I was eighteen and a college freshman the first time I ever tried a veggie burger. My college cafeteria served them every day in the “grill” line, right next to the hotdogs and hamburgers. Some of my more worldly friends ate them quite frequently, even though they weren’t vegetarians. So I decided to try one. It was… meh. Pretty dry and limp, and strangely crunchy and uniform in shape. The cafeteria made a lot of things from scratch, but I’m pretty sure those veggie burgers came straight out of a box. They were decidedly underwhelming.
Here’s the thing: a veggie burger should never be compared to a real beef hamburger. That’s just not fair. But it should be something that deliciously stands on its own, satisfying both meat eaters and vegetarians alike.
I made these veggie burgers for the first time last night and they were a big hit. They’re savory but don’t taste exclusively like mushrooms. The flavor sort of reminds me of wild rice. The recipe has a lot of steps, but the batch makes 12 so you can freeze some for later. Serve them with traditional (or avant-garde) burger toppings, and if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can even make homemade buns. And yes, this might be sacrilegious, but I’m totally thinking of putting bacon on top. Shhhh.
The Ultimate Veggie Burger
- 3/4 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
- 1 lb. cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 celery rib, chopped
- 1 small leek (white and light green parts only), chopped and rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup medium-grind bulgur, rinsed
- 1 cup raw cashews (unsalted)
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise
- 2 cups panko*
In a medium saucepan, bring lentils, 1 tsp. salt, and 3 cups of water to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lentils become soft and fall apart. Drain thoroughly and spread on a rimmed baking sheet lined with paper towels. Lightly pat dry.
Meanwhile, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add mushrooms and cook for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they have released their liquid and softened. Add onions, celery, leek, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes, until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown. Spread the cooked vegetables on top of the lentils on the baking sheet and let cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Combine 2 cups water, bulgur, and 1/4 tsp. salt in large bowl and microwave (covered) for five minutes. Drain the bulgur in a fine mesh strainer and use a spatula to press out any additional water. Return the bulgur to the bowl and set aside.
Grind cashews in a food processor until they’re finely ground, about 25 pulses. Add the cashews, lentils, vegetables, and mayonnaise to the bowl with the bulgur. Stir until evenly combined. Working in batches, grind the bulgur mixture in the food processor until it is coarsely ground and evenly textured. (This takes about 15 pulses per batch.) Transfer the ground mixture into a separate large bowl as you work. When all the mixture has been processed, stir in panko and 1 tsp. salt. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as desired.
Scoop up about 1/2 cup of the mixture and pack it into a tight, 1/2-inch thick patty with your hands. Repeat with remaining mixture until you have 12 patties.
Heat remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet until shimmering. Place four patties in the pan and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other sides until they’re also browned, about 2-4 minutes. Repeat with remaining patties, and serve.
To make ahead, you can freeze the shaped but uncooked patties on a parchment-lined baking sheet until solid. Stack the frozen patties between squares of parchment and store them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. When you’re ready to eat them, sear the frozen patties until brown (see above) and then bake them for 10 minutes in a 350° F oven until warmed through.
Makes 12 veggie burgers.
* While 2 cups of panko worked just fine, I think next time I’ll try using 1 1/2 cups. If you try this before I do, let me know how it works!
Source: America’s Test Kitchen “The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.”