Vegan burgers – i.e veggie burgers made without eggs as a binder or any cheese or dairy products – belong in their own category.
While there are many plant-based burger recipes out there that aim to replicate a meat burger, for the purposes of this post I’m talking about a straight-up vegan burger that isn’t trying to fool anyone, one that is satisfying and crave-able in its own right; a freeform burger easily thrown together with pantry ingredients, with flavors, textures, and even colors that crowds go gaga for; one that’s perfect for an outdoor burger bash or a weeknight meal.
If you want to create your own vegan burger at home, here are the top things to keep in mind!
Use the Right Beans (and Partially Mash Them).
When people talk about vegan burgers, they usually talk about the taste first, but let’s switch things up and talk texture! I’m sure you’ve had some delicious vegan or veggie burgers that squished out the other side of the bun as you took a bite. What’s the point of it tasting great if it never makes it to your mouth?
To make a terrific vegan or veggie burger, you need ingredients you can really sink your teeth into: sturdy but still chewy, crunchy, juicy, and toothsome. We never want to hear the word “hockey puck” but we do want it to hold together and flip easily on the grill. And crumbliness is absolutely unacceptable.
So how do we get there? For my money, the best base is beans – not pureed into hummus, but partially mashed, so along with that yum flavor you get bonus binding and some “meatier” bites.
Best Beans for Veggie Burgers
- Lentils: The most versatile.
- Black beans: Of course, the black bean burger is an icon!
- Navy beans: Great texture but will be pale. Still, a white bean burger is no slouch.
- Pinto beans: These give amazing color and amazing texture!
- Chickpeas: Do you like falafel? I love chickpeas; however, since the moisture content in chickpeas is a little lower than other beans, you may need to add a few extra splashes of water to the final burger mix. Your burger might also have hints of falafel in it, depending on the other elements, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Just as important, beans I do not recommend for veggie burgers include kidney beans, black eyed peas, and mushy pulses like split peas and red lentils.
Use Canned Beans When Possible.
Canned beans are cooked consistently from brand to brand. Moisture content is an important consideration when you’re making a veggie burger, and if the beans are over- or undercooked – well, that just breaks the whole equation.
If you do prefer to cook your beans, make sure to cook them to the same consistency as canned beans. Check often, cooling some under cold water, until they break easily between your fingers but aren’t total mush.
Get Some Chew with Nuts and Grains.
Nuts of all kinds will add interest – firmer bites and bursts of flavor – to your vegan burger. Walnuts, hazelnut, pecans, and almonds are all good choices! If you have a nut allergy or are cooking for someone with a nut allergy, whole pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are a good substitute.
Another way to get that chewy bite? Grains! Hearty grains like farro, brown rice, and barley are pleasing but mellow. They also easily integrate with most other ingredients you throw their way.
Use Silken Tofu, a Flax Egg, or Aquafaba as a Vegan Binder.
A sturdy vegan burger is the marriage of a liquid binder, beans, and a dry binder (such as breadcrumbs).
In non-vegan veggie burgers, you’ll often find eggs as the binders, so the “eggier” you can get with your vegan binder, the better your vegan burger will hold together!
Best Binder Ingredients for Vegan Burgers
- Silken tofu: This is the ‘eggiest’ binder of them all. It is nice and thick, firms up similarly to how an egg cooks, and it’s almost impossible for anything to fall apart when using it. It does need to be blended with water first; not a big deal, just a little less convenient. You can choose boxed silken tofu or the kind that comes in a vacuum pack.To use silken tofu in a vegan burger mix, blend half of a 14 oz block (that’s 7 oz!) with 1/2 a cup of water until smooth.
- Flax egg: Flax has amazing viscous properties that help turn this tiny seed into plant-based magic. I like to think of each seed as an egg, but really, it’s simply ground flax mixed with some warm water until it’s thick and sticky, similar to an egg white. Here’s how to make a flax egg.
- Aquafaba: Aqua = water, faba = bean. Yes, aquafaba is bean water – chickpeas, specifically – that when whipped become light and fluffy, like egg whites. For vegan burgers you don’t actually have to whip them too much (we aren’t making meringue); just drain a can of chickpeas and use a cup of the liquid, then whip for about a minute before using. Read more about aquafaba here.
- Water: If all of this sounds like too much for you, honestly, water combined with the dry binder and all the beans and grains will get the job done. It won’t be as firm, but it’s not the worst, either.
Go Big on Vegetables.
Let’s not forget about the actual vegetable part of veggie burger! This is a contributing factor for both taste and texture, so run with what you love. Some of my favorite vegetables to include in my vegan burgers are:
- Cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced, sauteed until golden
- Eggplant, diced, roasted with olive oil
- Beets, shredded, lightly sauteed
- Zucchini or summer squash, shredded, and lightly sauteed
- Bell peppers, diced, sauteed until soft
Don’t Forget the Seasoning!
I like seasoning my black bean burgers with cilantro, cumin, or a taco or southwest seasoning blend if I want to take all the guesswork out of it. Look for a blend that includes chili, cumin, and coriander.
Or go in a totally different direction and use an Italian or pizza spice blend, or other flavor boosts like a few tablespoons of miso, porcini powder, nutritional yeast, sundried tomatoes, or a bunch of chopped fresh herbs.
Always Chill the Burger Mix.
Don’t forget to chill the burger mix before you cook the burgers! Seal the container and let the mixture chill in the fridge for about 1 hour. This helps marry the flavors and give the burger structure.
Yes, You Can Grill Veggie Burgers!
The primary “meaty” element that you’re ever likely to get from a vegan burger comes from the cooking method. Specifically, I’m talking char, either from an outdoor grill or a cast iron pan. And I know what you’re thinking: Yes, you can grill a veggie burger!
To grill veggie burgers, brush the patty with plenty of oil (extra virgin olive or refined coconut oil) so that the outside doesn’t dry out or stick. Grill for about 7 minutes, or until you see dark grill marks, then flip using a thin metal spatula and grill for another 7 minutes. Make sure you really get under there and don’t let the burger stick!
Create Your Own Vegan Burger Recipe!
Now that I’ve shared all the pieces of what makes a great vegan burger, it’s time for you to experiment and create your own!
To make 6 vegan burger patties, start by combining ingredients in the following amounts:
- 1/2 pound of diced, sautéed vegetables
- 1 can of beans, partially mashed
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts
- 1/4 cup cooked grains
- 1/4 cup vegan binder
- 1 tablespoon seasoning
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
From there you can add some sautéed onions and garlic (start with half an onion and 1 clove of garlic), 1-2 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Taste and add more seasoning or salt if necessary; that’s the advantage of working with a vegan burger mix – you can taste as you go!
If the mix seems really loose, add more breadcrumbs. If it’s too crumbly, add some water. You’ll know it’s the right consistency when it starts to stick together enough for you to flatten a chunk into a patty.