Genius Recipes

The Secret to the Best Veggie Burgers Ever

With a garlicky vegan aioli to seal the deal.

February  5, 2020

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Poor veggie burgers. They have a whole lot of ground to make up in our imaginations. So many are crumbly and dry; others disintegrate as they hit the pan or squish out the back of the bun on first chomp.


So as I was reading Cool Beans, the stunning (and I mean stunning in every sense—it’s a glossy, glamorous, colorful bean book) new cookbook—out this week!—from Washington Post Food & Dining Editor Joe Yonan, I was delighted to read the following line:

In the ongoing quest for the perfect veggie burger recipe, at a certain point a realization occurs: Wasn’t the perfect veggie burger created long ago—in falafel?

Joe is, of course, correct. Chickpea-based falafel are, in a sense, vegan bean burgers by another name, and both are far simpler to make at home than I’d ever have thought.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“My aioli didn't set up and came out instead as a tasty aioli soup which will be drizzled on the burgers, soon to be fried. Any suggestions for next time, so that I can get more of a mayo consistency? (Followed the recipe as written and shown on the video.)”
— Rachel

The secret to the success of both is starting with dried beans, which are soaked but not simmered till tender. Tender beans are inherently mushy beans, especially once blended with onions and garlic and other moisture and flavor powerhouses. Only by binding them together with flour or other drying ingredients to compensate will they hold together in a patty. So pre-cooked beans leave you with a singular choice: mushy or dry. Pick your poison.

So don’t cook them! At least not in the sense you’re thinking. By soaking the dried beans overnight, you’re getting a head start on hydrating and tenderizing them, so all that’s left to do is blitz them into teeny pieces in a food processor (or, more traditionally, a meat grinder) and shallow-fry, crisping every craggy bit of exposed surface in good, hot oil.

I had to wonder, about both traditional falafel and Joe’s falafel burger: How do these seemingly uncooked beans have time to soften and cook through in a skillet at just 3 minutes per side? Simmering can take hours! Lucky for me, J. Kenji López-Alt over at the Food Lab at Serious Eats had chased down the answer himself years ago:

The trick is to remember that cooking beans is a two-step process. One step is adding water (hydration), while the second step is adding heat (actual cooking). To get tender, cooked chickpeas, you need to complete both steps. But nobody ever said they have to be done at the same time.

Instead of chickpeas, Joe swaps in black beans and the flavors he loves with them—the onion and garlic from their falafel namesake, plus chipotle and cilantro—then folds in a bit of mashed sweet potato, for extra moisture and binding power. Aside from remembering to soak the beans ahead and leaving your patties time to chill and set up, all of this happens in moments, so you’ll have plenty of time to buzz up his garlicky aquafaba aioli, too.

The result is a veggie burger that will be unlike any you’ve had before: A crispy, golden shell. A tender, but not mushy, interior. Enough flavor and texture that you don’t even need to toast the bun.

A fully vegan burger—with no ground to make up—that everyone will love just as it is.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to Basically boss and cool bean Sarah Jampel for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Rachel
  • Dell Erickson
    Dell Erickson
  • Joy Chadwick
    Joy Chadwick
  • abbyarnold
  • mollykoz
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Rachel April 12, 2021
My aioli didn't set up and came out instead as a tasty aioli soup which will be drizzled on the burgers, soon to be fried. Any suggestions for next time, so that I can get more of a mayo consistency? (Followed the recipe as written and shown on the video.)
Dell E. March 25, 2020
anybody try and make "meatballs" outa these things? I love making "bowls" and thought that having these on hand frozen for those would be awesome. I'm going to do it!!
Joy C. February 17, 2020
abbyarnold February 5, 2020
I made a version of these with black-eyed peas and I can testify that it really works!
mollykoz February 5, 2020
Can these be baked instead of fried?
LANA February 5, 2020
Lauren K. February 5, 2020
Click the “View Recipe” button and it’ll take you to the full recipe (including all steps!). There’s a printer icon there that gives you a printable version.
marcy February 5, 2020
is there a substitute for aquafaba?
Rhonda35 February 6, 2020
They're using aquafaba to make a faux mayonnaise. If you don't want to use aquafaba, make a traditional mayonnaise with eggs...or do as I do and break out the Hellman's!
Paul M. February 6, 2020
... or, a drizzle of ranch dressing and cucumber slices... yep, it works!
DMStenlake August 18, 2021
Or Best Foods as we call it in California blended with garlic!
Cate February 5, 2020
I suppose this wouldn’t work with canned beans?
Annabelle February 5, 2020
Kenji Lopez-Alt has a recipe on Serious Eats that calls for drying out canned black beans in the oven. It’s my favorite recipe and the flavor profile seems similar to this one so possibly a good swap.
Cate February 5, 2020
Thank you!!
Therese S. February 5, 2020
Not a sweet potato fan (I know, the horror). Is there a substitute?
Mariek February 6, 2020
I was thinking that it should work to use both cooked and soaked beans. Use the cooked beans instead of the patato. Maybe some nuts as well?
susan G. April 3, 2020
...and I would try white potatoes, mashed. Actually, this would probably have more binding property than sweet potatoes.
Merry February 5, 2020
We who love food and live in DC aren't at all surprised to see a recipe from Joe Yonan pop up. Can't wait to see the cookbook!
Queen O. February 5, 2020
These might give my beloved walnut burgers (from a Sunset magazine recipe years ago) a run for the money! One question: would these freeze well, either cooked or uncooked?
abbyarnold February 5, 2020
My guess is that cooked burgers would freeze. I made a version with black-eyed peas, similar technique and recipe, fried them up. The leftovers were good for 5 days in the fridge. They deflated when cold, but puffed up nicely when I heated them in the toaster oven.