If you’re a reader of this blog you might know that I’ve been on a life long quest for the perfect veggie burger. I thought I had found it it in my Hal’s Soy Burger, which I learned to make when I worked one summer in a natural food restaurant in college, but the problem is that soy beans are very hard to find, and so, sadly, I’ve had to move on to a recipe that’s more convenient to use. As I said in my last veggie burger post, I’m not a fan of vegetarian food that pretends to be anything other than what it is. I love veggies, and I don’t see why they should need to disguise themselves. But I make a small exception in the case of veggie burgers. The burger is the all American summer treat, and, to be honest, half of the fun is the bun and all the toppings. Switching out a healthy veggie burger for the meat just makes so much sense. You can make a big batch of these and freeze them for easy healthy eating all summer long.
Veggie burgers can be made a million different ways, but take it from someone who routinely orders them whenever I can, they usually aren’t that good. They can be mushy, tasteless, and almost always too thick. Sometimes you can barely distinguish them from the bun. Sometimes, gasp, they’re even artificially colored to look more meat-like, or to give them grill marks. Sometimes they’re made from engineered protein that’s supposed to imitate the taste and texture of meat. Yuck. No wonder they have a bad reputation.
Veggie burger recipes are fun to play with because they’re not an exact science, and you can fiddle with the ingredients here and there, just as long as you get enough flavor, and a texture that more or less resembles a raw meat burger or meatloaf mix. It should be moist and sticky, but not overly wet. It should be smooth enough to form into a patty, but retain some texture. Rices, grains, and beans make good starting points. You can add finely chopped or shredded vegetables, and then it all gets bound together with a little beaten egg and bread crumbs. Within that general framework there’s a lot of wiggle room.
I used red rice for its amazing texture and flavor, black beans, some zucchini, mushroom, and bright bell peppers. One of the secrets is not to over process the ingredients so that the burgers have a nice, nutty… ok, I’ll say it… ‘meaty’ texture. The red rice and black beans give a pleasing rich deep color, and the veggies give it even more visual interest.
I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the mixture, and then pressed it flat in between pieces of waxed paper. I used my tortilla press, but you can do it with your hand or a plate. Use your fingers to form it into a perfect round if you need to. I like them on the thin side.
The patties get chilled for an hour or so which helps them firm up and become easier to handle. You can make them a day ahead of time, too, which is nice.
Tips for veggie burger success:
- Use flavorful whole grains as your base. The Wehani red rice I used has got a great rust color and wonderful flavor and texture. It’s my new favorite rice around here.
- Cook your beans from dried. It’s not that much effort, and you can double or triple the recipe and freeze extra burgers for later. Canned beans will make a mushy burger with a ‘canned’ taste.
- Slightly under cook your rice and beans until they are just barely tender. They should have a nutty bite to them.
- Be gentle with them, they are delicate like a crab cake would be. Transfer them from their paper onto the pan carefully, and flip them carefully. Their delicate texture when raw is what makes them delicious after they are cooked.
- Veggie burgers are on the thin side, so don’t overwhelm them with huge buns.
- Treat veggie burgers just like you would a meat burger— use all your favorite burger toppings!
- If you freeze them, first freeze them flat, in their waxed paper, then you can stack them in freezer baggies.
Here’s a question, why haven’t the big fast food chains embraced the veggie burger? It’s a huge mystery to me. McDonald’s has 13 different beef burgers, 8 chicken burgers, a fish filet, and countless wraps, yet none of them are vegetarian. It makes no sense.
By the way, that’s one of my Quick and Spicy Refrigerator Pickles alongside the burger.
Enjoy your weekend!