How to Make a Seriously Awesome Veggie Burger

CC BY 2.0. Dale Simonson -- A homemade veggie burger

Who needs meat when you pack this much flavor and texture into a bean or lentil patty?

An excellent veggie burger is, sadly, a rare treat -- at least, in my part of the world. They usually taste of sad afterthought, an obligatory addition to every restaurant menu, which is why I've pretty much given up ordering them when I eat out. Instead, my veggie burger consumption happens at home, where I can control exactly what goes into making that burger as delicious as any of its meat-containing counterparts, if not more!

There are a few key tricks to making a fabulous veggie burger. I've gathered these over the years of reading cookbooks, food magazines and websites, and through personal experimentation, of course. Once you get these techniques down pat, your patties will soar to the next level.

Pre-cook certain ingredients. If you're adding vegetables to your burger mix, you may want to precook them. Vegetables release a lot of water when cooked (think of mushrooms in a pan), and too much water spells disaster for burger patties. Pre-cooking grains, such as bulgur, rice, lentils, and oats (toasting is recommended) is also necessary.

Use sufficient binder. You need something to hold it all together. Binders serve two purposes, as described by Food52:

"They ensure that your burger doesn’t fall apart, so flipping is a breeze. And they provide structural integrity, so the texture is more oomph, less mush."

An egg is recommended, unless you're vegan, in which case you can use ground flaxseed (although America's Test Kitchen has described it as adding a "muddy flavor"), aquafaba (the liquid from a can of chickpeas), panko breadcrumbs, toasted oats, bulgur, ground tortilla chips, black bean liquid, wheat germ, etc.

Boost the flavor. Don't be shy when it comes to seasonings. Veggie burgers lack the flavorful fat from meat, so they need all the help they can get. Use dried porcini mushrooms, chopped Kalamata olives, ground nuts and nut butters, tahini, spices, minced garlic, mustard, salt, and pepper.

Form and cook with care. Visual presentation has a significant effect on one's perception of food, so take time to form your veggie burgers beautifully. Cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz recommends pressing the mixture into a 3-inch round cookie cutter for a perfect shape. Cook in a lightly-greased cast iron pan to encourage light charring or bake; most likely you won't be able to grill homemade veggie burgers.

Slather on the sauce. Top your veggie burgers with all manner of sauces and toppings -- the more, the better! Use dairy-free sour cream and add lime juice, minced chipotles in adobo sauces and garlic, or whip up some garlicky tahini sauce. Make some pickled radishes or red onions, slice up pickles, use avocado instead of cheese, and a handful of sprouts, kimchi, or sauerkraut for crunch. A fruity salsa made from nectarines, onion and lime juice is a fabulous finish to a black bean burger. Play around with it and see what you like.