The Ultimate Veggie Burger
We always liked the idea of a veggie burger—a crisp and satisfying nonmeat alternative, fairly bursting with flavor and health. And our plan was to find the perfect one. We polled people far and wide for their favorites. And we tried each.
Our hearts would soar with every new prospect, and then break with the first bite: Not one lived up to our ideal.
“Bland. Mushy. Gummy. Squishy.” Not delicious words at all. “Where are the veggies? This is all starch!” said one taster. “Everything squishes out the sides!” cried another. We were flummoxed.
And so we decided to do what we frequently do: make our own. We’d take the good points from each of the veggie burgers we found and reverse-engineer to create the ultimate in mock-meat perfection.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Our research provided a valuable education in how we didn’t want our burger to taste. Most burgers we sampled were loaded with binder ingredients like rice and seitan that made the patties squish out from the bun like clay as they were eaten. The starchy-burger-on-a-starchy-bun thing puts us right into a food coma.
And what about the eponymous veggies? Sorely lacking. There were always onions, sometimes mushrooms, and surprisingly often beets, which added color. The vegetables seemed designed to approximate the texture and hue of a meat patty, rather than contribute to the veggieness of a veggie patty.
In the end, no one’s recipe was deemed worthy of imitation. Did we give up? Of course not! We created out our own perfect veggie burger.
We focused on restaurant patties rather than the hockey pucks available in your supermarket freezer, under the assumption that they were more likely to be made fresh.
HOW TO BUILD A BETTER BURGER
We dissected each veggie burger we tried and compiled a lengthy inventory of potential building blocks. In the end, we narrowed our list to the following ingredients:
THE TESTING DIARY
- We start simple. A lentil-and-short-grain-brown-rice-based burger with a mix of cooked onions and raw, grated carrots, zucchini, and parsley. For the binder we try a purée of dry breadcrumbs, egg whites, and more lentils. Seasonings include Tabasco, tamari, tomato paste, and dry mustard. The final result? The lentils and Tabasco are overpowering, and the burger does not hold together. It is too dense and doesn’t go well with a bun.
- Further refining. We add raw sunflower seeds for crunch, reduce the lentils, and blend some seitan and sautéed mushrooms into the mix. It’s still not right. We thought the seitan would add some chewiness that was lacking, but we were wrong: This burger ends up mushier than ever.
- Needs a little more chew. We suspect that the texture and added nutrition of textured vegetable protein will make a good addition. We swap the egg whites for whole eggs and nix the seitan altogether. Coarse whole-wheat panko takes the place of Progresso breadcrumbs. Tasters like the texture that TVP adds. We keep it but reduce the amount. In these first few tests, we’re going for a patty that has the right consistency. Next we’ll move on to refining the flavor.
- We’re definitely on to something. Beets are sounding like a good idea after all. Their earthiness and slight sweetness will be a nice addition, and a little more color is welcome. We opt for raw, grated red beets for ease of preparation. The TVP is still too much: We reduce again. We decide to up the amount of brown rice as well. Also of note: These veggie burgers definitely work best when cooked in a nonstick pan.
- The beets are a success! We keep them and increase the amounts of all the other vegetables to make this a true veggie burger. Most veggie patties have more beans or TVP than vegetables; ours is chock-full of zucchini, onion, carrots, beets, and mushrooms. We also increase the amount of tamari and add a little salt. This thing is getting good!
- It’s perfect! With a crisp exterior, this burger holds together well and has a nice flavor with a distinctive, chewy texture. It’s full of vegetables and tastes great on a bun. There’s no carb coma to contend with, and most important, we don’t miss the meat!