Welcome to my first offering to the cause on Meatfree/Meatless Monday! Now this blog is meatfree (or vegetarian as I like to call it!) every day of the week, but I am absolutely in favour of meat-reducing. I know a lot of people who don’t want to commit to the everyday of not eating meat. Let’s face it, it can be difficult, isolating and down right disappointing, particularly when faced with eating out. But any meal without meat (and dairy if we’re being honest) is a HUGE step in the right direction. So here it is!
I do love a good veggie burger. It’s not the replacement of meat that I am looking for in a veggie burger. A burger is so much more than that. A hearty, tasty warm sandwich, perhaps with a little melted cheese and if I’m feeling jaunty, a fried egg. Crunchy salad, the judicious application of some mustard or aioli… All between a crusty sourdough bun. Okay, perhaps you can’t pick it up and eat it with your hands once all my additions are loaded on, but the flavour combinations stand. Burgers rock.
For me, a good veggie burger is not made with a questionable soy meat substitute or a deep-fried monstrosity of breaded frozen carrots and peas. But it is protein-heavy. I’m already planning on sticking it in a bun, so for me starchy potatoes, grains and the like have no place in a my burger.
The more actual vegetables in my veggie burger, the better (check out another of my veggie-loaded burger recipes, Baked Courgette & Feta Burgers with Lemon & Fresh Herbs).
My thoughts turned immediately to mushrooms when designing this dish. Cooked down, with the moisture drawn out, you can pack a lot of mushroom – and a lot of flavour – into one burger. And although I am resolutely not trying to imitate a carnivore burger here, mushrooms definitely have a meaty flavour and texture that feels appropriate.
If you are lucky enough to make a massive glut of wild mushrooms (yeah, right!), don’t let me stop you from using them, but this recipe calls for a very large quantity of mushrooms, so you may want to save your expensive, luxury ‘shrooms for a fancy garnish.
Having said that, your choice of mushrooms is important. I strongly recommend that you use brown mushrooms (or chestnut mushrooms, or cremini mushrooms, whatever you like to call them!). They really do have so much more flavour that white mushrooms. On the very rare occasions that I am forced to cook with white mushrooms, I am crushingly disappointed by the lack of taste. Even if I sear the living daylights out of them, ramp up the garlic and season, season, season, they are still comparatively watery.
Did you know that all the commercial mushrooms we ate used to be brown? The white mushroom was a genetic aberration that when discovered was seized upon and aggressively bred as an exotic alternative. It has now taken over, why I will never know. Perhaps because white looks cleaner?
For this burger, the mushrooms are chopped into small pieces (to create more surface area) and well browned. You can do this in batches in a frying pan, but I find it infinitely easier and less time consuming to roast the mushrooms in a hot oven instead. I find two baking trays is sufficient, even for this large amount of mushrooms, and all they need is a stir every so often.
The point of this step is both to evaporate as much water as possible from these moisture-heavy vegetables and to brown them. The browning dramatically heightens the flavour of the mushroom – this holds true for absolutely all fungi preparations – caramelising sugars and adding deeper, more complex layers of lovely flavour. No matter what the dish, I always take the extra time to sear my mushrooms in this way, before proceeding with whatever other preparation they need. It is fine to do this completely without fat – a dry roast or sauté is my preferred method – and the difference really is worth it. Once you start, you won’t go back.
I paired the mushrooms in this recipe with lots of fresh basil. This classic combination is fabulous. To my surprise, I also felt the basil highlighted the meatiness of the mushrooms – I’m not really sure why. The basil flavour really accented this dish, so I wouldn’t recommend leaving it out, or drastically reducing the amount, but if you fancy a different flavour profile, by all means substitute it for another fresh herb.
Some walnuts and chickpeas are also included in this dish to bulk out the mushrooms, but they are not the main source of flavour here. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’m sure you could substitute other nuts or beans.
I used chickpeas that I had cooked from dry (I soaked and boiled a massive batch, then froze them in portions for later use). I haven’t tried them with tinned chickpeas. They would probably be fine, though sometimes tinned chickpeas are a little softer than those you cook yourself. Please do let me know how it turned out if you make this substitution.
Instead of using an egg and/or flour to bind these burgers, I opted for flax meal. This option is not only vegan, gluten-free and packed with nutritious omega-3s, it is much more effective. The ground flax seed is mixed with a little water and left for about half an hour until the gelatinous seeds absorb the water, making a viscous liquid. This paste really is amazing at sticking things together!
All the ingredients for this burger are cooked in advance and roughly ground before adding the flax binder. The final step, before shaping them, is to pulse it all a few times in a food processor. This step really brings it all together in a way that simple hand mixing cannot, even though the ingredients are already is quite small pieces. It turns a fairly loose mixture which does not really hold together into a moist, easy to shape burger mix.
To give them the very best shape, I use my hands first, then wrap them individually in clingfilm. Once they are wrapped. they can be given another press and shape, evening out any cracking in the side – this is much easier with this method. I then rest them in the fridge for an hour or so to allow them to set properly. They will sit quite happily in the fridge for several days or you can put the wrapped burger patties in a plastic bag or container and freeze them for several months. I always make a large batch and freeze them, as it’s such a satisfying and healthy meal to have on hand (unless you serve them with a massive quantity of chips/fries that is). Let them defrost in the fridge before using.
There is no problem at all with cooking these patties. They hold together beautifully, even when cooked in a very light film of oil – just make sure you use something a bit non-stick (I used a cast iron skillet). I haven’t tried them on a barbecue, but I see no reason why they wouldn’t be excellent. No second-rate, sad-looking vegetarian option in your barbecue!
One, very minor, word of warning. They do squish a little when chomped down on. They are still absolutely delicious, but when pressed between a super crusty bun (as I did) there is a chance of you losing a bit of your burger out the other side. There are two options here. You can either just pick the bit of burger up and shove it in your mouth (my preferred option) or you can use a softer bun. You will then have no problems at all.
Obviously, you can serve these burger with any kinds of toppings that take your fancy. I have had them with avocado, roasted peppers, fresh red onion, cheese and salad on various different occasions and they were all wonderful.
As mentioned earlier, a fried egg would also be a great addition. Serve with a big salad for a healthy option or with my Oven-Roasted Spicy Potatoes or Baked Potato-Parmesan Wedges, for a heartier meal. Oooh, or with a side of macaroni and cheese for the very decadent. That would be lovely…
What does your ideal burger look like?
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