Let's review the issues with veggie burgers, shall we? It's been a while since I vented about this, but I'll keep it brief. I'll even boil it down to a simple equation that I think captures the bulk of the problems: If they're not fall-apart dry, they're bean-dip mushy.
I've jumped through many a hoop to correct such problems in veggie burger recipes of my own design or adaptation, but that doesn't mean I've stopped searching. When you're cooking different vegetarian dishes every night of the week, you can certainly use more than a couple of veggie burger recipes in your repertoire.
I've learned what to look out for: First and foremost, any recipe that tells me to put the patty ingredients into a food processor meets with skepticism. Sure, you can pulse-pulse-pulse and try to make sure you leave something chunky, but my favorite technique is good, old-fashioned chopping and mixing by hand. That prevents a smooth texture, the enemy of any burger worth making (or eating).
The other requirement is a good binder, and enough of it: something other than eggs (because I want my veggie burgers to be plant-based) that will help those ingredients stick together.
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One solution is to pre-bake the patties to make them easier to handle without breaking, and to then pan-fry or grill them right before serving. As long as there is enough moisture in the mix to keep the burgers from drying out, that works well. But it's not the kind of process you want on a time-crunched weeknight.
When I saw Ella Woodward's take on a black bean burger in her new book “Deliciously Ella Every Day,” it seemed a little too good to be true: just 10 ingredients (including salt and pepper), with the promise they would take only 10 minutes to throw together. But the burgers met my top two criteria: You mash the beans with a fork, leaving some whole beans apparent, and stir in the other ingredients, including chickpea flour, tomato paste and applesauce, all of which help bind it.
Sure enough, they come together in no time, and get crisp on the edges from a brief turn in the skillet. They're moist inside (and tasty, thanks to chili powder, tamari, vinegar and lime) but not mushy.
I'm not sure whether they're substantial enough to be easily eaten between buns without some squishing, but there's an easy fix for that: a knife and a fork.
Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from “Deliciously Ella Every Day,” by Ella Woodward (Scribner, 2016).
3 1/2 cups home-cooked black beans or 2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added black beans, rinsed and drained
Generous 1 cup chickpea flour
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons plain, unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons tamari
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
Vegetable oil, for shallow frying
Use a fork to mash the beans in a large mixing bowl so they're mushy but not totally smooth; there should still be some whole beans in the mixture.
Add the chickpea flour, tomato paste, applesauce, chili powder, tamari, vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper, stirring to incorporate. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.
Heat a saucepan with 1/2 inch of the oil over medium heat, then place a generous 1/3 cup of the mixture in the center of the pan. Carefully press it into a round, pressing until the patty is about 3/4 inch thick. Repeat with more of the mixture, forming 3 or 4 burgers in the pan. Work in batches to avoiding overcrowding. Cook until browned and crisp on both sides, 1 to 2 minutes per side, flipping as needed so they cook evenly.
Transfer the cooked burgers to a plate, sprinkle lightly with more salt, if desired, and cover loosely to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining mixture.
Yield: 8 servings.