Finally: The Secret To Making A Veggie Burger That Doesn't Suck
On the best type of base:
It takes a mix of ingredients to make a really good meatless burger. Generally speaking, you need shredded vegetables to create a lattice structure that will stick together, kind of like a latke, but you also need kernels for textural contrast, and starches and beans to glue the patties together. I see a lot of falafel burgers out there and, frankly, a falafel is no burger.
On good, healthy binders:
Binding a burger comes down to three core concepts: You need sturdy, fibrous vegetables to provide structure; gelling starches to glue those fibers together; and you musy cook out as much moisture as possible.
On baking versus pan-frying versus grilling:
We bake first, then pan fry (we use a griddle, but same idea). You could just bake your burger, but I happen to like a crispy, greasy crust on the outside of my burger, and that takes work. Is it possible to make a grillable veggie burger? Totally, but you gotta make them very dry, and you have to be very gentle with them, and frankly, I just don’t think it tastes better than a pan-fried veggie burger.
On keeping veggie burgers moist:
Vegetables are the secret! The dry veggie burgers I’ve eaten have all been bean burgers, whether that bean was a chickpea or a black bean. All the starch and protein is a great binder. A nice, dry bean paste can hold a shape like Play-Doh—but it also tastes like Play-Doh. Moisture comes from fruits (like squash or eggplant—I wouldn’t reach for an apple or a watermelon for this) or vegetables (hearty ones, like carrots, squashes, beets, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, or even artichokes or broccoli). The water is retained by the vegetables, and that moisture will be rich in flavor, so make sure to mix your mediums. Also always mix oil into your burger patties.
On the necessity of garnish:
Condiments, fixin's, pickles, and jars of crispy onions are vital for the full veggie-burger experience. You gotta accessorize; a good patty is a good start, but every veggie burger needs sauce, pickles, and some textural contrast. Maybe some mayo, Dijon mustard, horseradish, a dill pickle, and some caramelized onions.
Zucchini Polenta Burgers
Makes 18-24 burgers, depending on size
- 4 zucchini
- 2 cans cannellini beans
- 100g polenta, cooked in 400ml water a day or two in advance, so it's fully cool
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- 10 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 scallions, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Calabrian chilies (optional, and spicy!)
- ½ bunch of parsley, chopped
- ½ cup olive oil + a few more tablespoons for frying
- 3 tablespoons salt
- Preheat an oven to 350°F. Shred the zucchini on a box grater or in your food processor with the shredder attachment. Remove to a strainer and salt liberally (this is not the 3 tablespoons of salt—you're going to add that later). This will cause the squash to release its moisture. You can then squeeze the water out with your hands or wring the squash out in a dishtowel or cheesecloth.
- Move to a big bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix with a pair of clean hands until thoroughly incorporated.
- Get a cookie sheet or a roasting pan and rub it with an oiled towel or line with parchment paper.
- Scrape the mixture into the parchment-lined pan and bake for 45 minutes. Refrigerate overnight or until cool.
- Once this mixture is cool, you're ready to fry. Form patties with your hands, and fry in a cast iron pan for 3-4 minutes on each side. Then you're done! Get the buns. Cut some tomatoes. Tear some lettuce! Mayo! Horseradish! Dijon! Eat, dang it! PICKLES!
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Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.