In high school, which is when I started to really get into cooking, I was a vegetarian — meaning my early kitchen experiments involved a lot of vegetables, tofu and meatless burgers. In fact, I became so obsessed with finding the perfect veggie burger recipe that over the next several years I tried pretty much every version out there, but never found one that truly satisfied. Either there were so many ingredients that I was discouraged before I even started, or the recipe yielded a veggie burger that was mushy, crumbly, or a strange combination of the two.
Even worse, they never held up on the grill. So, for years, while my family flipped beef burgers outside our Fourth of July cookouts, I was sweltering inside in front of the stove, cooking my own homemade meatless concoction.
I found homemade veggie burgers so frustrating that, after a while, I gave up trying. I started eating meat again, and when I did crave a meatless option I resorted to portobello mushroom burgers. But recently, I had the urge to pick up where I left off and give it another go — and I think I finally cracked the code.
I started by drafting up the ingredient list, which I was keen on keeping short. I knew I wanted beans for heft, vegetables for color and moisture, and a (preferably vegan) binder to hold everything together. A few of the best meatless burgers I’ve had at restaurants include nuts for flavor and sturdiness, so I added those too.
To mimic the meaty flavor of traditional grilled burgers, I opted for beefy black beans and savory walnuts. I chose one vegetable for flavor (chopped scallions) and one for moisture and color (grated carrot). Chili powder ensures no bite is bland.
Miso is the secret
What makes this recipe truly ingenious is the binder. Most veggie burgers call for an egg to hold the ingredients together, but I really wanted to keep these vegan-friendly. So, I turned to my trusty “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” cookbook, which I flipped through so many times during my vegetarian days that the spine broke.
In the book, Mark Bittman suggests using miso as a vegan substitute for egg binder. After testing it, I confirmed that the idea is as ingenious as it sounds. Not only does miso help bind the ingredients in these patties and make them firm enough to grill, but the fermented soybean paste is also naturally umami-rich, which gives these burgers an even meatier taste.
In order to keep these veggie burgers versatile for whatever toppings you’re in the mood for, you’ll want to use white miso. It’s mild enough that it doesn’t add an overpowering flavor, and it pairs nicely with the smoky chili powder. The result is a meatless burger that’s well-suited for everything from ketchup, mustard, and cheese to sliced avocado and leafy greens.
Veggie Burger Recipe
- 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
- 3 medium scallions, coarsely chopped (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed (about 3 1/3 cups)
- 1/2 cup shredded carrot (from 1 medium, unpeeled carrot)
- 1/4 cup white miso paste
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 3 tablespoons olive or canola oil
For serving: 6 split hamburger buns, ketchup or mustard, lettuce, sliced tomato, thinly sliced red onion
1. Place the oats, walnuts and scallions in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until a coarse meal forms, about 20 pulses. Add the beans, carrots, miso and chili powder. Process, scraping down the sides as needed, until the mixture comes together and is chunky but isn’t a complete paste, 15 to 20 seconds.
2. Shape the mixture into 6 (3-inch-wide) patties (about 1/2 cup each). Let rest for 5 minutes, or refrigerate, loosely covered, for up to 3 hours.
1. Heat an outdoor grill to direct, medium-high heat. Scrape the grill grates clean if needed.
2. Brush the patties well on both sides with the oil and place on the grill in a single layer. Cover and grill until grill marks appear on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes.
3. Using a thin metal spatula, flip the burgers. Cover and grill until heated through and grill marks appear on the other side, 3 to 4 minutes more.
4. Serve the burgers on buns with desired toppings.
To cook in a skillet:
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add 3 of the patties and cook until well-browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer to a serving plate.
2. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and repeat with cooking the remaining 3 patties.
3. Serve the burgers on buns with desired toppings.
Recipe notes: These burgers can be frozen raw or cooked. Wrap each burger individually in plastic and freeze. Thaw raw burgers in the refrigerator overnight before cooking. Cooked burgers can be reheated in the oven, a toaster oven, or the microwave. Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to five days.