How to Make Any Veggie Burger Without a Recipe

August 18, 2014

Here at Food52, we love recipes -- but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: Forget about those frozen hockey puck-looking things. Associate Editor Marian Bull shows us how to make great veggie burgers at home -- with whatever beans and spices you have on hand.

How to Make Veggie Burgers on Food52

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Here is a list of things that a veggie burger should not be:

  • frozen and packaged in a box 
  • made from things like TEXTURED VEGETABLE PROTEIN and seventeen of its other indecipherable friends
  • bland
  • something that you try to convince people tastes just like meat!

No, a veggie burger is just a really nice way to serve a vegetarian a bunch of beans -- so they can grow big and strong -- snuggled inside a soft bun. Or atop a salad. A veggie burger is a way to play with whatever spices are making you excited this week, add in some scraps from your fridge, and then form it all into something that can sit in the middle of your plate when you’ve tired of eating quinoa salad or grilled tofu or, say, cereal eaten from the box for dinner. They freeze well, and are therefore a way to protect your future self from dinner monotony. They will breathe new life into the five quarts of chickpeas you've dutifully been eating through all week.

More: You can even go the vegetable-heavy route, with these Zucchini Quinoa Burgers.

Veggie burgers are easy to make. You need a sturdy base -- I like beans and some sort of grain, like cooked brown rice -- plus binders and seasoning. I use eggs as a binder, but if you’re vegan, you can just omit it -- according to Gena, a replacement isn’t usually necessary.

How to Make Veggie Burgers

Here’s how I make my veggie burgers -- they are not always perfect, but they are far and away better than what you’ll find in the freezer aisle, and are excellent both baked and pan-fried. 

Here's how to make any veggie burger, without a recipe:

1. Gather your ingredients. I usually rely on a can of beans -- but you can measure out 2 cups of cooked-from-scratch beans if you have them. For every 2 cups, you’ll want one egg (or not, if you’re vegan), and 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs or oats, which are hiding from the photo above.  

I also like to use about half a cup of cooked grains, like sturdy brown rice or farro. Then go crazy with the other stuff: I always include a bunch of chopped alliums (here, a large shallot) and spices (smoked paprika and cumin). I added tahini and sesame seeds, too -- but you can use walnuts, or other nut butters, or sturdy herbs like oregano and rosemary (more delicate ones, like parsley, get lost).

How to Make a Veggie Burger


2. In a food processor, pulse your beans, alliums, and spices until they make a coarse mixture — you want to get your alliums in small pieces and start breaking down your beans before you add your liquids and binders. 

How to Make Veggie Burgers


3. Add your egg if you’re using it, plus other “wet” ingredients -- like tahini -- and pulse a few times. If you’re using cooked grains or seeds, both of which I did here, pulse them in just until they’re integrated into the mixture -- you don’t want your rice to get gummy.

This is also where I should have included half a cup of breadcrumbs. I didn’t, then tried unsuccessfully to fry my first burger, which crumbled. Our test kitchen manager Allison saved the day, calming me down and mixing in some crumbs, which turned my patties from "just holding together at the seams" to "stable and fry-able." You can use breadcrumbs and ground-up oats interchangeably, but I prefer the former.

How to make Veggie Burgers


4. Form your burgers into patties -- one can of beans will get you four to five burgers, depending on size -- and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Keep in mind the size of your buns when you're forming them, so the burgers don't dwarf their vessels, or hide inside of them.

See how much more wet and fragile these burgers on the baking sheet look than the sturdy burgers in the pan below? That's the power of breadcrumbs. (As in all things, please do as I say, not as I do.)

Note: If you're going to pan-fry your burgers, fry off a tiny little test patty -- this will help you to be sure that your burgers won't crumble, and will give you a better sense of their flavor, without having to eat raw eggs (or alliums).

How to Make Veggie Burgers


5. Fry or bake your burgers. I like to pan-fry, because it will consistently give you a better flavor and better texture (thank you, Maillard reaction!), and there's less risk of drying them out. If they're delicate, though, baking can be a better bet, because you won't risk them breaking when you flip 'em. 

If you choose to fry, heat a skillet over medium-high heat and get yourself a good layer of olive oil in there -- you want more than a "thin coating." Fry them until the bottoms are brown and you're confident in your ability to flip, about 5 minutes. The other side should take just as long. 

If you choose to bake, do so in a 350° F oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

How to Make Veggie Burgers


6. Serve them up with great fanfare! I like fried burgers on an untoasted bun; the squish and crisp contrast nicely. Add whatever condiments you like, but I suggest something nontraditional like spiced labneh (what I used here), or even pesto, or aioli. Ketchup will work for, say, a smoky black bean burger, but if your patty is nontraditional, your condiments should be allowed the same liberties. Lettuce, as always, is a good choice. Tomatoes, when in season. Pickled red onions. Lay it all on there.

And then, if your veggie burger happens to look like a fish filet sandwich, make lots of jokes about it before taking your first bite. And then your second. And then your third and fourth and so on, in rapid succession, until your plate is just crumbs and swipes of condiments and joy.

How to Make Veggie Burgers on Food52

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Sophie V. September 1, 2017
I'll definitely try this non-recipe! As for the "For every 2 cups, you’ll want one egg (or not, if you’re vegan)" conundrum... I'll use 3 Tbsp. aquafaba, the hottest discovery since sliced bread.
Amy January 1, 2016
Could you add additional veggies to this? Like grated carrot or zucchini, corn, peas etc.?
How would this affect the other ingredients? Would I n ed to increase or decrease anything? For example, grated zucchini would add extra liquid (even after ringing it out!)....
Anne July 13, 2015
I made these tonight with some canellini beans and added a little hot pepper. They were delicious. My sons wouldn't try it (ages 9 and 6) but my oldest son's friend did and loved it. I will make these again and get creative with it. Thanks!
Steve P. July 13, 2015
I usually add Feta and crushed cashews for a 'meatier' texture.
susan G. July 12, 2015
Thank you for the guidelines. It makes sense of all those recipes I've tried. Even though I substitute freely, I needed to pull back to see the woods (for the trees, of course).
I've even used a lentil soup that I wasn't in love with for a burger base. Yes, the burger was better than the source.
Rachelle R. May 29, 2015
I'm just wondering if you can grill these?
Alex T. May 26, 2015
I think making a felafel burger will be good, just add some cilantro and skip the rice.
Susan A. May 25, 2015
You didn't say why you preferred bread crumbs to oats? Care to share the reason? We have used corn meal in place of bread crumbs per Mark Bittman's recommended addition to black bean burgers. Seemed to work OK.
Kishari S. May 24, 2015
Awesome! My mission is to nail this tonight for a trial run--then unleash on guests tomorrow. THANKS.
Kishari S. May 26, 2015
Ok, one win and one fail. The fail came from the first try with pinto beans...too wet. Even with added grain (quinoa) and crumbs (tortilla chips). The win came with black beans, and I used your seasoning proportions linked in #6 to the smoky black bean burger recipe. The longtime veggie friends I served it to said it was a hit! Thanks! Got a new item in my arsenal for veggie guests.
Steve P. July 13, 2015
I usually bake at least half the beans spread out on a sheet at 200 degrees F for 15-20 minutes to remove moisture.
Nora October 1, 2014
I have a thing about the flavor of uncooked onions in cooked food. Raw onion in a salad is fine. Raw onion in a meatloaf is not, even though the loaf cooked a long time. I hope someone understands that. So here is the question: can I saute my alums before adding them to the mix? And if I want some other vegetables in there, can I cook them first. Should I add them at the food processor stage, or stir in later. Or am I overthinking the whole thing?
Marian B. October 2, 2014
You totally can! If they're chopped up pretty fine, I'd add them to the food processor at the end, so they don't turn to mush. Bet that will be awesome.
him September 28, 2014
Just made the burgers , yum. I used baked beans in tomatoe sauce. An added some red pepper flakes . Thank you.
Arnold M. September 1, 2014
A Parchment-lined backing sheet?
Parchment is the skin of an animal, usually sheepskin.
Arnold M. September 1, 2014
Backing or baking.
Dani J. September 17, 2014
This is not at all the same kind of parchment they people used to draw on. This is definitely just special paper, not super thinned out animal skin.
Alex T. May 26, 2015
Parchment paper is a paper imbedded with silicon. It has nothing to do with sheep skin or fur :-)
Alex T. August 20, 2014
mm, just a little parsley and it will be felafel.
Vstarr71 August 19, 2014
Very helpful! Going to try this out tonight!!
AntoniaJames August 18, 2014
Very helpful. I've been playing with bean/grain burgers for a few years. It's nice to have rules of thumb like this. ;o) P.S. I find that finely sliced parsley and cilantro stems hold up really well, i.e., the flavor doesn't get lost. I'll often chop the stems for the burger, using the leaves in a parsley-heavy mustard sauce or in an herb salad, to top the patty.
Molly August 18, 2014
If I wanted to freeze these, would I do that before or after cooking them?
Marian B. August 18, 2014
I think you could do either! place them on a lined baking sheet 'til frozen, then pop them in a zip-top bag. Be sure to defrost and either fry/bake or rewarm in the oven, depending on whether you've already cooked them.
Monique August 18, 2014
Awesome! You vegan burgers looks tasty and perfect. I am tired of recipe standards on making the perfect vegan burger. I am looking forward to create my own vegan burgers. You gave me hope. I will follow your advice and make it today.
Marian B. August 18, 2014
I'm so happy to hear this! There is indeed hope for your burgers yet.
Monique August 24, 2014
Today, I made the veggie burgers. AWESOME FLAVORS! My burgers looks exactly like your burgers. I am SOOOOOO excited about the burgers. AND I shaped them perfectly by using a half cup for each burger. I was only able to make five burgers because 1/2 cup measurement. I froze four burgers for later. I can't thank you enough to give me the confidence to make these AMAZING burgers. Now I can incorporate other ingredients without being anxious. New burger, sundried tomato and mushroom burgers. AGAIN, THANK YOU MARIAN!
Marian B. August 30, 2014
oh, so happy to hear this! xx