watery, such as carrots, as well as black beans, chickpeas and fava beans. Instead of breadcrumbs, Volger uses ground-up quinoa, which adds extra protein. 

Schinner also advocates for potatoes, and suggests ground-up flax seed soaked in water or chia seeds. “They sort of act like eggs in holding it together,” she says. Vital wheat gluten is another good binder (if you’re not gluten-intolerant, of course).

A favorite for Martin is farro, a grain that develops a firm texture when cooked. “It’s great in a burger because it gives a little bounceback.”

You can make your own burgers with leftovers from the fridge. “You can throw burgers together out of beans, grains and pureed vegetables,” says Schinner. Combine it all, add a binding agent, and perhaps even a flavor you like. Schinner may make her burgers with a southwestern spin one day or Cajun or Asian another.

Schinner also shares her secret for the perfect way to form a burger: use a large peanut butter jar top, put plastic wrap on the inside, and pat your burger mixture in it. When you flip it over, you’ll have a perfectly formed burger.

Holding It Together

One potential problem with veggie burgers is a lack of adhesiveness. “Sometimes the burgers don’t hold up to the grill right out of the bowl,” says Martin, meaning they may fall apart on the barbeque. He recommends cooking your burgers in a pan first so they develop a little crust. Then freeze or refrigerate them. Martin says, “They’ll definitely hold up to the grill.”

If you are still concerned that your burgers won’t hold up, Volger suggests taking a sturdy piece of tinfoil, piercing it a few times, and then cooking the burgers on top of that on the
grill. You won’t get the char marks, of course, but you will get some of the smoky flavor that grilling brings to food.

Will grilling these burgers make them lose any nutritional content? If you’re cooking them twice, in the pan and grill, you may be losing some, but as Martin says, “It’s not worth obsessing over.”

Taste of the Grill

While veggie burgers won’t taste like meat, you can add familiar grilling tastes to them. Martin says that he will incorporate the classic hamburger flavors—thousand island dressing (made with ketchup and vegan mayo), grilled or charred onions and a perfect, toasty bun. He sometimes uses liquid smoke (which comes in various flavors like hickory and applewood) to give them a little smoky flavor.

Speaking of the buns, Martin likes his soft and airy. He then toasts them to get a little crispy crunchiness added. While he also likes burgers on French bread or an organic, vegan pretzel roll, he sometimes likes them with no bun, wrapped in lettuce.

Volger will break up his veggie burgers over a salad instead of using a bun; he will put them in a pita, or serve mini ones in lettuce cups with a yogurt sauce, fried onions and cherry tomatoes.

No matter how you make and eat them, Martin says to remember, “This is good for me. This is really yummy stuff.”


Corn Burgers with Sun-Dried 
Tomatoes and Goat Cheese

1 1/2 cups fresh (from about 3 ears) or frozen corn
2 eggs
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal or polenta
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
6 scallions, including 1” into the dark green parts, thinly sliced
1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 oz goat cheese
2 tbsp olive oil

This burger is too wet to shape into patties—you just drop big spoonfuls of the mixture into a hot sauté pan. Try it as a savory breakfast, as the base for a simple salad or on a crusty wheat roll topped with goat cheese and pico de gallo.

1. Pulse 1 cup of the corn and the eggs in a food processor until you reach the texture of chunky hummus, not completely liquefied.

2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, cornstarch and baking powder. Stir in the remaining half-cup corn, corn-egg mixture, scallions, sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper. Crumble the goat cheese over the corn mixture and fold in. Adjust seasonings.

3. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Drop the mixture by heaping quarter-cup portions into the hot skillet, pressing gently with a spatula to round them into burger shapes. Cook until golden brown on the bottoms, 

4 to 5 minutes (lower the heat if they cook too quickly). Carefully flip and cook until firm and browned, another 4 or 5 minutes.

Yield: 6 five-inch burgers




Black Bean Mushroom Burgers

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced small
1 lb button or Cremini mushrooms, chopped small 
1 cup dry black beans cooked until tender and strained or 2 (15 oz)
cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup dry farro, simmered in 3 cups water until tender and drained
1 tbsp garlic powder 
2 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
A few dashes hot sauce 
1 tsp liquid smoke
Kosher salt and freshly ground black 
pepper to taste
2 tbsp high-heat oil like grapeseed or safflower

Roberto Martin says, “My nine-year-old son claims he hates mushrooms…but he loves these burgers. The secret? Black beans mixed with mushrooms and farro for a meaty texture—without all the additives and junk that’s in some packaged veggie burgers.” These patties can be made up to two days ahead of time and stored in the fridge or freezer until ready to use, or cook up a double batch and freeze half.

1. Heat a sauté pan or skillet over high heat. Add the oil and wait until it shimmers, about 30 seconds

2. Add onions and stir with a wooden spoon until they turn golden brown, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté 5 minutes more or until the pan is nearly dry. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the mixture to cool.

3. Place the beans and half the farro in a food processor with the garlic powder, soy sauce, hot sauce and liquid smoke, and pulse until well combined. Scoop into a large bowl. Stir in the onions and remaining farro. Taste and season with salt and pepper. 

4. Scoop a half-cup of the bean mixture and shape into a patty. Repeat until all the mixture is used. 

5. Heat a skillet and add 1 tbsp of high-heat oil, place four patties in the skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side. (Use a strong metal spatula to gently flip the patties.) Transfer to a sheet tray or large plate. Add the remaining tbsp of oil to the pan and cook the remaining 4 patties. Serve warm with standard hamburger fixings or serve as is over grilled asparagus or roasted broccoli. 

Note: If you want to grill the veggie burgers, cook them first as instructed above and allow them to cool on a sheet tray; then grill them until warm inside, about 2 minutes per side. Cooking them in a pan dries them out a little bit and forms a crust, which will allow them to stay together on the grill.

Yield: 8 burgers



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