Veggie burgers are great. In theory, anyway.
Those times namely being:
a) You are hosting a barbeque and know the non-carnivorous type will be in attendance.
b) You’re starving, and the only thing in the fridge that you can viably call ‘supper’ is the half-frosted over package of six-month old faux “burgers.”
c) You went to Corner Bistro/JG Melon’s/Shake Shack/Larkburger/PJ Clarke’s yesterday….and unless you are a linebacker (or attempting to set yourself up as a fine contender for next season’s The Biggest Loser), these sorts of things just can’t happen in twos.
They simply cannot.
And in those times when you reach for a pre-made ‘veggie’ burger – that is, something that resembles a burger but that instead of ‘real’ meat is made up of some combination of vegetables, soy protien, or legumes – you generally are faced with either mild success or great disaster.
Seeing as they are perceived as the “healthier” alternative to their decidedly more carnivorous cousin, it’s shocking to think that many of the pre-packaged varieties can actually be….not so healthy. Since they are technically a processed food, you have to watch out for tongue-twisting ingredient lists loaded with preservatives, and other unnatural, unpronounceable additives. And unless you are completely sure that the product you are eating is entirely 100% USDA certified organic (and that isn’t to be confused with misleading titles like “natural”, “pure”, or “made from organic ingredients”), your “veggie packed” patty could very well be packed with mouthwateringly delicious hexane – which is is listed as a ‘hazardous air pollutant’ by the EPA.
I’m not wanting to go all environmental watchdog on you, though - these days it seems like there is something that is going to eventually kill us lurking around every corner (or bun?) - and I’d venture to guess that sticking with the USDA certified organic veggie burgers will most likely keep you safe and healthy.
But that doesn’t solve their second downfall: their taste.
Being that they are supposed to mimic something that is thick, juicy, and chin-drippingly good, too often I bite into something that is sadly flat, mysteriously gray, and so sawdusty-dry that I end up relying on half a bottle of Heinz just to keep things palatable.
These are the sort of things I had just come to accept as part of the veggie burger’s yin and yang – that though maybe I was craving one, it would never quite be as grand as the version I had been imagining in my mind. For a long time, I’ve been talking about giving a stab at making my own, but have always become sidetracked by something else that would prevent my veggie burger science experiment from (thankfully?) ever happening. That all changed last week, as I was thumbing through the May issue of Fine Cooking looking for dinner ideas, and stumbled upon a page depicting the veggie burger of my dreams: tall, thick, richly colored, and piled high with toppings. I was sold.
These ‘veggie’ burgers are actually made with mostly black beans, with a just a bit of oats and an egg mixed in to bind everything together tightly, but without becoming dry. A bit of cumin, some finely grated Cheddar cheese,a flurry of cilantro, and thinly sliced green onion season these guys up perfectly, and their flavors play really well with the creaminess of the black beans in their little burger sandbox.
The recipe, which uses one fourteen-ounce can of black beans, states that it makes enough for four burger patties – however unless your four diners are under the age of ten, I disagree. I wanted these burgers to be hearty and thick – much like the beefier version – and I would recommend only making three (or two, if you want to be really crazy) burgers out of one batch. Since the burgers are cooked indoors on a flat surface (on a pan vs. a grill), there are no issues with these guys sticking or falling through grill grates, and the surface of the burger becomes toasty, brown, and caramelized.
The interior is warm, juicy, and has a great amount of bite to it, lacking any mushiness or dryness that so often plagues the frozen variety. Instead of taking on that usual and almost indescribable ‘veggie burger’ flavor, these actually taste of black beans and fresh herbs and spices, and the addition of thick slices of avocado, tomato, and lettuce add a fresh salad-y element that cuts through the savory and dusky beans. To top these guys, I made a smoky chipotle yogurt, which adds a wonderful creamy element as well as a packing a dose of protein and probiotics, and lends the perfect amount of heat to the otherwise mild burger.
I like to use whole wheat English muffins here instead of a traditional hamburger bun; they are just the right size to top the burger without overpowering it or spilling unnecessarily over its sides.
They come together super fast, and since you have total creative license over what goes into them, you know that they are completely fresh and with no processed ingredients or preservatives. Plus, unless you keep a jar of hexane hanging around for a bit of sinister fun on a rainy day, I think it’s safe to say that you’re clear on that front.
(But just be sure that the beans you buy are packaged in a BPA free can…..dangers lurking around every corner I tell you!)
Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from Fine Cooking, May 2012
Serves 4 (according to FC, but I think this serves more like 2 depending how hungry one is)
I made only a couple of changes here – I used sharp white cheddar instead of Jack, and added a bit more salt than they called for (I tend to like salty food, and find black beans need a good bit of salt to bring out their flavor). I also upped the cilantro below to 4 Tbsp from 2 Tbsp, to brighten the burgers flavor
I like to use English muffins in lieu of whole wheat hamburger buns; I think their texture is better and also like how they just fit on the burger perfectly, without much bready overhang. See the link for the original recipe.
The chipotle yogurt is not located in the Fine Cooking recipe – it is something I make frequently when we have Mexican-styled meals, and thought it would be a healthier addition than a spicy mayo.
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 15.5-oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large egg
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 oz. finely grated white cheddar (or pepper Jack) cheese (~1/2 cup)
1 large scallion, minced
4 Tbs. chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbs. olive oil; more for the plate
4 whole-wheat English muffins (or whole wheat buns)
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt (I use Chobani)
1-2 Tbsp sauce from canned chipotles in adobo
slices of fresh tomato
slices of fresh avocado
leaves of fresh lettuce
Put the oats in a food processor and pulse three times to roughly chop. Add half of the beans and pulse into a coarse paste, about 6 pulses. Add the egg, cumin, and 1/2 tsp. salt and process to mix well, about 1 minute. Transfer the bean mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the remaining beans, the cheese, scallion, and cilantro. The mixture will be fairly wet and sticky, so it is important to lightly moisten/wet your hands before forming the patties to avoid the mixture sticking all over your.
With wet hands, form the bean mixture into four 1/2-inch-thick patties and transfer to a lightly oiled plate. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes to let the burgers set up.
While the burgers set up, make the chipotle yogurt. Stir the chipotle sauce 1 Tbsp at a time into the greek yogurt; add until you are satisfied with the spice level (I usually add just about 2 Tbsp).
Heat a large heavy-duty skillet (preferably cast iron) on high heat until very hot; add the oil and swirl the pan to coat the bottom. Cook the burgers until browned, with a good crust, 2 to 3 minutes; then carefully flip and cook, flipping again if necessary, until the burgers feel firm when pressed with a fingertip, another 3 to 5 minutes.
While the burgers cook, lightly toast the English muffins. Serve the burgers in the muffins, topped with the lettuce, tomato, and avocado, and with a generous dollop of the chipotle yogurt. Pass any extra yogurt for dipping, as well as a bit of ketchup.