Veggie burgers with structural integrity!
August 4, 2005 1:27 PM   Subscribe

VeggieBurgerFilter: Help me make a homemade veggie burger that wont fall to bits when I put it on the grill.

There are a million recipes online, and most of them seem to work okay for frying, but whenever I've tried to put a homemade veggie patty on the grill, it's too mushy/liquidy/particulate to hold together and breaks up and falls through the slats.

Are there some key ingredients that lend the needed cohesion to a burger? I thought maybe tofu, TVP, eggs? How do the frozen commercial ones do it? Please, lend me your recipes (eggs and dairy are ok).
posted by keatsandyeats to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
The July/August 2005 issue of Cook's Illustrated had a great recipe for veggie burgers. They used lentils, bulgur wheat, some veggies, mushrooms, cashews and panko breadcrumbs as the bulk of the burger, with mayo as the binder.

Tofu doesn't work very well as it is too watery.
posted by skwm at 1:32 PM on August 4, 2005

The secret I've usually heard is egg whites as the glue, with a bit if shredded cheese that gets sticky when the thing cooks and has a bit of sticking power. Not every veggie burger recipe is really meant to be grilled so some of these recipes may be fine for pan-frying or microwaves. I've also seen small flour-and-water solutions for stickiness but never had any luck with them.
posted by jessamyn at 1:36 PM on August 4, 2005

3/4 c. dried brown lentils
2 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c. bulgur wheat
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1 large celery rib, chopped fine
1 small leek, chopped fine
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 poung cremini or white mushrooms, sliced
1 c. raw unsalted cashews
1/2 c. mayonaise
2 c. panko breadcrumbs
black pepper

1. Boil 3c water, lentils and 1 tsp salt over high heat, reduce to medium and simmer, oncoverd, until lentils are just beginning to fall apart, about 25 minutes. Drain. Dry on paper-towel lined baking sheet, cool to room temp.

2. Boil 2.c water, 1/2 tsp salt. Add bulgur wheat, cover, remove from heat. Let stand for 15-20 minutes, until water is absorbed. Drain and press out excess water.

3. Sautee onions, celery, leek, garlic in 1 tsp oil until vegetables brown, about 10 minutes. Spread on baking sheet to cool. Sautee mushrooms in 1 tsp oil until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Spread on sheet to cool.

4. Process cashes in food processor until finely chopped. Stir into bowl w/bulgur, lentils, vegetables, mushrooms and mayo. Mix. Transfer 1/2 of mixture back into food processor, pulse about 15 times, until mixture is cohesive but roughly tectured. Repeat with second half. Stir in panko, 1 tsp salt, pepper.

5. Make into patties. Put patties in paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Cook on oiled grill about 5 minutes on each side.
posted by skwm at 1:40 PM on August 4, 2005 [2 favorites]

What I do with mine is (a) include an egg, (b) include grated cheese, and (c) par-bake them. That is, I bake them in the oven at 350 for about 15 minutes and let them cool before I wrap them up and put them in the freezer. That gives the egg and cheese a chance to do their binding things before you put them on the grill. If they're still partially frozen when you start them on the grill, so much the better (though you do run the danger of cold-in-the-middle burgers that way).

My most recent recipe:

3 cups water
3/4 cup split red lentils (dal)
1/4 cup green lentils
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1/2 cup medium or fine bulgur
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
1-2 carrots, chopped fine
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup frozen corn
1 egg, lightly beaten
4-6 ounces grated cheese of any type (cheddar, swiss, whatever)
Chopped parsley and basil to taste

Put the water, lentils, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Skim off the foam and reduce to a simmer. Cook until the green lentils are tender and the red lentils have broken down into a puree, about 30 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and bring back to a boil. Put the bulgar in the bottom of a large bowl and pour the boiling lentil mixture over it. Mix well and let sit for about half an hour while you take care of other preparations.

Preheat the oven to 350. Meanwhile, saute your onion in the olive oil until it's tranluscent and soft. Add the carrots and saute about five minutes more. Add the garlic and cook another moment.

Once your bulgur mixture is nice and stiff -- about half an hour, as I said -- mix in the contents of the frying pan, oil and all. Mix well. Stir in the corn, then the cheese, taste for salt, then mix in the egg, and finally the herbs. Oil a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Form your mixture into patties and arrange on the sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet before you wrap them up and put them in the freezer.
posted by redfoxtail at 1:46 PM on August 4, 2005

one important thing to keep in mind with the Cook's Illustrated recipe that skwm posted is that you should hold off on stirring in the panko until your grill is lit and ready.

Within ten minutes of stirring and patty-forming the panko will have absorbed too much moisture from the mayonnaise. Holding the panko stirring and patty forming to the last minute means the patty will have a good crunch, and not taste like a glorified mushroom puree.

The recipe also begs for some sort of spice rub or other flavor boost. The combination of mushrooms, lentils, cashews and mayo is good for texture but not much else.
posted by bl1nk at 1:49 PM on August 4, 2005

Yes, bake beforehand. Here's my favorite:

1 1/2 cups cooked (or canned) black beans
1 1/2 cups other cooked/canned beans (I like chick peas and lentils)
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
a couple of carrots
2 cups salsa OR a large can of tomatos (drain the liquid) and hot sauce to taste
a chopped onion
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp pepper
salt to taste
chili powder to taste

You can also chuck in any leftover veggies you have.

Either steam the carrot and mash it up, or grate it. Add that to the beans, green pepper, onion, salsa, onion, garlic and flour. Season with the last 3 ingredients.

Add flour to make a firmer mixture, salsa or tomato if mixture is too stiff.

Form patties and bake at 350 for minutes.

I like these because they taste great and because the black beans give the patties a nice, dark colour. They also freeze well, are great reheated in the oven, or done on the grill.
posted by Cuke at 2:37 PM on August 4, 2005

Whoops. That should be "bake at 350 for 15 minutes".
posted by Cuke at 2:38 PM on August 4, 2005

My father makes the best homemade veggie burgers, much much better than storebought. Unfortunately he's away on business, so I'll have to get back to you with the actual proportions (although he approaches all cooking like chili, so there may in fact be no true proportions) but I know the recipe inclues the following:

Lightlife Smart Ground ("Beef" or "Sausage")
Lipton Instant Soup/Dip Onion mix
Old Bay Seasoning, whatever other spices you like

He makes it just like you would "real" hamburger patties, just with the soy in place of the meat: mix it all in a bowl, mush it around by hand, etc. Then grill them up on the BBQ.

I will try and track down a formal recipe if he has one and post it here!
posted by nelleish at 3:04 PM on August 4, 2005

Usually I find tempeh to work better than straight up veggies. I've been trying to find the recipe for the best veggie burger I have ever had, from WaterCourse in Denver.
posted by scazza at 3:17 PM on August 4, 2005

Another tip: I grill veggie burgers on a grid basket thing like you use for grilling vegetables, rather than on the regular wide slat grill.

Something like this.
posted by bcwinters at 6:28 PM on August 4, 2005

keatsandyeats, I make a lot of different veggieburgers and I've had many of them fall through the grates of my grill. Some recipes work better than others, but I have discovered one secret that makes a big difference with all of them:

Make sure your grill is hotter than hell.

If you can scorch the outside a bit, they stay together much better, and it's tough to really "burn" a veggie burger. They all seem to stand up to a lot of scorching without negative effects. A little hibachi ain't gonna cut it. You need a hot grill. Enjoy.
posted by etc. at 6:37 PM on August 4, 2005

Response by poster: awesome! I like the prebaking idea, will definitely try it. nelleish, that is a tantalizingly eccentric list of ingredients. I love oatmeal.
posted by keatsandyeats at 9:36 PM on August 4, 2005

I've had a certain amount of success with continental lentils, fried onions and mushrooms, herbs (whatever's lying around), a little chilli, breadcrumbs and egg white to bind. Mix it all up, make sure there's enough egg white that you can roll them in flour (gram flour works well). This variety often stay together better after freezing.
posted by handee at 2:43 AM on August 5, 2005

Brush a clean destemmed portobello mushroom cap with olive oil. Grill. Even better with garlic-infused olive oil.
posted by mendel at 6:19 PM on August 5, 2005

And if you don't want to use a portobello mushroom, an inch-thick round slice of eggplant - also with the oil - will serve nicely in place of a burger patty. Gets the grill marks, gets warm and eggplanty on the inside - mmm.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:55 PM on August 7, 2005

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