I am not a vegetarian, but that hasn’t stopped me from embracing the veggie burger. Not to the exclusion of beef burgers, mind you, but to savor in its own right. I turn to veggie burgers when I crave the hamburger experience (soft bun, chewy protein, lots of spicy condiments) but would, at that moment, rather consume vegetables than meat.
Making a pretty good veggie burger is easy. Making a great one is a lot harder.
The downfall of many a recipe is the mush factor. Most of the elements that often 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. Getting a veggie burger with great flavor and the right texture is challenging. (So much so that accomplished chefs like Brooks Headley, the pastry chef at Del Posto in New York, have taken up the cause.)
To develop my version, I cooked my way through more than a dozen recipes I found online and in Lukas Volger’s authoritative cookbook “Veggie Burgers Every Which Way” (The Experiment, 2010). My favorites took the extra step of precooking the vegetables, which eliminates their water and condenses their flavors, before blitzing them in the food processor.
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In his treatise on black-bean burgers on the website Serious Eats, J. Kenji López-Alt goes even further to reduce the moisture by roasting the beans before adding to the mix. I absorbed this trick into my recipe and used kidney beans to keep the flavor a bit more neutral. I also adopted his use of mayonnaise, which made the burgers succulent and almost juicy.
I like how tempeh and ground nuts added a nubby meatlike texture to other burger recipes I tried, and the way mushrooms and cheese added a savory umami character. Grated roasted beets gave the burger a slightly pink color that resembled beef, so I added that, too. Finally, pimentón lent spicy, smoky notes. To my taste, I had arrived at the ultimate veggie burger.
This recipe has a long list of ingredients and several steps to complete. But the ingredients are easy to find and the steps are simple. And you can make a double batch and freeze the extra mix. The next time the veggie-burger craving hits, you’ll be ready.
THE ULTIMATE VEGGIE BURGER
Makes 6 burgers
4 ounces extra-firm tofu, drained
½ pound cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
Black pepper, as needed
1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 medium beet, peeled and coarsely grated (¾ cup)
¾ cup tamari almonds or cashews
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
2 ounces Cotija cheese or queso Blanco, crumbled or grated (about ½ cup)
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 scallions, sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon dulce pimentón or sweet smoked paprika
4 ounces tempeh, crumbled
½ cup cooked brown rice
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Slice tofu into ¼-inch-thick slabs and pat dry with paper towel. Arrange tofu on one half of a rimmed baking sheet; brush both sides with oil. Spread mushrooms on other half of the baking sheet; toss with 2 tablespoons oil and salt and pepper.
2. On another rimmed baking sheet, toss beans and grated beet with 1 tablespoon oil and salt and pepper. Spread out mixture in one layer.
3. Transfer both pans to oven. Roast bean-beet mixture, tossing occasionally, until beans begin to split and beets are tender and golden, about 15 minutes. Roast mushrooms and tofu until golden and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 25 minutes. Let everything cool.
4. Place nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add cooled bean-beet mixture, mushrooms, tofu, panko, cheese, eggs, mayonnaise, scallion, garlic, pimentón and ¾ teaspoon salt. Pulse until ingredients are just combined. Pulse in tempeh and rice but do not overprocess. You want small chunks, not a smooth mixture. Scrape mixture into a bowl and chill at least two hours or up to five days (you can also freeze the burger mix).
5. Divide mixture into six equal portions. Form each portion into a patty about 1 inch thick. Return to the fridge until just before grilling. They grill better when they start out cold.
6. Heat the grill. Cook burgers over a low fire until they are charred on both sides and firm when you press on them, four to six minutes per side. If they start to burn before firming up, move them to the sides of the grill to finish cooking. Alternatively, you can cook these on a grill pan or in a skillet over low heat.