I mentioned earlier this week that I’ve been in pursuit of a great veggie burger. It started when, on another trip up to beautiful northern Michigan, I had the best veggie burger I’ve had in a long time. It didn’t hurt that we were sitting outside in a picturesque small town, or that our kids were both happy and behaving themselves. But this burger was definitely several cuts above the frozen patties you find at the grocery store; it had an earthy depth of flavor and beautiful maroon color, and you could see actual vegetables in the mixture. It was served with pickled red onions on top that added just the right sharp notes to contrast the buttery brioche bun, and the burger held together when I bit into it. I decided then that I had to recreate it at home.
I ate vegetarian for about three years in my twenties, until I reached the third trimester of my first pregnancy and decided that I needed buffalo chicken wings right now. Six years later and I’m still cooking mostly vegetarian at home, and I hardly ever eat red meat (unless it’s in a good bowl of pho, which I cannot resist). Which is to say that, even now at the height of barbecue season, we don’t grill burgers at home. But I do love all the trimmings of a good burger, and I jumped at the chance to create a hearty veggie version loaded up with fixings and sandwiched between a rich bun to enjoy outside on a warm summer night.
With beets, mushrooms, carrots, and kidney beans, these burgers are loaded with nutrients. I also used cumin and smoked paprika to amp up the earthy and smoky flavors. If you cook the beets and mushrooms first, they will release some of their moisture, which makes sure that the burger patties aren’t soggy. This also brings out the sweetness in the beets, which plays off nicely against the spices.
During my first attempt at these patties, I mashed the beans by hand, leaving big chunks of veggies and beans intact. I found that this made the patties too crumbly for my liking after they were cooked, so on the second try I pulsed the mixture in the food processor. Most of the mixture got pureed, but I still left a few bigger pieces of beans and veggies to give the patties some texture. They were easy to form by hand, and kept their shape on the bun. I decided to bake them to get them cooked evenly, but you could also fry them in a thin layer of grapeseed or olive oil. If you go this route, I recommend putting them on some paper towel to blot away any excess oil.
I made the pickled red onions a day ahead of time, and they couldn’t be simpler. Combine white wine or rice wine vinegar, sugar, salt, and some garlic in a glass jar, add thinly sliced red onions, and let science do its thing. After thirty minutes, you have tart and tangy pickled red onions. I recommend putting a big pile of them on your burger, along with sliced avocado and a generous spread of chipotle mayo. The creaminess of the mayo and avocado contrast with the sharpness of the onion and the crunchy outside of the burger. Combined with the buttery brioche bun, these burgers are one of the best summer dinners I’ve made in a long time.
- 1 red onion
- ¾ cup rice wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
- ¾ cup shredded carrots (from 2 large carrots)
- 8 oz mushrooms
- 1 large or 2 small beets, diced
- 2 15 oz cans red kidney beans beans
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotle peppers
- Prep the pickled red onions. Peel and slice a red onion thinly. In a large mason jar or other glass container, combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic clove. Stir to dissolve. Add the red onion, make sure it’s completely covered, then seal the container and store for at least thirty minutes or up to five days.
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease or line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and beets, and sautee until the mushrooms cook and release their liquid, about 8 minutes.
- Rinse and drain the beans. Place the beans, shredded carrots, mushrooms, beets, cumin, paprika, and ½ cup oats in a food processor. Pulse for 20-30 seconds, then use a wooden spoon or a spatula to make sure the bigger pieces on top get down to the bottom. Pulse for another 30 seconds or so.
- Pour the mixture into a large bowl and add the rest of the oats and the egg, blending together with your hands or a wooden spoon.
- Using your hands, form 8 patties that are 1 inch thick. Place them on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 15 minutes. Take them out of the oven, flip them over, and bake another 15 minutes.
- Make the mayonnaise by mixing the adobo sauce and mayonnaise together.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve on a brioche bun with pickled red onion, avocado, and chipotle mayo.