You may have noticed that there are a lot of really bad veggie burgers in the world. The frozen ones from the grocery store generally taste and feel like a cross between cardboard and sawdust, and the amount of sodium they contain is enough to raise a dead person's blood pressure. On the rare occasion that a homemade veggie burger is available at a restaurant, it tends to be only somewhat better. Most of the ones I've encountered have been bland, mushy and generally uninspired. If you ever have the good fortune to eat at Rosetta's Kitchen in Asheville, N.C. you will encounter a notable exception to this observation. I also had a freshly made burger from Whole Foods recently that was pretty darn tasty.
Generally, though, this is a distressing situation for those of us who don't eat the meat burger or would sometimes just rather not. The importance of adding a delicious vegetarian hamburger alternative to the American diet was made more salient this month when the American Dietetic Association (ADA) released a position paper giving props to the vegetarian diet.
"It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. The results of an evidence-based review showed that a vegetarian diet is associated with a lower risk of death from ischemic heart disease. Vegetarians also appear to have lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes than nonvegetarians. Furthermore, vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Features of a vegetarian diet that may reduce risk of chronic disease include lower intakes of saturated fat and cholesterol and higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, soy products, fiber, and phytochemicals."
Woohoo! Go veg!
If you or your children are vegetarians on some level, I suggest printing the above quote on colorful note cards and handing them out to friends and family members who tell you that your children/fetus/body aren't eating enough meat.
Now, we can't all be vegetarians. I eat fish and even the occasional piece of bacon. But cutting some meat out of the diet is a goal for a lot of people, and that's where my veggie burgers come in. Replace a burger night with them, make them for vegetarian friends or family, or just make them for their own lentilly goodness. Initially inspired by a recipe in Cook's Illustrated (Note: You have to be a member to view their recipes), I've been working on perfecting my own veggie burger recipe for some years and finally feel ready to bring it into the scrutinizing light of the public eye.
Best Veggie Burgers
What you need:
1 small onion (about a 1/4 cup), minced
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup finely chopped greens
2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
2 cups cooked lentils, drained thoroughly and mashed
1 carrot, grated and squeezed
2 tbsp nuts or seeds, toasted
1-2 tbsp soy sauce
2-3 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped
1½ to 2 cups cracker or bread crumbs
What to do:
1. Note: If you are cooking your own lentils, do that first. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil over medium heat in a medium skillet. Add the onion and sauté until translucent. Add the garlic and greens and cook until the greens are softened.
2. While the veggies are cooking combine the mashed lentils, carrot, nuts or seeds, eggs, soy sauce, and herbs in a large bowl.
3. Add the cooked veggies and combine thoroughly. Add cracker or bread crumbs until the mixture is no longer wet. It should be as dry as you can get it while still able to hold together easily.
5. Heat the other tbsp of oil on medium heat. Add as many patties as will fit and sauté for a few minutes on each side. You want the egg to cook and the patties to heat through. Add a bit more oil if you have to cook multiple batches. The patties should be nicely browned on both sides.
Serve immediately with desired condiments and toppings. We like ours on lightly toasted English muffins.
A few notes on the ingredients:
First of all, everything except the lentils and the crumbs in this recipe is optional. Obviously, a veggie burger made with just lentils and crumbs might taste a bit lacking, but my point is that you can leave out some of the other ingredients if you don't like or have them, and it's no big deal. Even the eggs; the burgers will hold together just fine without them.
Lentils cook very quickly (30 minutes or so -- faster if you soak them for a couple hours first), so there's no need to buy canned lentils, but you can if you want. You can mash with a potato masher or put them in the food processor. I got an immersion blender for Christmas and it is awesome! So easy to use and hardly any mess to clean up!
The greens can be any edible green leafy thing (although I wouldn't recommend lettuce).
I use sunflower seeds, but any seed or nut would work. I would chop larger ones. If they’re not already toasted, I toast them on the tray in my toaster oven.
I usually use parsley and/or basil because that's what I like and have in my garden. But you should use whatever you like. Thyme and dill would make a nice combo.
Source of quote: American Dietetic Association. 2009. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Volume 109, Issue 7, Pages 1266-128