My childhood was fueled by Dr. Praeger's Purely Sensible Foods' frozen veggie burgers—thin discs with real vegetable pieces (hey, is that a corn kernel?) that I would eat, alongside the rest of meal, with a fork and knife.
I enjoyed (even loved) Dr. Praeger's, but I did not think of them as burgers at all—neither "juicy" nor "satisfying," neither a treat to look forward to nor a complete meal. A Dr. Praeger's patty would have been eclipsed by a bun on either side and never posed a fair match to a meat burger. They were, as named, "purely sensible."
It wasn't until I tried the Shake Shack's 'Shroom Burger that I realized veggie burgers needn't be sensible at all. Why coax vegetables (and, for most recipes, grains and binders and starches, too) into the shape of a patty? Vegetarian burgers can be entirely nonsensical and untraditional and just as messily delicious as any meat burger on the menu.
The 'Shroom Burger forgoes the constraints of the patty form to present a mushroom in its most dignified state—breaded, fried, full of cheese. It's insanity! When you eat the sandwich, you work your way through the roasted mushroom barrier to hit the cheese geyser at its center. ("Geyser" is not an exaggeration: When you receive your 'Shroom Burger at the restaurant, you should let the burger cool for a few minutes lest you risk a cheese eruption.)
Above, you'll find some more sensible options, should you desire them.
Whenever I've ordered a Shroom Burger—which, not to get too emotional over a sandwich or anything, but these have been my hungriest, grumpiest, and most celebratory moments (3 PM after turning in my last college final; 10 PM after moving a two-hundred-pound dresser into a fifth-floor walk-up)—the how of the matter has become a subject of conversation. Just how do they get the cheese in there? Is it with a giant syringe? A peculiarly-hollow mushroom? An elaborate song and dance?
It turns out that you needn't purchase a specialty cheese syringe (oh yes, these exist). The recipe, which is published in the new book Shake Shack: Recipes & Stories is fairly simple to make at home if you don't mind a bit of deep-frying.
Roast the mushrooms, slice them in half through their bellies, then hide a ball of the filling—a mixture of grated cheese, onion, garlic, flour, egg yolk, and cayenne—in between the top and bottom. Coat the reconfigured mushrooms in flour, beaten eggs, and panko, then get them into the hot oil.
The panko will crisp, the cheese will melt, and you'll have a vegetable burger that can hold its own snuggled up next to a slice of tomato and between two buns. All you need now is a cold milkshake.
For the mushroom caps and filling:
- 4 4-inch portobello mushroom caps
- 1/4 cup canola oil, plus more for deep-frying
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1/4 teaspoon flour, divided
- 3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk, divided
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- 1 1/2 cups grated Muenster
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar
- 1/2 teaspoon minced onion
- 1/8 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 dash Kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons ShackSauce (below)
- 4 hamburger potato buns, toasted
- 4 pieces green leaf lettuce
- 8 1/4-inch slices ripe plum tomatoes
For the ShackSauce:
- 1/2 cup Hellman's mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 teaspoon Heinz ketchup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher dill pickling brine
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
Recipe reprinted from Shake Shack. Copyright © 2017 by Shake Shack Enterprises, LLC. Principal photographs copyright © 2017 by Christopher Hirsheimer. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
What's the best vegetarian alternative to a burger? Share your thoughts in the comments below.