I’ve had so many veggie burgers in my time, and I always find them disappointing. Some don’t taste good; they’re bland and cardboard-y and force you to chew, chew, chew before swallowing. Other ones taste great, but not in the way I want a veggie burger to (black bean burgers, I’m looking at you). There are still others with ingredient lists filled with soy derivatives and other processed products that I don’t want anywhere near my body. As someone who actually eats (grass-fed, humanely raised) beef on occasion, I wanted a veggie burger that wooed me not because it was my only option but because it was outstanding. I wanted the Goldilocks of veggie burgers: a burger that was chock-filled with nourishing, pronounceable ingredients. A burger that had a beautiful umami flavor. A burger that held together, that wasn’t too moist (read: mushy) or too dry and crumbly. A burger that was just right.
After some experimentation, I finally found something that I’m happy with. A lentil base provides just the right texture, with a flavor that is neither bland nor overpowering. I round that out with some actual veggies (I’ve had veggie burgers with literally no veggies in them, something that irks me to no end!): a mirepoix, to be exact. A mirepoix is a mix of roughly chopped celery, carrot and onion, and serves as the basis for much of French cuisine. Here, it adds both delicious flavor and wonderful moisture to the finished burgers.
For that delicious fatty element that’s so often missing from veggie burgers, I added some pulsed walnuts. Walnuts are one of my favorite foods to use in veggie cuisine; in addition to being rich in anti-inflammatory fats that are great for your brain and body, they turn into crumbly bits that are super similar to ground beef. The fats in the walnuts add a wonderful heft to the burger, and the flavor is decadent and faintly nutty. The burgers are bound with one of my favorite kitchen inventions yet: quinoa breadcrumbs. Made from lightly roasted quinoa pulsed in a food processor, they’re a wonderful substitution for their gluten-filled counterpart.
And the flavor: oh, the flavor. Burgers, to me, beg for straight up umami – that fifth flavor that’s so savory and addictive. The umami in this comes from mushrooms, pan-fried tomato paste and a splash of tamari. I actually learned about pan-frying tomato paste in an old issue of Bon Appetit, and it’s one of my favorite tricks. In less than 3 minutes, the flavor of typical tomato paste becomes complex and rich. It’s what makes the burger taste amazing, with a can’t-put-your-finger-on-it depth of flavor.
The result? A veggie burger that will make your beef-burger-noshing friends jealous, just in time for 4th of July (or just random summer picnics, if you’re not in the US). These also freeze super well, making them a wonderful work lunch – I actually ate one today with some of my favorite mint parsley pepita sauce, over a bed of spinach. So good!
- 2 cups green lentils
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 onions, chopped
- 1 cup chopped button mushrooms
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 2 tbsp high heat oil of choice (ghee, avocado oil and coconut oil all work well)
- 3 cloves fresh garlic
- 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1 tsp tamari
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 2 medium eggs (ideally pastured), flax eggs or chia eggs
- ¾ cup quinoa bread crumbs (see recipe below)
Quinoa Bread Crumbs
- 2 cups uncooked quinoa
- First, cover the lentils in 4 – 5 cups of water and bring to boil. Let simmer uncovered for 20 – 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but not falling apart, then drain and set aside. In a large saute pan, heat oil over medium. Add onions, celery and carrots and cook for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown. Add mushrooms and cook for an additional 2 – 3 more minutes, or until they’re beginning to brown, then add tomato paste and garlic and cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly and scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pan (these are the tasty parts!). Remove from heat.
- Stir vegetable mixture into lentils. Add walnuts, tamari, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and paprika. Add eggs and homemade quinoa breadcrumbs (recipe below) and mix well. You can use a food processor at the end if you’d like smoother, more homogenous burgers, and just use your hands and a spoon if you like more texture. Place mixture in fridge and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Shape the mixture into balls and flatten with your palms, before placing on a lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 – 30 minutes, or until edges are beginning to brown. Makes 8 – 10 burgers.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse and drain quinoa well, then spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Cook for 10 – 12 minutes, or until quinoa is completely dry and just beginning to turn golden brown. Let cool, then pulse in food processor for 1 – 2 minutes, until a breadcrumb like texture is achieved.