Once upon a time, I ran a vegetarian restaurant in a college town, and one of its signature dishes was the “Big Veg.” The Big Veg was a scratch-made soy veggie burger.
As such, it was pretty good for its time, but it needed some serious updating. These days, I want something better than “pretty good.”
Making the Best Black Bean Burger
I get tired of beef burgers and sometimes want to incorporate more plant-based meals into my diet. For these reasons, I love the idea of a vegetarian alternative to the standard beef burgers of summer.
I turned to black beans as the base. I was tempted to veer toward Southwestern/Mexican spices since they're such a good pairing with black beans, but ultimately decided against that obvious flavor profile so that the condiments could shine.
No, this is not like a beef burger, but yes, this is a winner in the vegetarian category: it’s full of vegetable flavor, it is filling, and it is not painstakingly time-consuming to make.
Your Food Processor Is Your Secret Weapon
Compared to hamburgers, which you can buy already formed into patties, these veggie burgers take a little more time. But by the time you pull all the ingredients together, you are only looking at about 15 minutes of total prep with the aid of a food processor.
First, pulse the vegetables to break them down a bit then throw them in a skillet to cook. While they are cooking, make soft breadcrumbs (no need to bother with cleaning the processor).
Finally, chop the beans in the processor, and stir them, the veggies, and the breadcrumbs all together with a beaten egg. Cover the mixture and refrigerate for at least an hour, then form into patties and cook!
Cook the Veggies for Best Texture and Flavor
Do you have an extra five minutes? They will be well spent if you cook the vegetables and dry the beans with a paper towel. This step ensures the burgers won’t be mushy because some of the water will be released from the veggies, plus the flavors of vegetables mellow from cooking.
Poblano peppers add some earthy spice to these burgers, and soften pleasingly when cooked first. In general, they are mild, but every once in a while a rogue hot one pops up, so be sure to taste the pepper before you add it, and cut back if it is too spicy for your taste. If you can’t find them, substitute Anaheim peppers or just plain old green bell peppers.
Onions and garlic lose their raw and sometimes jarring flavor and become sweetened by cooking. In addition, zucchini adds a creamy texture, but it can make your burgers soggy if it’s not cooked before adding it to the burger mix.
Make-Ahead Tips for Veggie Burgers When You Want Them
This recipe makes four large, filling burgers, suitable for hungry folks. One of these with all the add-ons and a bun makes a substantial meal all by itself. If you want smaller burgers, say for lunch, you will end up with four to six burgers, depending on the size you want.
Once shaped, the patties will keep in the fridge for a day or two—stack them between layers of parchment and wrap them in plastic.
You could also freeze them: Spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze, then stack them with parchment squares in between and enclose in a plastic freezer bag. Let them sit out at room temperature to partially (25 to 30 minutes) defrost before cooking.
Finally, the cooked patties do well reheated—brown them in a skillet, refrigerate them, and reheat them later in the oven with the cheese on top. It’s a handy way to make them ahead if you are having friends over.
Low and Slow Cooking
I prefer to make these in a skillet, but they could be grilled if handled carefully -- they are more fragile than a meat burger. I’d recommend chilling the burgers in the fridge for about an hour before grilling.
In either case you need plenty of oil (in the pan or on the grill grates) and medium heat. The burgers need time to heat all the way through and if the heat is too hot, they will brown on the outside but stay cool in the middle.
Top With Spicy Mayo!
The spicy mayonnaise I’ve created for these burgers is mildly hot with a sharp punch of lime. If you like more spice, add more chili powder, or substitute finely chopped chipotle chilies in adobo to taste.
With flavorful beany burgers, and onions, tomato and avocado as toppings, you already have a feast—but the spiced mayonnaise makes them sing.
More Summertime Meatless Mains to Try!
Black Bean Burgers With Spicy Mayonnaise
- For the spicy mayonnaise:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 3/4 teaspoon ancho chile powder
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- For the burgers:
- 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 poblano pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1/2 medium onion, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 medium zucchini (about 9 ounces), cut into 1-inch chunks
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 slice whole wheat bread, or 1/2 burger roll, torn into pieces
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed, drained and patted dry with paper towels
- 1 large egg, well beaten
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 to 6 ounces shredded Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese
- For serving:
- 4 to 6 hamburger rolls
- 1 large red onion, sliced
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- 1 medium ripe avocado, sliced
- Food processor
Make the spicy mayonnaise:
In a bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, ancho chili powder and lime juice. Set aside, or refrigerate for up to a week.
Chop the vegetables:
In a food processor, finely chop the garlic. Add the pepper and onion and pulse until finely chopped. Add the zucchini and pulse again to chop it into small pieces.
Cook the vegetables:
In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the chopped garlic, pepper, onion, and zucchini. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Transfer to a large bowl. Wipe out the skillet.
Make the breadcrumbs:
Without cleaning the food processor, add the torn bread pieces and pulse until they form soft breadcrumbs. Add to the bowl of vegetables.
Chop the beans:
In the food processor (again, don’t bother to wash it), pulse the beans until they are in small pieces, but not pasty. Transfer to the bowl with the vegetables and breadcrumbs.
Mix and refrigerate the burger mix:
Add the egg, salt, and pepper to the bowl. With a spatula, stir until well mixed. Refrigerate for an hour.
Shape the patties:
Shape the chilled mixture into 4 to 6 patties about 3 inches wide. At this point, the patties can be cooked immediately, or stacked between parchment and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Cook the burgers:
In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the patties and cook for 5 minutes on a side, or until browned and hot all the way through. Top with the grated cheese, cover the pan, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
Assemble the burgers:
Spread the spicy mayonnaise on the bottoms and tops of the buns. Add the burgers and top with sliced tomatoes, onions, avocados and lettuce. Serve extra mayonnaise on the side.