Chow Bella

Build a Better Veggie "Burger"

There are two reasons veggie burgers get a bad rap. The first is the name. After all, a good burger is typically defined as meaty, juicy and smoky. A good veggie burder doesn't need to be any of that. Then there is the frozen variety of garden-veggie burgers; the cooked contents never look like the photo on the box in their range of beige-brown color, most are flavorless and lack sink-your-teeth-in texture.

I am calling for a name change. I'll call it a veggie patty and if you have a better name, let's hear it! It's not difficult to make a veggie patty better than the processed frozen version to cook and eat, burger style (ha), at home.

Beans and rice form the base of most vegetarian patties with cooked vegetables, herbs and condiments mixed in. The ratio of beans and rice to vegetables varies; a good starting point is 1 lb of cooked beans, 1 cup of cooked rice and 2 cups of vegetables. There are websites and cookbooks devoted to creating great veggie patty recipes. Here are a few pointers for homemade patties filled with flavor, texture and a toothy crust.

Base: The dominant ingredients in most veggie patties are precooked beans and rice. To add flavor to the base ingredients, start with dried beans, soak then simmer with onion and aromatic herbs. Cook the rice in vegetable stock instead of water. Experiment with a variety of beans- black beans, garbanzo, white, adzuki and pinto. Substitute the beans with legumes like lentils and the rice with other grains like couscous or seeds like quinoa.

Make sure the cooked beans and grains are dry of excess liquid before adding to a mixture. If a recipe calls for processing the base ingredients, leave about a quarter of the amount called for whole to add contrast and texture.

Binder: The patties need a binder ingredient to help hold the mixture together and keep a patty shape. Whole rolled oats, oat bran, whole egg or egg whites do the job. A few tablespoons of mashed potatoes, crushed corn flakes, chickpea flour or spelt flour can be used as well.

Vegetables: Combinations of vegetables that taste good sautéed, roasted or grilled are good fixings to mix in to the base of a veggie patty. Vegetables that are in season together make good combos as are vegetables prominent in particular cuisines: Asian style- (adzuki bean base) edamame, water chestnuts, and Napa cabbage or Italian style- (white beans) zucchini, rapini, and sun dried tomato. It is important to drain excess liquid from the cooked vegetables before adding to the mixture.

Spices, herbs and condiments: Be generous with dried herbs and spices, those patties need to carry flavor when sandwiched between a bun. Sprinkle dried herbs and spices on the vegetables while cooking to release their essential flavor. Fresh chopped herbs should be added when all the ingredients are mixed together. Add some heat with smoked paprika, a bit of chipotle, or chili powder. Restaurants develop flavors in their veggie "burgers" by seasoning with soy, tamari, and hoisin sauces, barbeque sauce, ketchup and mustard. Another recipe tip is to add sweetness with a touch of molasses, honey and even chopped dried fruit.

Cooking tips:
Mix all prepared ingredients.
Let the mixture rest in refrigerator for 30-40 minutes before forming patties.
Portion and roll the mixture into a ball then flatten with the palm of your hand.
Heat a cast iron or stainless steel skillet.
Add enough butter or oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
Place the patties in the skillet. Sear until the bottom and bottom edges are golden brown.
Gently turn the patties over and brown on second side. Place on toasted bun, add garnish and serve.

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