Introduction: How to Make the Best Vegan Burger

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Vegan burgers are the unicorns of the food world: easy to make, adaptable to your taste, and delicious. The key to making the best vegan burger is to focus on creating a hearty, flavorful patty, rather than trying to imitate a meat patty. If you follow these steps, you're guaranteed to make vegan burgers that taste better than a restaurant's.

Step 1: 1. Grains, Beans, Root Veggies

The "meaty" part of a vegan burger is composed of 3 components: grains, beans, and root veggies. You can make a really great patty out of 2 of these, or a fantastic patty out of all three. Some suggestions:

Grains: Brown rice, quinoa, wheatberries, farro, spelt, oats, barley

Root veggies: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, yam, parsnip, carrots

Beans: Black beans, lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, black eyed peas, edamame

Pick the ingredients that appeal to you the most. Cook the grains first (vegan burgers are a great way to use up leftovers). Either use leftover cooked root veggies, or cube, steam, and mash them fresh. The ratio can vary significantly, though grains shouldn't make up more than 1/3 of the total mixture for the patties that hold together.

Step 2: 2. Sweet Flavors Really Work in Vegan Burgers

Don't feel limited to make vegan burgers taste like beef burgers. Sweet flavors from root veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes, and beets really work well in a vegan burger. Just make sure to complement the flavors with more savory elements. This vegan beet burger is made savory and grounding (not overly sweet) with chickpeas.

Step 3: 3. Think Nuts

What really takes vegan burgers to the next level is nuts. It adds a savory, "cheesy" umami dimension and hearty texture to even simple patties. This vegan chickpea burger is made incredible with crushed walnuts. Also try almonds, peanuts, cashews, pecans, and seeds like pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds.

Step 4: 4. Add Veggies

The choice of veggie add-ons is endless so use your imagination! Try all different mushrooms (white, cremini, shiitake, king oyster), corn, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, leafy greens (defrosted chopped spinach or collard greens are especially handy), are all excellent choices.

Step 5: 5. How to Hold It All Together

Contrary to popular myth, you don't need egg replacer, chia or flax "eggs" in order to hold a vegan burger together. If you mash your root veggies and/or beans enough, they have enough starch and water to create a firm patty that doesn't fall apart while cooking. But try these tricks if you still end up with patties that crumble:

1. Add breadcrumbs to the batter, form the patty, and coat again with breadcrumbs.

2. Use a non-stick pan and a good spatula. This will produce better results than baking in the oven.

3. Try making a vegan stuffed portobello burger: stuff the mixture into a portobello cap, which adds another level of flavor and texture. This one is a black bean and quinoa stuffed burger. You can even come up with more creative variations like a mac n' cheese stuffed vegan burger.

Step 6: 6. Add Spices and Herbs

You can go crazy with your favorite spices--just remember which combinations you used, so if you find your golden formula, you can make it again next time. My favorite spices to use for vegan burgers is cumin, coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, garam masala, and oregano. Also excellent are allspice, nutmeg (a little goes a long way), nutritional yeast, liquid smoke, smoked paprika, dried dill, and dried parsley. Soy sauce or vegan Worcestershire sauce will give a depth of flavor. Use plenty of good quality salt and fresh black pepper to round out the flavors. Form into a patty with your hands, and use a well-oiled non-stick pan to cook for 4-5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and firm on the outside. Bon appetit!

What's your secret to making the best vegan burger?

Photo: Peaceful Dumpling