Making bean burgers

Who knew bean burgers could be so much work!

For plenty of vegetarians and vegans, processed soy burgers are a dietary staple.  Giving up meat is just a matter of switching the type of burger you buy.  Otherwise, nothing else changes. This doesn’t say much for the nutritional quality of those types of diets.  It’s entirely possible to be a vegetarian — technically — while living on a steady diet of processed food.  I’ve never been a fan of those processed plant patties, whatever they’re made of.  They typically contain texturizers and additives that attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of meat, but somehow never quite succeed.

Which isn’t to say I’m opposed to plant-based burgers.  I’ve got a recipe for a very simple bean burger in my book “Feed Your Vegetarian Teen“, and I’ve been collecting bean burger recipes I find in magazines and online. Bean burgers you make yourself are going to be different from the processed ones in some important ways:

  • no additives: flavors, texturizers, emulsifiers
  • the option to use quality ingredients for great flavor
  • a less rubbery texture, which could be good or bad depending on your preferences
  • home made varieties require more work

I recently set out to try some of my saved recipes, thinking I’d mix up 2-3 different batches in an afternoon, so that dinner could be a bean burger taste test event.  After finishing one recipe, I was done for the day.  Making your own bean burgers is time-consuming and detail oriented.  You need to have good basic cooking skills.  This is not a recipe you whip up in 5 minutes for a quick dinner.  Having said that, if you do take the time, it’s easy to freeze leftover burger fixings for quick use another time.

The recipe is for Garlicky White Bean burgers, from Fine Cooking Magazine, August/September 2015.  I first had to peruse the pantry and make a list of a few ingredients I don’t usually keep around, such as farro, a boutique grain related to wheat.  Here’s a step-by-step description of how I prepared these:

First, heat 2 TB olive oil in a sauce pan that has a cover, and sauté about 1-1/2 cups chopped onion with 1/2 tsp fennel seed and 2 tsp minced fresh rosemary.  You could use 1/2 tsp dried rosemary for more convenience.  After the onions start to brown a bit, add 1/3 cup uncooked farro and 1 cup vegetable broth.  Cover and simmer 20-25 minutes until the farro is cooked.

Farro

Can’t find farro?  You can probably substitute barley or even short grain brown rice or bulgur wheat.  The farro is less about a flavor and more about the whole grain chewy texture.

While that’s simmering, mince three cloves garlic (or use about 2 tsp pre-chopped garlic).  Heat another 1 TB olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and sauté the garlic gently.  Add 1/3 cup Panko bread crumbs and continue to cook, as the crumbs get crispy.  Turn off the heat.

The farro is cooked. Ready for next step.

Prep some additional ingredients:

  1. Toast 1/4 cup pine nuts in a 350° oven for about 5 minutes until just browning.  Chop into smaller pieces.
  2. Drain a 15-oz can of cannellini beans.
  3. Mince 1/4 cup of roasted red peppers (available in jars)
  4. Mince 2 TB flat leaf parsley
  5. Grate 1/2 tsp lemon zest.

All the ingredients in a bowl

Put everything into a large mixing bowl, including

  • the cooked farro/onion mixture
  • the garlic Panko bread crumbs
  • one 15 oz can drained cannellini beans
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup minced red pepper
  • chopped pine nuts
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • lemon zest
  • minced parsley
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Mashed ingredients

Use a potato mashes to mash all the ingredients together into a chunky mixture.  Most of the beans should be mashed, but leaving a few pieces is fine, for texture.  Whisk an egg in a bowl and add to the mash, stirring in thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1/2 hour, or longer if not cooking right away.

When you’re ready to cook, divide the burger dough into 8 balls.  Flatten each into a patty roughly 3 – 3-1/2 inches across.  Heat a large skillet and add 2 TB canola or peanut oil.  Cook the bean burgers 3 minutes on each side to brown.  Serve on buns, or on a bed of zesty greens.  Top with avocado slices, cheese slices, fresh tomato, lettuce or spinach, ketchup or other condiment of your choice.

If you’re not cooking all 8 at one time, freeze the balls for future reference.  They’ll thaw out quickly for a fast bean burger dinner.

I’m an experienced cook and this whole process took an hour up to the point of refrigerating the dough.  So not a speedy weeknight dinner if you’re cooking from scratch.  Plus you need to have all those ingredients at hand, some of which are unusual, such as pine nuts, farro, cannellini beans, roasted red pepper and flat leaf parsley.   As I mentioned, you could sub short grain brown rice, barley or even steel cut oats for the farro.  If you can’t find pine nuts, or don’t want to pay for them (they’re pricey) you could substitute walnuts or possibly sunflower seeds.

Also keep in mind, the finished bean burgers are not dense and chewy like meat, or even like processed soy burgers.  They’re a bit more delicate, but they do hold up find on a bun.  If you’re feeding hungry teens, boost the protein content of the meal by topping with cheese slices. Mozzarella or a soft goat cheese would be good choices, as these burgers have an Italian flavor.

These burgers are not vegan, since they contain egg and cheese.  You could substitute chia seed gel for the egg, but the Parmesan cheese presents a problem.  The strong flavor is key for these burgers, and the dry texture helps the batter hold up, plus the cheese adds protein.  One option would be to add a second variety of nut, ground very fine in a food processor.  Additional pine nuts, or sunflower seeds or hazelnuts would be good choices.  Also possibly pecans.  I’d use a mixture of two to avoid overdoing any one flavor.  If you do go this route, taste for salt before cooking, as you might find the batter needs more.

How did they taste?  They were quite delicious, which made up for the complicated process.  If you are a vegetarian, or have one in the family, and processed burgers are a mainstay of the diet, I’d suggest you try making your own bean burgers sometime, for the flavor if nothing else.

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