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Veggie Burgers for Now and Later

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Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw eats a mostly raw, vegan diet without losing time, money, or her sanity. Let her show you how to make "rabbit food" taste delicious and satisfying every other Thursday on Food52.

Today: Gena converts us to the delicious, versatile convenience of veggie burgers with a recipe for Zucchini Quinoa Burgers.

Veggie burgers. To many, the expression itself is a contradiction in terms. If you've never had a veggie burger, the whole notion of making a grilled patty without meat may seem kind of crazy; if you're one of the many people who has experienced a lousy veggie burger, then you might not wish to repeat the experience anytime soon. Today, I'm here to assure you that veggie burgers can be delicious, versatile, and convenient: all it takes is the right recipe (and some practice).

So what's a veggie burger, anyway? In my early years a vegan, most veggie burgers were still made of textured soy protein, and they were manufactured to resemble beef: color, smell, even little artificial grill marks. These little soy patties were a convenient option for new vegetarians or vegans who were really missing meat, but they held little appeal for omnivores who could still enjoy the "real thing." To me, a new vegan who wasn't particularly interested in imitating meat, but was interested in delicious, plant-based cuisine, these burgers left something to be desired. When I discovered whole-food veggie burgers--creative combinations of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds--everything changed.

I've experimented with countless combinations and approaches to veggie burgers, and I have my personal preferences: varied and creative herbs and spices, ample use of beans and lentils to add protein and texture, and the unexpected inclusion of veggies. Let's face it, portobello mushroom burgers are a dime a dozen these days, but it's nice to think outside the box. I've used corn, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, and even kale in my veggie burger concoctions. Today, I'll be sharing a burger recipe that features the seasonal inclusion of fresh zucchini.

What I love most about veggie burgers is their versatility. Sure, you can place them between a whole grain bun, slather them with ketchup, and eat them traditionally. But you can also serve them atop a giant salad, stuff them into a pita with lettuce and tomato, wrap them into romaine or butter lettuce leaves for a lighter spin on a "wrap," place them between sandwich bread if buns aren't to be found, or even chop them into a leftover rice dish. There's really no limit on what to do with them. Make a big bunch ahead of time, freeze the extras, and warm them up at the last moment for a quick, easy, and healthy meal. And when you make them, keep in mind that most veggie burgers will keep in the fridge for at least a few days.

The only downside to veggie burgers is that there's a learning curve involved. Crumbly burgers, mushy burgers, and tasteless burgers are all possible. But if you can keep the following tips in mind, you're likely to be a pro in no time.

1. Pick a burger base. Or pick three.
If you're accustomed to making burgers with meat, you'll no doubt be wondering how to put the "veg" in veggie burger. What's your base material? In my experience, the best veggie burgers contain ingredients from at least three of the following categories:

Grains: Oats, rice, millet, quinoa, whole grain bread, bread crumbs, etc.
Legumes: Chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, red lentils, etc.
Veggies: Corn, zucchini, beets, sweet potato, mushrooms, etc.
Nuts/seeds: Cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, etc.

That said, you don't have to be religious about the three category rule. I've made some great burgers with oats and veggies alone, and many of my burgers also incorporate ingredients from all four categories (see the below!). Start experimenting, and figure out what works.

2. Create texture.
If you're using beans as your base in a veggie burger, it's really easy to end up with something that resembles pan fried hummus. To avoid this, don't over mix or over process your veggie burger mixture: mix just enough to use the beans as a binder, but not so much that you end up with mush.

Regardless of your burger base choice, you'll want to be sure that texture exists. Try chopping in veggies or seeds at the last moment to add variety.

3. Pick a binder.
The number one question I'm asked about veggie burgers: "How do you keep them from falling apart?" It's a good question -- veggie burgers are prone to crumbling. Without egg and/or meat, it's sometimes hard for these patties to hold together. So, when you set out to make a veggie burger, pick your binder! Options include beans (my personal favorite, because they add protein, texture, binding properties, and satiety all at once), nut butters, ground flax meal, or ground nuts and seeds.

4. Vary your herbs and spices.
Seasoning is important in all burgers, but it's even more crucial in veggie burgers than it is in conventional ones. Try giving your burgers a Middle Eastern spin by adding cumin and/or za'atar spice; go Mexicali with cumin, oregano, and a dash of cayenne; or create a more traditional, savory mixture with parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme. To keep today's recipe seasonal, I'm featuring fresh dill and oregano. Instant summer! Herbs and spices will help add flavor to your burgers, and they'll showcase the variety and creativity these veggie concoctions have to offer.

And as for toppings? You can't go wrong with mustard or ketchup, of course, but you also needn't feel limited to them. Creamy salad dressings will work (try this tahini sauce on for size), or, for a creative spin, try serving with hummus! It's a particularly good accompaniment to these delicious, nutritious, and zucchini-stuffed burgers.

Zucchini Quinoa Burgers
Serves 6
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cup onion, chopped finely
1 1/2 cups zucchini, julienned or grated
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, raw or toasted
3/4 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
Black pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup cooked chickpeas (1/2 heaping cup dry)
1 cup cooked quinoa (1/3 cup dry)
2/3 cups water
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Chickpea, Grains, Quinoa, Vegetable, Zucchini, Make Ahead, Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw Food, Gena Hamshaw