Vegan burgers have suffered from a bad reputation for years. People thought they were either dry or mushy, bland or icky. But if you do it right (like Dan Barber’s famed beet burger), a vegan burger can be as umami-packed and rich as your bloody beef burger. No, really. Well, OK, almost. Note the big qualifier there: If you do it right. There are many ways to mess it up, says Diane Bezanski, recipe developer, food blogger and photographer, and chef-owner of the Fogwood & Fig café coming to Port Jervis, New York, in August.
Bezanski ran a pop-up that sold four kinds of vegan burgers twice a month in Brooklyn, New York, and Morristown, New Jersey. At one point, she offered eight kinds of vegan burgers through her Flirty Burger Bar catering service, such as the chickpea sweet potato burger with Sriracha peanut sauce, ginger sesame slaw, house pickles, onion, and avocado. The most popular burger is her black lentil and mushroom patty with chili cherry sauce, avocado, arugula, onion, and Sriracha lemon aioli.
Then Bezanski moved to the quiet countryside in Milford, Pennsylvania, and hatched her plan to open the cafe. Fogwood & Fig will have a rotating selection of three vegan burgers. Bezanski has been a vegan for five years and cooking longer than that. She gave us these tips for the very best vegan burgers around.
1. Don’t add too much flour. “That makes it gummy, just a really bad texture and mouthfeel,” Bezanski says. “When you bite into it, the patty falls apart.” For two cups of beans or lentils, she uses a half cup of flour. “I can go up to three-quarters if the batter is a little too wet, but not more than that.” To make your burger gluten-free, grind oats in your coffee grinder or food processor.
2. Bake, not fry. Baking is another way to help the burger bond. It’s also a way for you to make sure the inside cooks all the way through without burning the outside. You can sear it afterward, just like you (or omnivores) do with meat. Use a cast-iron skillet or a pan with an oven-safe handle.
3. Don’t overcook your legumes. That can make for a mushy burger. Black lentils are Bezanski’s favorite legumes, but black beans, chickpeas, pinto beans, black-eyed peas, and cannellini beans are also common.
4. Mix it up. Bezanski’s go-to burger has not only black lentils, but mushrooms, assertive seasonings, rice, nuts, and seeds for various textures and flavors. “Toasted walnuts, ground up, give it a kind of meaty vibe,” she says. Another example: Bezanski likes to use sweet potato in her curry chickpea patty for another dimension of flavor and mouthfeel.
5. Pay attention to moisture content. If Bezanski is using a vegetable with a lot of water content, she makes sure to squeeze out that moisture. That includes beets and zucchini, which she peels and grates before pressing out the water and incorporating raw. The baking of the burger cooks it enough.
6. Include all the complementary flavors. “For me, it’s everything,” Bezanski says. “I develop my burgers so that the sauce and pickling and condiments go with the patty, and if a customer wants part of one burger with a part of another, I don’t like to do that. I created the flavors to go together.” Umami, acid, sweet, and salty are important contenders.
7. Don’t forget the sauce. Flavor your aioli, make a chimichurri, or a fruit-based sauce. Blend the fruit and cook it up in the pan with spices, chili flakes, and an unrefined sugar such as maple syrup. “Add that fruit sauce to something savory and spicy, and you’ve got a nice balance,” she says. Customers love her chile cherry sauce with her smoky black lentil burger, her spiced cranberry sauce with her fennel sage tempeh burger, and her strawberry barbecue sauce with her smoky pinto bean and brown rice burger.
8. Add crunch.
“You’ve gotta have some crunch in there, so it’s not just mush,” Bezanski says. Do it with raw onions, pickled onions, cabbage, or cabbage slaw. Or maybe even baked sweet potato chips – inside the burger.
Bezanski isn’t revealing her exact burger recipes as she opens her café, but these burgers plus one sauce are prime picks in the vegan burger world, whether or not you eat animal products.
1. Moroccan Yam Veggie Burgers with Cilantro Lime Tahini Sauce
That bright, zingy, nutty topping plus the complex medley of spices in the patty really gets us excited. Chickpeas and yam make the muscle of this burger and oat flour plus flax seed meal bind it all. Get the recipe.
2. Black-Eyed Pea Vegan Burgers
A can of black-eyed peas and some mushrooms make this burger meaty. Get our Black-Eyed Pea Vegan Burgers recipe.
3. Chipotle Pumpkin Veggie Burgers
Equal parts pumpkin puree and cannellini beans get smoked with chipotle peppers and more. That more involves mashed avocado and a spicy aioli, which you can make or buy a vegan version. Get the recipe.
4. Cilantro-Almond Pesto
Slather your burger with this sauce and you won’t complain about lack of flavor. Get our Cilantro-Almond Pesto recipe.
5. The Divine Burger
With beets, shiitake mushrooms, and a chipotle tomato jam, this flavor bomb will seem like a gift from above. It’s also a good way to use up some tofu and tempeh, if you have that lying around. Get the recipe.
6. Falafel Burgers
Garbanzo beans do the heavy lifting in this burger that’s more often seen in ball form in gyro sandwiches. A ton of cilantro and parsley make this patty green. Get our Falafel Burger recipe.
7. Black Bean Burger
You get pop some amaranth for this burger, which is a collision of so many ingredients that you’ll want to make a bunch and freeze some for later. We’re salivating. Get the recipe.
— Head image: Fogwood & Fig.
Amy Sowder is the assistant editor at Chowhound in New York City. She loves cheesy things, especially toasties and puns. She’s trying to like mushrooms. Her running habit is the excuse for her gelato passion. Or is it the other way around? Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, and her blog, What Do I Eat Now. Learn more at AmySowder.com.