Rochelle Bilow, photo by Matt Duckor
Veggie burgers have suffered a seriously bad reputation in the past. And with good reason: They’re far too-often frozen hockey pucks of stabilizers and fillers (maybe a corn kernel or two, if you’re lucky). That’s a shame, because when they’re done right veggie burgers exemplify all of the things we love. Think about it: The best meatless burgers have chewy, hearty grains, a meaty (in texture, if not taste) note from mushrooms, and, duh, colorful, fresh vegetables. Sounds like the making of an incredible meal to us.
So we were psyched when, inspired by writer Rosie Schapp‘s love of a good veggie burger, our test kitchen created one from scratch. This version is exactly what we’re talking about: Chewy, hearty, and filling without trying to be something it’s not. We talked with Bon Appétit senior food editor Dawn Perry about the test kitchen’s recipe creation process—and how they created what we’re pretty sure is the ultimate veggie burger.
First up, the classic vegetarian burger needed a flavor overhaul. “Packaged veggie burgers don’t taste like meat, and they don’t taste like veggies,” says Perry. “It tastes so processed. What’s the point? We wanted to make a veggie burger with real ingredients.”
SEE MORE: 6 Ways You’re Messing Up Your Salad
The veggie burger of our dreams also needed a textural makeover because, as Perry points out, a totally uniform consistency is boring. The big workhorse here is found in chewy, nutty wheat berries—if you want to experiment with another grain, definitely keep the focus on a hearty one, like farro or barley. Chickpeas also add texture, as well as bulk. Using canned beans is fine, and cuts down on cooking time.
Mushrooms are also a must, and Perry used dried porcinis here—plus their soaking liquid, which adds even more rich, round flavor. Also featured are shiitakes and Bragg liquid aminos for an umami hit. Besides, points out Perry, “What’s more veggie burger-friendly than liquid aminos?” The Bragg line of products and company has traditionally been a favorite among eco-conscious eaters, having, “campaigned for a diet and lifestyle that focused on natural live foods and a healthy regime for a vital and long life.” Liquid aminos taste similar to soy sauce, but have less sodium, and are made from non GMO-soybeans.
It’s not a veggie burger without vegetables, and for that Perry folds in finely grated carrots after everything else is combined. This gives the patty some good texture, but anything larger than fine shavings will be like eating raw baby carrots stuck in your burger.
Perry finished the number with sharp Cheddar cheese, avocado, sprouts, and tomato. While you can definitely tweak the toppings to your heart’s desire, keep the focus on soft, delicate ingredients (that goes double for the bun). Anything too hefty, like a baguette, will overwhelm the tender patty. Says Perry, “There’s nothing worse than a structurally unsound burger—veggie or not.” Which reminds us of our favorite part about this recipe: It isn’t just a delicious veggie burger—it’s a great burger, period.
SEE MORE: 6 Common Brownie Mistakes
Refrigerated resting is key to these burgers’ success. Air-chilling helps dry the burgers out slightly so they stick together in the skillet.
- ½ cup wheat berries
- Kosher salt
- ½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
- 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1½ teaspoons Bragg liquid aminos or reduced-sodium soy sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium carrot, peeled, finely grated
- 1 large egg, beaten to blend
- 4 ounces sharp cheddar, thinly sliced
- 4 seeded whole grain buns, toasted
- Mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, sliced tomato, avocado, and/or alfalfa sprouts (for serving)
Cook wheat berries in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water until tender (they will remain quite chewy), 45–50 minutes. Drain, spread out on a baking sheet, and let cool.
Meanwhile, place porcini mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 1 cup very hot water. Let stand 20 minutes to soften; drain, reserving ¼ cup mushroom soaking liquid.
Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add shiitake mushrooms and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown and tender, 6–8 minutes. Transfer shallot and shiitake mushrooms to a food processor. Add chickpeas and rehydrated porcini mushrooms and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add wheat berries, liquid aminos, and reserved mushroom soaking liquid and process until fairly smooth (mixture should still have some texture). Transfer to a large bowl; season with salt and pepper and fold in carrot and egg. Form mixture into four 5” patties; place on a plate and chill, uncovered, at least 30 minutes.
Heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties until deeply browned, about 4 minutes per side. Top patties with cheese, cover skillet, and cook until cheese is melted, about 1 minute.
Serve patties on toasted buns with desired toppings.