We are three self taught home cooks who seek to expand our cooking horizons. Here we will post our food adventures, trying new foods, recipes, and learning as much as we can along the way. Here is a record of our failures, triumphs, and dirty dishes.
I have cracked it! My previous veggie burger was delicious, but too much work. I wanted an easier version that featured inexpensive ingredients you are likely to have in your kitchen. These got rave reviews, and took about 30 minutes prep, plus an hour to chill. If you have a food processor to chop the veggies, they would be even faster. I used the simplest methods I could – this is a good recipe for beginners. They freeze very well, so make a big batch and stock your freezer for a quick meal. These would also be fine on a grill, so are a good option for the sad vegetarian at the barbecue who would like something besides the inevitable potato salad.
I still want to try more burgers, especially trying out more mushroom and nut bases, but I am proud of this one.
Easy Garbanzo Bean Burgers
Makes 18 medium burgers. 30 minutes prep, 1 hour to chill, 10 minutes to cook.
- 1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans, or 1 1/2 cups cooked beans and 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat breadcrumbs (or 3 pieces whole wheat bread, preferably the old dried out pieces)
- 1 medium sweet potato, about 1 cup mashed ( white potatoes are also okay, but the sweet potato holds it together better and gives more flavor)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 medium onion
- 1 medium carrot
- 1/2 bell pepper (any color; I like the red for the pretty red flecks it gives the burgers)
- 4 Tablespoons canola or olive oil.
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt,
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar (you could substitute white vinegar)
- 1/2 chopped cilantro or italian parsley.
- optional: 1/2 cup sunflower seeds or chopped walnutes
- optional: 1/2 cup frozen peas or corn
If you don’t have breadcrumbs , toast 3 slices of bread, then toss them into a blender or food processor. Pulse until pretty fine, but not as fine as flour. Set aside.
Wash the sweet potato, nuke it in the microwave until soft, about 3 minutes. Set aside, let cool.
Empty the can of garbanzo beans into the blender or food processor, including the liquid from the can. Puree until soft. Peel the sweet potato, toss it in, blend until mixed.
Grate the carrot, and finely chop the garlic, onion, bell pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan, then add the vegetables, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 2 minutes.
Pour the bean and potato puree into the vegetables, and cook for about two minutes on medium heat, stirring. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, combine the bean mixture, 1 cup of breadcrumbs, chopped cilantro or parsley, soy sauce, vinegar. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, and vinegar if needed.
Optional (but delicious!): Stir in 1/2 cup chopped nuts or sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup frozen peas or corn.
Cover mix and chill for 1 hour.
Put 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs in a shallow dish or plate. Shape the mix into 18 patties, in a hamburgery shape. The mix should be easy to work, but if is too sticky to shape easily, stir in extra breadcrumbs. If you are planning to freeze them, make the patties pretty flat – they’ll cook faster that way. Dip both sides into the breadcrumbs, so they are nicely coated.
Heat up your frying pan again, and add about 2 Tablespoons of oil – enough to generously cover the surface of the pan. Cook the patties over medium high heat about 2 minutes for each side, or until you have a beautiful golden brown crust. Remove from heat onto a paper towel to absorb extra oil.
Eat right away. I like them in a pita pocket with lettuce and tomato, and a little salsa verde. If you have extra uncooked patties, wrap them individually and freeze. They make a great quick meal. If you are frying the frozen patties, do so at a slightly lower temperature and give them a longer cook time.
After making four different veggie burgers and reading a lot of recipes, I decided that I had learned enough to attempt my own veggie burger recipe. I identified four components that make a successful veggie burger.
The Five Habits of Highly Successful Veggie Burgers
- Structural integrity. It has to hold together when cooked. Otherwise you are making hash, not burgers.
- Not too sticky, not too smooth: If the burger mix is super sticky it is hard to work with, and the burgers stick to both your fingers and the pan. And they need a little texture when you bite into them.
- Moistness: A good burger must be juicy. It can’t be dry or too dense. This is a common problem with store bought veggie burgers.
- Flavor: the most successful burgers are filled with flavor, with savory deliciousness brightened by lighter notes.
- It has to have a crispy outer crust when cooked, with a soft interior.
Then I put it all together:
For structural integrity, I relied mainly on mashed sweet potato. That stuff really holds together, and it has a good rich flavor.
To control stickiness, I used dried whole wheat bread crumbs, because I happened to have some on hand.They worked great. Just adjust the amount as needed.
For depth of flavor I went with ground sunflower seeds, mushrooms, and pureed lentils (they also help hold things together).
For moistness, flavor, and texture, I added a lot of minced vegetables and some red wine vinegar. The fresh herbs, jalapeno, and greens worked especially well.
For the crispy crust, I pan fried them in olive oil on medium high heat in my trusty cast iron skillet.
We served them in pita pockets, with lettuce and tomato. They were good with ketchup, but even better with a little plain yogurt.
Veggie Burger Verdict: These got rave reviews for taste, and the patties were sturdy yet moist. The best veggie burger so far, and a pita was perfect as the bread to go with it.
One big problem: these were a lot of work to make, because they had so many components, and almost all the components had to be cooked before assembly. I’ll be looking to see if I can simplify it. But they’re definitely worth making, especially if you have some leftover cooked lentils or mashed potato in your refrigerator.
Want to make your own? Here’s the recipe.
Delicious and substantial, one of these in a pita pocket makes a meal. The seeds and bean give a dense richness, the vegetables give lots of flavor. They are sturdy enough to stand up to cooking on an outdoor grill. There is quite a bit of chopping and prep, but these are worth the trouble, and you can multi-task a lot of it. Make a big batch and freeze the extra. If you have leftover lentil soup or mashed potatoes, consider using up your leftovers to make these.
Makes about 12 hefty burgers.
- 1 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup red lentils
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 cup mushrooms, minced
- 1/2 cup celery, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil for saute
- 1 medium sweet potato, steamed and mashed, about 1 1/2 cups (white mashed potatoes would also work)
- 2 tsp salt
- fresh ground pepper
- 2 tablespoons vinegar, apple cider or red wine
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage or 1 tsp dried
- 1/2 cup fresh greens, chopped. I used cilantro, italian parsley, and green onion.
- 1 cup dry whole wheat bread crumbs. I used Panko – they worked great.
Simmer the lentils in about in 2 cups of water with the bay leaf, until the lentils are soft and the water is evaporated. Once it is cool, puree in a food processor or blender.
While the lentils are cooking, get the mushrooms, celery, garlic, onion, and jalapeno evenly minced. If you use a food processor, do not over chop – the vegetables should have a little texture. Saute in olive oil until soft, with a little salt and pepper, about 3 minutes. Set aside. (If you don’t want the heat, leave out the jalapeno.)
Peel and steam one medium sized sweet potato. When it is soft, mash it with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
Grind the sunflower seeds in a blender or food processor until fine.
In a big bowl mash together all of the various components, along with the breadcrumbs. If it is very sticky, add some extra breadcrumbs. Taste and add salt, pepper, and vinegar if needed. Shape into substantial patties. You can cook them right away, or refrigerate them for later. They also freeze well. To freeze, wrap individual patties in plastic wrap.
When you are ready to cook them, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy skillet and fry over medium heat. Flip when browned.
Serve with lettuce and tomato in pita bread, with yogurt or your favorite burger condiments.
So far in the veggie burger quest, every single burger has been better without a bun. And when I look at veggie burger recipes, it is clear that this is no coincidence.
Veggie burgers don’t like buns.
Observe a typical hamburger:
The bun is clearly important here. You need something to catch all the juice and fat, and the dense bread gives a contrast to all the juicy meat.
Now observe a veggie burger I found in clip art:
It looks great, doesn’t it? Especially with all the lettuce and radishes. That’s clearly a very sturdy patty. But it is difficult to make a veggie burger as juicy and tender as a hamburger – it will fall apart every time. To stay together, it has to be much drier than the hamburger, and much denser. If you take a bite with the bun, it will just be a mouthful of two dense, dry carbohydrate filled foods. Your veggie burger will taste much better if you hand that bun to your carnivorous buddy and use some of the lettuce as a wrap. Or just eat it on its own, with veggies and condiments piled on top.
Another great option is a pita pocket. Then you can shove in all the toppings you want, and have something you can hold while looking for a place to sit at the cookout. The pita is thin enough to not overwhelm most veggie burgers. Here’s one I had last night:
I got overexcited and smashed my burger up a bit while loading in the lettuce, but you get the idea. And that’s another nice thing about pita – it will keep your veggie burger all together, even if it is a bit fragile. That means you can load in more delicious flavor when creating your burger recipe, instead of focusing so much on it holding together.
By the way, I made these whole wheat pita myself. It was a lot of fun trying to get them to puff up. Some did, some didn’t, but they all tasted great. There are tons of good recipes out there, and if you are a novice bread maker, these simple flat breads are a good place to start.
We were embarked on yet another veggie burger experiment when fellow Gastil Cooking School member Grant said, “What about the ketchup? We should make our own!”
I tried to weasel out of it, but he insisted that it would be educational, so I succumbed.
I prefer using published cookbooks to internet recipes, because I have learned which authors I should trust for what. For traditional American style tomato ketchup, I pulled out Joy of Cooking. It had a very nice recipe – for 10 pints. I promptly shoved it back again and went online.
The Joy of Cooking recipe made me realize that ketchup is really just pickled tomatoes. I don’t know why that never occurred to me before. Probably because in my world ketchup is just this red stuff you find in a bottle. But it is also a way of preserving the massive onrush of tomatoes from the vegetable garden – all that vinegar means it will keep a long time without canning or freezing.
Most of the recipes I found online called for either tomato paste or canned tomatoes, but since tomatoes are in season, and ketchup is about preserving, it seemed silly to not use fresh. We ended up using this version by Melissa Clark from the New York Times.
It calls for grape tomatoes, massive amounts of vinegar, a lot of sugar, some salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce. You just cook it down until it is jam-like, blend it, and strain it.
Overall, the recipe worked great, and I liked the simplicity of it. It did take a lot longer than the suggested 20 minutes to cook down (more like 45) and we ended up with considerably more than the 2 cups listed – more like 4. We were careful with measurements, and it came out the right flavor and thickness, so I’m guessing the variation might come from the juiciness and size of the grape tomatoes. I thought the amount of sugar was too high, so we initially cut it back. But after tasting the ketchup mixture, it was obvious that you need it all – otherwise the vinegar is too powerful. We stirred in the proper amount, and the flavors balanced well.
In the end our ketchup was delicious! Thick and full of tomato flavor, very like the Heinz you buy in the big red bottles, but fresher. We now have a bottle full to use with all our burger experiments.
One of the fun things about this recipe is that it is easy to personalize. You can fiddle with the seasonings and make all sorts of variations. Grant and I added a clove of garlic and a little chili paste to ours, which gave it a subtle kick.
A note of caution on cookware: I used my workhorse 15″ cast iron skillet for the job. It performed beautifully, and amazingly didn’t lose its impregnation of oil, but I wouldn’t recommend that if you are worried about iron leaching into your ketchup. 45 minutes of a boiling acid bath is sure to attack cast iron. Since I tend to be on the anemic side, it is not a worry for me.
I am finding that veggie burgers come in 7 basic categories, based on what holds them together:
- -Egg and flour batter
- -Tofu (I know, tofu is from beans – but it tastes and acts differently from mashed beans in a recipe)
Many use a combo, but all emphasize one or the other. One of the biggies is tofu, so last night I used another Mollie Katzen recipe, this time from Enchanted Broccoli Forest, and converted her tofu nut balls into patties.
This is a simple and easy recipe. It is basically brown rice and ground almonds blended into a paste, to which you add a generous amount of tofu and wheat germ, with some soy sauce for flavor. You then shape it into balls (I flattened mine into patties), and bake or deep fat fry them.
I choose to use both cooking methods. Deep fat frying was great, (isn’t everything better when it’s fried?) but messy and uses a ton of oil. Baking them was simple and easy, but left them a little dry and boring. When I made this recipe in the past, I pan fried them in olive oil, and that’s how I’d do it next time.
We ate them with french fries, ketchup, and a green salad, to mixed reviews. I liked the way the nutty almond and brown rice flavors came through, but others said they were too bland, not very interesting to eat as burgers. Katzen’s recipe recommended having them with spaghetti sauce and pasta, and I have enjoyed them that way. They definitely need a good sauce or condiment.
Burger Verdict: The structural integrity was great, the best so far! These could probably survive an outdoor grill, especially if they were chilled first. You wouldn’t want to eat these with a bun – all the bread would overwhelm them, and they aren’t terribly moist. Flavor was not so great – not unpleasant, just underpowered. I liked these little cakes, but as burgers they need to make a stronger statement. Perhaps I shall fiddle with the recipe – it has a lot of potential.
So far, my entries in the Veggie Burger Quest have been gussied up pancakes. This time I decided to go with something that actually had “burger” in its name. I found this vegan recipe in my elderly copy of Moosewood Cookbook, copyright 1977. It stars lentil, walnuts, and mushrooms, and makes a rich and savory burger.
Mollie Katzen had her priorities right when she created her classic Moosewood Cookbook. Sometimes the recipes don’t work perfectly, and sometimes they aren’t the healthiest, but they always taste delicious. I hear that the recent editions have cut back on the cheese, so are better for you. I’m sticking with the old edition, cheese and all. I learned to cook using this book – every time I open it I feel nostalgic.
So I got to work on Lentil Walnut Burgers. I’ve made this before, but it was long ago, and my memories were fuzzy. As I started on a massive chopping job, it all came back to me. Finely minced onion, minced mushrooms, finely minced walnuts, minced celery.
As I minced and then minced some more, I had two regrets: one, that I had committed to making a double batch, and two, that I still haven’t sprung for a food processor. Still, my knife skills improved, and I got some endurance training, so it all worked out.
I also had to cook and mash a bunch of lentils, and that’s where I ran into trouble. I don’t like mushy lentils, and followed my usual practice of cooking them until soft but still intact. I soon discovered that it is not pleasant trying to mash piping hot beans. I once again bewailed my lack of a food processor and pulled out a mortar and pestle. I got them pretty well mashed, but left a lot semi-intact. I figured it would make the texture more interesting. Plus, my arms were tired after all the mincing.
Once I had all of the ingredients together and semi-chilled, I formed the patties. They were loose but held together — until I tried to cook them. Once they hit the skillet they instantly starting falling apart, and I was soon cooking up hash, not burgers.
I scooped them back into the bowl and added an egg to act as a binder. Sorry, vegans. It was that or cheese. The burgers held together a lot better then, although they were still on the fragile side.
We ate them in buns with traditional burger toppings, and they were delicious – moist and savory, the mushrooms and walnuts making them rich and filled with umami. I froze the extra uncooked burgers, and Grant cooked up some late that night. He reports that they froze well, but he didn’t bother with burgers. He just microwaved them and spread them on toast – and that they were even better that way.
Veggie Burger Verdict: Absolutely delicious, moist and savory in a proper burgery way, and they have the density I want as well. They work well on buns and would be a good choice for vegetarians at a cookout. Their lack of structural integrity is a big problem though – they didn’t hold up in my cast iron frying pan; they’d never survive a grill. I suspect that if I had cooked the lentils a little longer and mashed them completely into paste, the burgers would have been sturdier. Another good reason to get a food processor!