One of my favorite comfort foods is a good, old-fashioned veggie burger. A burger where I can see and taste some actual vegetables, grains, nuts or beans. Over the years, I’ve eaten countless veggie burgers and learned a few things about how to make a tasty one. When I mentioned my go-to recipe (but didn’t share it) in a recent column, I heard from a number of you who wanted more details. I’m happy to oblige.

My favorite veggie burgers are homemade. However, since Maine is blessed with many homegrown veggie burger companies, I do cook and eat quite a few frozen veggie burgers. Frozen burgers are especially handy to bring to cookouts or to fry up for a quick, weeknight dinner.

Yet, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a homemade veggie burger. When I first started making veggie burgers decades ago, they tended to be crumbly affairs. I could smush them together into a patty, but as soon as I attempted to flip them, they fell apart. For many years, this was the state of my veggie burger life. To compensate, I often just let my homemade veggie burgers fall apart and then I wrapped the pan-fried bits in a tortilla. Delicious.

But over the years, I’ve had a chance to talk with chefs about how they make veggie burgers, and I’ve learned from these conversations. The biggest takeaway I’ve gleaned from the pros is that veggie burgers need a binder to make them firm enough to flip without crumbling. Top binders in vegan veggie burgers include oats, textured vegetable protein, vital wheat gluten and panko bread crumbs. The chefs got me experimenting with panko.

My go-to veggie burger recipe was given to me by my vegetarian college roommate in the early 1990s. Back then, the recipe called for mashed chickpeas, cooked rice, chopped onions, tomato paste and seasonings. Tasty, but crumbly. In more recent years, I began adding panko breadcrumbs and the burger became flippable. Now, I knead the panko breadcrumbs by hand into a dough with the other ingredients. It creates a firm, but still tender veggie burger that develops a nice crispy outside when pan fried.

You can use the same mixture to make a veggie dog. Photo by Avery Yale Kamila

By adding the breadcrumbs, I can make up to 5-inch diameter patties and flip them without a problem. I’ve also made other shapes, including sliders and veggie dogs. I get the firmest patties if I refrigerate the veggie burger mix overnight. However, I’m not always that organized and know from experience that the mixture works fine when formed into patties and cooked right away. The veggie burgers will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week, and they can also be formed, stacked with parchment paper between the patties, covered, and frozen for later use.

However you enjoy them, these veggie burgers make a hearty, comforting meal.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in downtown Portland. She can be reached at [email protected] and
Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

Tomato-Chickpea Veggie Burgers

Recipe from Avery Yale Kamila. When choosing your rice, bear in mind that short-grain is stickier. You can also make these burgers with fresh herbs. 

Makes 8 burgers

1½ cups (or one 14-ounce can) cooked and drained chickpeas
2 cups cooked brown rice, either long grain or short grain
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
1 cup diced onions
8 ounces tomato sauce
1½ teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried, finely ground rosemary
Vegetable oil, to fry

Mash the chickpeas with a potato ricer or fork in a mixing bowl, leaving a few chunks. Add all the other ingredients except for the oil and knead with your hands until the mixture is fully incorporated, slightly stiff and not too wet or sticky. For best results, let the mixture firm up more in the refrigerator overnight, but you can also use it right away.

Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the vegetable oil to the pan to heat. Meanwhile, form the mixture into 8 patties. Pan fry the patties until crispy and brown on both sides and heated through, 5-7 minutes per side. Serve immediately on buns with traditional burger toppings, or over cooked grains with salad or roasted vegetables.


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