Grilling in America almost always brings to mind burgers, the classic kind made with ground beef. But don’t overlook the more healthful veggie burgers, which have so immensely improved in taste and texture that they will amaze you if it’s been years since you tried one.
Gone are the bland, mushy tofu patties studded with sunflower seeds and grated carrots, the kind only a hard-core vegetarian could love. In less than ten years, this so-called “strictly health food” fare has become a major supermarket category. You can select from a “classic” patty that looks, tastes and even chews like a basic beef or cheeseburger, black bean burgers with spicy bite, full-flavored mushroom burgers and more. With ingredients like wheat or soy protein and egg white, depending on the brand and “flavor” you select, nearly all of them are cholesterol-free and most are low in fat.
So why make veggie burgers from scratch if there are so many good-tasting commercial versions? Because freshly made, with the ideal combination of ingredients, is always superior. The classic ingredients in a great home-made veggie burger – a freshly cooked grain, canned beans, vegetables and nuts – create a perfect balance of textures and flavor. Served on a toasted whole-wheat bun spread with mustard, and with a lettuce leaf and onion slice slipped inside, this veggie burger makes for such pure pleasure the fact that it’s incredibly healthy will almost seem irrelevant.
A good combination of ingredients might include bulgur, mushrooms, onions, walnuts, and pinto beans. The earthy-tasting wheat provides body; the mushrooms; meaty flavor; and the nuts, richness; and the mashed pintos give some heft. Cooking the vegetables and beans together intensifies their flavor, especially with a kick of chile pepper tossed in. Egg white and a modest amount of breadcrumbs bind the burgers and help hold in their moisture so they stay juicy as they cook.
– Makes 4 burgers.
3 Tbsp. bulgur
1/3 cup boiling water
1 Tbsp. canola oil
4 ounces sliced Portobello mushrooms, chopped
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 serrano or small jalapeño chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 large egg white
3 Tbsp. seasoned breadcrumbs
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 whole-wheat buns, split and toasted
4 tsp. coarse seed mustard
4 thin slices red onion
4 romaine lettuce leaves, washed and dried
Place bulgur in a small bowl. Add hot water to cover. Let sit until grain softens, 20 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat oil in a medium skillet over high heat until very hot. Sauté mushrooms until the liquid they release evaporates. Add onions, garlic and chili pepper. Cook until soft, about 8 minutes. Mix in nuts, beans, Worcestershire and soy sauces. Remove from heat and let cool.
Transfer mixture to a food processor and pulse 4 times. Add bulgur and pulse 4 times, until mixture is finely chopped but not puréed. (Or, chop by hand until very fine.) Transfer to a mixing bowl. Mix in egg white, breadcrumbs and pepper, to taste. Form mixture into four patties.
Grill burgers about 2 1/2 minutes per side. (Or cook in a large non-stick skillet with 2 teaspoons oil over medium-high heat. Cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes in all.)
Spread mustard on cut sides of buns. Add a lettuce leaf to the bottom halves, then a burger, then a slice of red onion. Add the top halves of the buns and serve.
Per serving: 354 calories, 13 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat), 50 g. carbohydrate, 13 g. protein, 10 g. dietary fiber, 643 mg. sodium.
“Something Different” is written for the by Dana Jacobi, author of The Joy of Soy and recipe creator for AICR’s Stopping Cancer Before It Starts.