seriously awesome black bean burgers: share with your long-time friends ::::
The first time I had a veggie burger was after I met my dear friend Deidre. We have known each other for over 20 years, meeting at LAX for the first time before a 12 hour flight to Australia. We spent the next 5 months hanging out at our new university, University of Queensland, trying to figure out the social landscape of being twenty something in Oz, missing our boyfriends, and cowering at the American-hater professor who taught one of our classes. There were no veggie burgers to be seen in Brisbane at that point, and vegetarian Dee made do with lots of eggs and fantastic sables. We both gained weight. We both got sunburned, terribly, and couldn’t sit for a couple of days, one of the days on a bumpy 4WD tour. We traveled all over the country, trying to see as much as possible before flying home in December. We promised to stay in touch.
And that, we did. Over the years, we were in each others’ weddings, we celebrated children being born, completing veterinary or medical school, new jobs, and visited each other in Maine one summer. Even when physically far away with limited time to talk, we always pick up where we left off. She is smart and beautiful, strong and wise, and one of the funniest people I know. She and I agree, we are friends for life, no matter the time between our last conversation.
Deidre once reminded me, Why is it that vegetarian protein choices are compared to animal protein for their similarity in texture and taste? If one is vegetarian (or vegan), why would s/he want to eat a burger that tastes like meat, but isn’t, when s/he consciously has made an effort to avoid meat? Or why would one want to be reminded that the texture is like ground beef? (I know there are some people who are flexitarian or reluctant vegetarians — my argument may not apply to them. There are, however, many of my vegetarian friends just like Deidre who have voiced what I have above, understandably so.)
These really are the BEST black bean burgers you will ever eat. They are. I’m not kidding. They are not meat. They don’t taste like meat. They are not supposed to. That is a good thing. Deidre would approve.
It’s not that I’ve obsessed over veggie burgers but I have made clear mental notes that most I’ve tasted are passable texture. My criteria are not for texture “like a burger” but texture that doesn’t mush up in your mouth upon initial bite. That’s what it comes down to: most veggie burgers are mushy. Pasty, gloopy mixtures in a bun. Gross.
Enter in Serious Eats’ Food Lab. Tried and true, the managing culinary director J. Kenji Lopez-Alt goes through numerous trials to tweak recipes, make them better, mete out the differences in methods, and talk about some of the science behind cooking. His rigor has certainly won me over with this recipe, garnering Eat’s declaration that these were the best black bean burgers he’d ever had. The meat-eater likes them. LOVES them.
The key is getting the beans dried out before using them. See the third photo above? Dried, cooked beans in the oven pop open like dense, gray popcorn kernels. These will be magic later.
Prep your mise en place — it is my weapon for efficiency when I have a baby strapped to my hip. It’s easy to double the recipe and freeze the patties. See instructions below in the recipe to do that. There’s no excuse — skip the meat and make these! Now Deidre has to come and visit to give these the final thumbs’ up….
This recipe is very mildly adapted from Serious Eats’ J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Why mess with success?
- 3 cups cooked black beans or 2 14-ounce cans (Conversion: ½ cup dried beans = 1½ cups cooked beans = 1 14-ounce can)
- 1 large sweet red pepper, finely chopped*
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- vegetable oil, for cooking ingredients and for cooking final patties
- 1 teaspoon ancho powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup cashews, raw (roasted fine, but I had raw on hand and like the sweetness)
- ½ cup Cotija cheese, finely crumbled (feta is fine too, but Cotija is my go-to)
- 15 Ritz crackers, smashed = ~3/4 cup. Or ¾ c panko. **
- 2 tablespoons mayo
- 1 to 2 eggs ***
- cheese for melting atop patties, if desired
- hamburger buns
- condiments (quick pickled red onions, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, flavored mayo, avocado, etc.)
- Wait! Did you look at the pickled red onion recipe yet? Did you make them for the burgers? DO IT NOW. See below in the Notes section for the recipe.
- Cooking your beans or using canned? See below for both (excerpted from my black beans with cilantro oil recipe post):
- IF USING DRIED BEANS: Soak beans overnight (or at least 8 hours) covered in 2 inches of water. Drain the next day and immerse in fresh water before cooking. Bring to boil, then simmer for approximately 40 min, or until beans are softened but not mushy. Forgot to soak overnight and have a couple of hours? Quick-soak the beans instead: rinse and cover beans with water (about 4 cups), bring to a boil, and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 2 minutes, covered. Remove from burner and allow to sit for 1 hour. Drain, cover with new water, and cook, covered, for another hour, checking tenderness at 45 minutes. And remember: no salt or acid when cooking! Don’t toughen up the beans!
- Slightly cool your beans (or open the canned, if using, and rinse if canned), and place on a baking sheet in one layer. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and roast about 20 minutes. The goal is to dry out the beans, evidenced by the popping open of their skins and some crunchiness. (This is an important step to prevent mushy burgers, the bane of black bean burgers.) Allow to cool slightly.
- While beans are drying out in the oven, chop your red pepper and onion. In a skillet, heat a few tablespoons of oil at medium-high heat, add dry spices and cook to release fragrance. Add onions and pepper to cook until soft. Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Transfer to large mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Using a food processor, whiz the cashews to make them about the size of ⅓-inch. Add the nuts to the onion-pepper mixture. Don't clean the food processor! You'll use it again in the next step.
- Add cooled beans and Cotija cheese to food processor and whiz until beans are about ⅓ of bean in size (per Kenji's instructions). Add to large mixing bowl with the onions, peppers, and nuts.
- Gently mix in mayo and panko. STOP! Don't add the egg yet. Taste the mixture. Need salt? Pepper? Add to taste, then add egg. (NOTE: If you don't care about eating raw egg, then IGNORE this attention. Just thinkin' about the pregnant ladies and immunocompromised.) Gently fold all together (use your hands). Form into 8 patties.
- TO COOK: Option 1 - grill: Kenji gives great instructions on grilling these burgers. I did not try this, but I totally trust his trials and instructions. Paint the patties with oil and cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side, adding cheese, if you like (see the link above for more complete instructions on grill heat). Option 2 - pan: Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a cast iron (or similar) pan over medium heat, cooking each patty about 5 minutes (until side is well browned and crisp, then flip and do the same, adding cheese (yes, ADD the CHEESE! DO IT!), if desired. Keep patties warm in a 200 degree F oven while cooking the lot.
- Serve immediately with condiments. Quick pickled red onions: THEY ARE THE BOMB. Fat yellow tomatoes -- beautiful. Flavored mayo with chipotle and garlic -- squeeeeeeeeeee. *burp*
- Serve with picked onions, pickles, ketchup, mustard, smoked paprika mayo, chipotle mayo, whatever you like. I really liked the quick pickled red onions for tang and color. See below in Notes section for the recipe.
- NOTES ON FREEZING: Burger mixture can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before forming into patties and cooking. TO FREEZE: Place formed patties on a parchment-lined or plastic wrap covered baking sheet and freeze for about 1 hour. Using plastic wrap or parchment in between each patty, stack frozen burgers and transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. TO COOK FROZEN BURGERS: Spread patties in a single layer on a baking sheet and allow to thaw at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking as directed. I have done this a couple of times and it works beautifully.