The secret to a great hamburger is simplicity, but coming up with the recipe for a great veggie burger requires an enormous amount of thought. That’s because a veggie burger has to combine many different ingredients to get just the right balance. “If veggie burgers were easy to create, people would eat a lot more of them,” says Jimmy Bannos, Jr., the chef at Chicago’s The Purple Pig and a self-professed all-beef-burger lover who is also a genius with vegetables. “What we look for in a hamburger is juiciness, with fat dripping down, and the challenge is that vegetables don’t naturally have that.” A bad veggie burger can be dry and pasty, like a third piece of bread inside the bun. “You need more components, so that the patty isn’t just a pureed blob,” Bannos says. To come up with the ideal recipe, he defined six essential veggie-burger qualities, then picked ingredients that matched: chickpeas for heft, quinoa for texture, Greek yogurt for moisture, lemon juice for acidity, herbs for freshness and roasted garlic for flavor. Bannos’s veggie burger reflects his Mediterranean style of cooking, but the beauty of his approach is that it’s easy to use his framework to create your own version. He’s already done all the hard thinking for you.
Building a Great Veggie Burger
Every ingredient in a veggie burger is important. Here, Jimmy Bannos, Jr., lists the qualities essential to a great patty—heft, flavor, texture, freshness, acidity and moisture—and matches each to ingredients in his recipe, offering easy substitutions where possible.
Fregola “I love the nuttiness that fregola—a toasted pasta from Sardinia—gives the burger, but you could substitute orzo, couscous or another pasta.”
Chickpeas “I use canned chickpeas in the recipe, but you could swap them out for lentils or almost any bean.”
Scallions “They’re delicious in the burger, but you could also substitute onions.”
Roasted Garlic “It’s like the salt and pepper of my kitchen; I just love it. It adds so much complexity. It’s the one ingredient that actually would be tough to replace.”
Asparagus “Barely cooked so it’s still crunchy, it adds a pop of texture to the burger, along with freshness. You could try corn, carrots or snap peas instead.”
Quinoa “Without a grainy ingredient to simulate the texture of beef, your burger will taste like a bean cake. I really enjoy the flavor of quinoa, but you could also use farro.”
Basil, Parsley and Mint “These herbs add so much brightness to the veggie burger. Mint doesn’t get used enough in savory dishes, I think, but you could substitute pretty much any fresh herb: sage, oregano, thyme, tarragon, chervil or chives.”
Marinated Artichoke Hearts “Marinated hearts add acidity and earthy flavor to the burger. Or replace them with pickled fennel, celery or chard stems.”
Lemon Juice “Acidity is as essential to a dish as salt. Instead of the lemon juice I use here, you might try lime juice or vinegar.”
Greek Yogurt “Yogurt helps bind the burgers while keeping them from becoming dry and contributing a lot of tanginess and fresh flavor. Plus, it fits into my Mediterranean theme. Good, real Greek yogurt is a beautiful thing, but you could also switch it out for crème fraîche or sour cream.”