I won at dinner this week. First, there was eggplant stew with not one, not two, but three homemade sauces (see details below). Then there were the buttery, spontaneous sweet potato dinner rolls to which I recklessly added cup after cup of flour and proofed by the fire without a timer in sight. The fluffy, sweet interior was as delicious as the golden tops were alluring. After that, mini brie and homemade pesto grilled cheese out of a baguette pulled from the freezer that morning, at which point I received a high five from Steve. Score. And then, then, there were these. The veggie burgers to literally end all veggie burgers. It worries me when I set the bar this high, because it all has to come crashing down with Papa John’s garlic sauce and a bottle of red wine eventually.
When I’m working on a recipe that has big potential (like these), I stress and procrastinate to no end. I literally dream about recipe development for three nights beforehand. I know, it’s just a recipe, but I have an issue starting projects that could end in failure (must be why I started this blog last July, instead of April). I must have pored over 23 different recipes trying to derive some semblance of a formula, and you know what? There is no magical formula. If you throw together components with bulk, texture, flavor, and, most importantly, binding properties, you’ll likely get a satisfactory non-meat burger. Except that I don’t want satisfactory. I want a veggie burger that isn’t a last resort, only-thing-left-in-the-house kind of meal which, if I’m being honest, is the way they usually end up for me. I want a patty I can sink my teeth deep into and have juices streaming down my arms. You know…a real burger, just with no meat.
Not a small order, but my first thought when I tasted, no, when I smelled this burger cooking, was, “veggie burger world domination.” Seriously. I wanted to Instagram a picture from the photo shoot with that very caption—does anyone else tend to think in Instagram captions?—but I got too anxious to finish up and eat the dang thing that I didn’t snap an iPhone photo with my BBQ sauce covered paws. Cheese doesn’t stay melty forever, people.
If you’ve assembled veggie patties before, my method won’t surprise you, but the ingredients are a synergy of tex-mex BBQ madness. Whoa. The burger itself consists mostly of black beans, smoky roasted eggplant (which, ever since I tried this salad, I’ve had a vision of combining with BBQ sauce), and cashew crumbs. I saw eggplant in a spectacular looking veg burger on Triple D once, and the image has stayed with me. It lends flavor, bulk, and binding, and is an absorbent medium for whatever else is thrown in there. In my case, “whatever else” includes, most notably, plenty of BBQ sauce, so there’s no messing around with eight different spices, a bit of tomato paste for some bite, roasted poblanos and garlic, and enough masa to absorb moisture and hold everything together.
I’ve made my fair share of crumbly veggie burgers, but these hold together like champions. I put them to the test by layering them between sweet potato buns crisped with butter in the cast iron skillet, two swipes of more BBQ, two layers of grated (it melts better) pepper jack cheese, a pile of sautéed mushrooms, and my favorite pickled red onions (subscribe to my email updates to get the recipe). Hardly a crumb of burger to be found. As tempting as it is to eat these babies straight away, freezing them or allowing the “batter” a few hours in the refrigerator significantly alleviates mushy-black-bean-burger syndrome. It’s also unlikely I’ll ever pan fry a veg burger again. The oven worked way better to dry and firm the burgers, it allows for cooking more than 3 or 4 patties at once, and if you add the mushrooms and cheese just before they’re finished, it melts perfectly, without having to mess with finding a cover for your skillet. Because what’s worse than a cold, hard slice of cheese on any kind of burger? Maybe a grilled chicken breast on top of a waffle, with no maple syrup in sight?
And what about that juice dripping down my arms? Got it covered. Adding moisture directly into a veggie burger doesn’t do the trick. It just yields a mushy or non-cohesive patty. While these burgers are about as moist as I can get them without running into problems, pile them high with those sautéed mushrooms, whose juices both soak into the cooked burger without consequence AND even make their way onto your shirt. No animal fat required.
For further evidence that this is your new year-round veggie burger, send inquiries to my supremely tolerant, omnivorous fiancé and IT man, who can recount my simultaneous chewing/explaining the recipe/flattering myself all through dinner just as fast as I could talk and chew. From the slightly surprised look on his face and eagerness for seconds, I think he was convinced at first bite.
- My tzatziki recipe (served with this week’s eggplant stew) is in the free eCookbook you get by subscribing to NCK via email. No, this is not a gimmick to coerce you into subscribing to daily emails. And if you’re not loving the weekly email updates, unsubscribe anytime and keep the eBook.
- Find one of my favorite pesto recipes (although I never make it the same way twice) in this pasta post.
- I made homemade harissa, using the recipe from this excellent book (also the source of my gratin-making adventure). Basically it’s just rehydrated mild chili peppers, plus oil and all those obscure spices taking up space in the cabinet. And men seem to dig it.
- When I made the sweet potato rolls, it was by the ugly yellow light of our condo, and I didn’t write down a thing–not exactly conducive to a shareable recipe. I promise to make them again, probably tomorrow, and post the recipe just as soon as I do.
A veggie burger you might actually catch yourself craving. Enough said.
- 1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
- 1 T vegetable oil (plus more, if pan frying)
- 1 small red onion, quartered lengthwise, with ends left on
- 1 poblano pepper, halved lengthwise
- 5 or 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 3 C cooked black beans (2 cans)
- 1 C coarsely ground cashews (unsalted; roasted or raw. Grind in food processor or finely chop. There should be a few larger pieces)
- 3 T masa
- 1 T tomato paste
- ¼ C BBQ sauce (your favorite kind), plus more for serving
- 1 1/4 t kosher salt
- 1/4 t ground black pepper
- 1 whole large egg (optional; see notes)
- Pepper jack cheese, grated or sliced (about 1/4 cup grated per burger)
- Sliced mushrooms sautéed in butter or olive oil (allow about 2 oz. mushrooms per burger)
- Pickled red onions (recipe in my eCookbook)
- BBQ sauce
- Burger buns
- Butter or mayonnaise (vegan or regular; for toasting buns)
- Turn broiler on and move rack about 8 to 10 inches from heat. Wash and dry eggplant, pierce in about 8 places with a paring knife, and use fingertips to coat thinly with oil. Broil on a foil-lined baking sheet about 20 minutes, turning about every 5 minutes until blackened on all sides and heavy with moisture. Reduce oven to 450, move one rack into bottom third of oven, and set eggplant aside on a cutting board to cool. When cool enough to handle, halve lengthwise to release steam. Peel charred skin from eggplant and discard, pull flesh into strips, remove conspicuous clusters of seeds, and place in a colander set over a bowl to drain.
- Use fingertips to lightly coat cut sides of onion with more oil. Place with one cut side down on the baking sheet and add poblano pepper halves, face up, and peeled garlic cloves to the sheet. Roast 10 minutes, then turn poblanos cut side down and turn onions so remaining cut sides face down. Remove any small, darkened garlic cloves. Roast 5 more minutes, until peppers are charred and onions are soft and caramelized. Reduce oven to 350, and place rack in middle position. After cooling vegetables and garlic, remove stems and seeds from peppers and roughly chop everything. Pulse in food processor to chop finely (or do so by hand. However, you’ll need the food processor anyway, so it’s easiest to use it) then empty into a large mixing bowl.
- Spread drained black beans on the baking sheet in a single layer, then cook in oven until dried and beginning to crack, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cool on tray, so escaping steam doesn’t add moisture and condensation in the food processor or bowl. Add half the beans to the bowl with the vegetables and pulse the other half 2 to 3 times for a couple seconds each, until coarsely chopped but not mashed. Add to mixing bowl.
- Once further cooled, stir and press eggplant in the colander with a wooden spoon to release the last of the excess moisture. Pulse in food processor until just creamy, with a few chunks expected. Add to mixing bowl.
- Add remaining ingredients, except egg, to the mixing bowl and stir to combine thoroughly. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. Stir in egg until well incorporated, breaking up the yolk as you stir. Do not taste once raw egg has been added.
- Refrigerate mixture 15 to 30 minutes (or up to 6 to 8 hours) to allow masa to moisten, binding the burgers. Form balls of 1/3 cup each (or desired size) of the mixture, then press to ½ inch thickness (3 to 4 inch diameter) and lay on wax paper or a plate. At this point, cook the burgers, or cover the patties with plastic wrap, ensure they’re not touching each other, and freeze until solid (around 3 hours). Wrap individually with foil, or just toss into a freezer bag. Thaw 5 to 10 minutes on a couple layers of paper towels before cooking.
- To bake (recommended): Place frozen or fresh patties onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake on middle rack of a 400 degree (F) oven about 20 minutes, until moderately browned on bottom. Turn burgers over and bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, add a layer of grated cheese, sauteed mushrooms, and more grated cheese, then bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until cheese is melted.
- To fry on the stovetop: Over medium, heat enough vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet to thinly coat the pan. Once hot, add as many patties as will comfortably fit, reduce heat slightly, and cook 4 to 6 minutes per side, until browned on the outside and cooked through. Add cheese and mushrooms after flipping burgers over. To aid melting of cheese, cover the skillet for a minute or two at the end (do not add water as you might with a beef patty–it will cause the veggie burger to loosen and potentially fall apart).
- Toast buns!
- Spread halved buns with vegan or regular butter or mayonnaise and place buttered sides on a moderately hot skillet (preferably cast iron). Fry until golden, a few minutes, monitoring closely.
Nutrition: Burgers are vegetarian and can be made vegan and the patties (without bun) are gluten free. As always, check ingredient lists on any packaged items when cooking for an allergy or otherwise strict diet.
On vegan patties: I cooked one burger using the mixture before adding the egg, and it held together well. I personally like the bit of extra firmness the egg provides, and the amount per burger is negligible (1/12th of an egg); however, to make these vegan, just omit the egg (and cheese topping) and confirm that none of your other ingredients contain animal products. I didn’t test it with this recipe, but I’ve successfully used flax eggs in veggie burgers before, and that substitution would likely provide a bit of extra binding.
- Prep Time: 40 mins
- Cook Time: 45 mins
- Category: Entree
- Cuisine: Comfort Food
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