No longer viewed as an annoying necessity to keep vegans quiet, many restaurants are starting to embrace veggie burgers as opportunities for culinary innovation and a vehicle for fabulous, vegetable-based taste.
Vegans, rejoice! In a recent article called “The Veggie Burger’s Ascent,” the New York Times argues that the long-neglected veggie burger is finally making inroads into gourmet cuisine and receiving the attention it deserves from top chefs around the United States. No longer inserted into restaurant menus just to keep the vegan crowd quiet, veggie burgers are now being viewed as opportunities for culinary innovation and creativity.
Chefs are experimenting with unusual ingredients and powerfully delicious flavors, such as April Bloomfield’s sweet-potato noodle, lentil, carrot, and garam masala-spiced burger, Dan Barber’s beet and carrot pulp burger, Chloe Coscarelli’s sweet potato, black bean, quinoa burger topped with corn salsa, guacamole, and tortilla chips, and Brooklyn vegan restaurant Toad Style’s ‘cheeseburger’ made with mushrooms, lentils, onions, steel-cut oats, garlic, and almond cheese. (Is your mouth watering yet?)These delectable burgers have come a long way, when you consider that the past generation of vegans and vegetarians has become accustomed to frozen patties that "taste like freezer-burned cardboard dipped in clowns’ tears," as described poetically by Globe and Mail food critic Chris Nuttall-Smith.
Veggie burger ‘research’ has led to further discoveries, such as potato starch slurry that acts as a binder similar to eggs when heated to 180 degrees, and the much more controversial plant-based ‘meat’ made by Impossible Foods that strives to “vividly mimic real beef in taste, texture and bloodiness.” (Derek wrote about Impossible Foods for TreeHugger back in July.)
While many vegan restaurant-goers may take issue with the lack of ethical or environmental concern behind these chefs’ growing interest in veggie burgers – Dan Barber dares to top his with optional bacon, as a “conscious tweak on the typical American ratio of meat to vegetables and grains” – it still represents a victory for meat-free eating. The more truly fabulous veggie burgers available, the more people are going to order them, and, perhaps for the first time, become intrigued by how delicious meat-free food really can be.
In the meantime, if you don’t live in New York City or another major center, with tasty veggie burgers at your fingertips at all hours of the day, you might have to make your own. Here is one of my favorite recipes, Island Black Bean Burgers with Nectarine Salsa, from vegan cookbook Isa Does It.