The Quest for the Perfect Veggie Burger

Let’s make this absolutely clear: nothing is better than a good hamburger.  When I make burgers I go to the butcher and buy beef shortribs, bone and grind them, and make the most delicious and meaty burgers with them.  They are a delight to behold and to eat and are truly one of the finest burgers you have never had the privilege of trying.

But sometimes it’s nice to have a vegetarian alternative to the classic burger.  I’m not interested in commercially-available soy protein based burgers.  They offer very little in terms of flavour, and from an environmental and ethical perspective, I’d much rather eat well-raised beef than a highly-processed food reliant on a byproduct of the petroleum industry.  When I want a veggie burger, I want something flavourful that gives me something that I wouldn’t normally get from a beef burger.

Making veggie burgers is surprisingly difficult though.  The ones I’ve made in the past have generally tasted good but it’s been really tough to get the texture right: a meat burger has that great firm bite, but my experiments in bean-based veggie burgers have been mushy.  When you bite into them, the patty flattens and squeezes from the side of the bun.  It’s not great.

The best veggie burger recipe I’ve tried to date comes from Mille Petrozza of my favorite Teutonic thrash band, Kreator, and can be found in Annick “Morbid Chef” Giroux’s suberb cookbook Hellbent for Cooking.  Mille’s burgers are oat-based and have this wonderful firm texture that is pleasant to bite into.  They also seemed like the perfect base from which to explore different veggie burger flavours.

I went for the classic flavour of black beans for this veggie burger experiment, and used Tex-Mex inspired spices to season it.  We topped the burgers with sour cream, some homemade mango salsa that needed more heat, sliced avocado, red onion, and cilantro to keep with the Tex-Mex theme, but you could really use any toppings for this.

It was a fairly successful experiment.  The flavours were all solid and while I never set out to replicate the taste of a beef burger, this burger did have a nice earthiness that didn’t bring beef to mind, but did recall the sort of taste that makes a burger so great.  It was decent texturally, though it perhaps could have used more oats in proportion to the beans.  Though it could just be that I tend to make my burgers wide and flat, because Anna had one of these for leftovers the next day but she made hers thicker and said that the texture was better on that one.  In the meantime, the quest will continue until I have made the perfect veggie burger.

Black Bean Burgers
makes 4 decent sized burgers

1 cup dried black beans, soaked overnight
1 cup oats
1 small onion, diced
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1 tsp cumin, toasted and ground
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano (more if using fresh)
A handful of chopped cilantro
4 cups vegetable stock
Salt and pepper

Soak the beans overnight.  Chop the onion and cook it in a medium-sized saucepan with your choice of oil until the onion is translucent.  Add the beans, throw in the veggie stock and your spices, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a vigorous simmer.  Simmer until the beans are nice and tender, probably close to an hour, then add the oats and boil until the whole mixture is thick and gooey.  Let this cool for a bit then transfer it to a food processor, add the cilantro, and process it until the whole thing is a nice uniform mixture.  Form into burger-sized patties and fry in a skillet until they’re nicely browned and crispy on the outside.  Serve with your favorite toppings.