Veggie Burgers for Now and Later

August  9, 2012

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.

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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.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • rachel waters
    rachel waters
  • edelina
  • allthingsconsideredyummy
  • WaterBoiler
  • NBrush
Gena is a registered dietitian, recipe developer, and food blogger. She's the author of three cookbooks, including Power Plates (2017) and Food52 Vegan (2015). She enjoys cooking vegetables, making bread, and challenging herself with vegan baking projects.


rachel W. March 7, 2013
I had a bad experience w/veggie burgers in the past (too bland, mushy, breadcrumby), but trust Gena whole-heartedly w/her recipes so decided to give her version a try. As an avid follower of her blog choosing raw, I know our palates and tastes are pretty similar (altho I usually add a bit more garlic or heat), and I appreciate that she gives a lot of substitutes on top of non-complicated recipes making it easy to throw together with what you have on hand.

Long story short...I ran out of zucchini but didn't panic because her post comes with options! Subbed in shredded carrot and away we went. I added more garlic, some cumin, cooked the veggies w/red pepper flakes and cayenne for a kick as well as ground up flax and sesame seeds and the end result was insanely tasty.

Per another of Gena's tricks, I eat these with some homemade hummus, in a collard green. Gena is the expert on collard wraps, mine never come together quite like hers do, and usually end up being eaten without setting down so as to keep it all together, but she has turned me into a total collard wrap convert. I eat them at least once a day.

My comments are as follows: Be gentle w/the patties...don't flip it like a burger! Gentle. It's not going to behave like a burger patty (or even most veggie pattys). The beauty of Gena's is it lacks fillers which is why it's by far my favorite recipe, but it does make it a bit tricky to get perfect...but considering I don't follow recipes and tend to improvise, it was a 10. In fact, I've had one for lunch 4 out of 5 days in a row...Thanks Gena!! You're such an inspiration.
edelina December 19, 2012
You've revived my plant-based diet quest! It's an uphill battle to convert from old habits. Two days ago I was reminded of how good veggie burgers can be at Colophon's in Bellingham, WA where they serve nachos with a bit of crumbled black bean burger along with the usual salsa, and non-vegan cheese and sour cream. At least it was vegetarian!
These veggie burgers are so wonderful! I just had friends visiting and made a batch of them 2 days ahead of time, and left the mix in the fridge until we needed them, and then formed patties right before cooking. The texture was great and making in advance didn't dry them out. Would you mind if I write about them on my blog? Would love to share this and link to you!
Gena H. August 28, 2012
Of course I don't mind! Please do write about them :)
WaterBoiler August 14, 2012
I made these last night. They were absolutely delicious, and very filling. I ate them with arugula and cucumber on whole wheat pita. There are 4 left in my refrigerator to look forward to. (I used canned chickpeas; still in the work week.)
Gena H. August 28, 2012
So glad you liked them!
NBrush August 13, 2012
I'm going to try this recipe and check out the texture. I bet it will be just fine.
SaraVino August 10, 2012
These burgers look wonderful! Bookmarking this recipe.
jlgoesvegan August 10, 2012
Love your "base" recommendations! I think those are key to making a great burger that holds together. My trick? Adding a little TVP!

The zucchini - quinoa combo is inspired! Can't wait to try it.
These look amazing! Great post! Now I know why my veggie burgers always come out a little too mushy!
Gena H. August 9, 2012
aargersi August 9, 2012
Add me to the list of folks trying them this weekend - love this! I too am an omnivore but I really like veggie burgers, and have never made my own.
lastnightsdinner August 9, 2012
LOVE this. Though I'm an omnivore, I am always looking for ways to get more veggies and whole grains into my family's meals. I love your suggestions for adding lots of texture and flavor into the burgers, and I can't wait to experiment in my own kitchen - thank you!
thirschfeld August 9, 2012
These look absolutely delicious and I am putting them on my weekend dinner menu! I like that the burger is gluten free too. More often then no people add flour as the binder.
Edible B. August 9, 2012
@thirschfeld You are so right! I find it frustrating when I go out for a burger to places where they will offer gluten free buns, but the patties are not gluten free... I wish restaurants would make the connection!
Gena H. August 9, 2012
That would be very infuriating to me indeed! Glad I can help you both with the GF recipe :)

As a vegan, I'm often frustrated when I come across a veggie burger with egg. It would be such an easy option for me in a restaurant setting otherwise!