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“Ultimate” Veggie Burgers

Vegetarian week was easy when it was cold outside. A hearty bowl of vegetable stew is perfect to take the chill off. But then Spring came to San Francisco, ever so briefly. Thick and heavy are not the right fare for Spring and Summer evenings.

And what about lunch? It can’t be leftovers of the thick, hearty meal from the night before every day. And I’m not about to slap a piece of tofu between two slices of granola-spelt bread, slather it with veganaise, and pretend it tastes good.

So I went in search of veggie burgers. But I certainly didn’t want the individually wrapped soy-pucks you can find in the freezer section of your local Stop-n-Rob. And most recipes I’ve tried in the past are heavy on curry or cumin to cover up the overwhelming bean flavor. When your burger starts out with curry, there are only so many directions you can take it with sauces and other fixings.

On a whole wheat bun.  Yeah, we're hippies

On a whole wheat bun. Yeah, we're hippies

To the rescue? Cooks Illustrated. In the archive, they have a recipe for the “Ultimate Veggie Burgers.” That’s quite a promise. But they usually deliver, and this recipe is no exception.

The only caveat is that it’s a pain. The recipe makes 12 servings, so you get a lot, including leftovers that keep well, for the effort. But it’s a lot of effort. You can throw together some black bean patties in 20 minutes from can to plate. These are not those. These are better.

I think the key is the mix of mushrooms, lentils, and bulgur. All three add substance and flavor, but still leave you flexibility in terms of what you add later.

Ultimate Veggie Burgers
adapted from Cooks Illustrated
– serves 12 -

3/4 C dried green lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C bulgur
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium or 1 large onion)
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 small leek (white and light green parts), chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced.
1 lb. brown or white mushrooms sliced.
1 C raw unsalted cashews
1/3 C mayonaise
2 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
black pepper

1. Bring the lentils to a boil in 3 cups of water with 1 tsp of salt over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Drain the lentils in a mesh strainer and then spread them out on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to dry out a bit. Cool to room temperature.

2. While the lentils are cooking bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil in a small pan. Add the bulgur, stir, cover, and remove from the heat. Soak for about 15-20 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Drain in a mesh strainer and gently press out the excess moisture. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery, leeks, and garlic. Stir occasionally and cook until everything starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Spread these veggies out on a baking pan and cool to room temperature. (If you’re doing this all in order, the lentils are probably cook by now, so add them to the mixing bowl with the bulgur and re-use the same sheet pan).

4. Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the same skillet and turn the heat up to high. Cook the mushrooms , stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. They should give off all of their liquid, and then that liquid should cook off, so you have a pretty dry batch of cooked mushrooms. It takes 12-15 minutes. Spread the mushrooms on the pan with the other veggies and cool to room temperature.

5. Chop the cashews in the food processor for a few pulses. Coarse is ok since it’s all going to get mixed and chopped again.

6. Add the cashews, veggies, mushrooms, and mayonaise to the bowl with the bulgur and lentils and mix everything up. Move half of the mixture to the food processor and pulse about 15 times. It should be a coarse-textured paste. Transfer this to another bowl and repeat with the second half of the mixture. Combine it all in the big bowl you started with.

7. Add the panko, 1 tsp of salt, and ground pepper to the mixture and mix thoroughly.

8. Shape into patties about 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick, and place the patties on a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

9. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Cook the patties for 4 minutes per side, until golden. If they’re browning too fast, turn it down a bit.

Cooks Illustrated says you can cook these on the grill for 5 minutes per side, but I haven’t tried it yet. Extra patties can be stored in plastic wrap in the fridge or freezer. Remove from the freezer and thaw overnight in the fridge on a paper-towel lined plate before cooking.


    1. Monica says:

      Hi there! Thank you for posting this recipe. I gave it a whirl and posted my results – Mushroom Cashew Bulgur Burger. Loved the texture, but did the taste not remind you of cream of mushroom soup?

    2. maria says:

      Hi-I just made these. I like them, they have great texture. Flavor has to be bumped up a bit though. I shaped and pan fried one patty. I am going to add chives (a lot!) from my planter into the bowl of burger batter. I think that will improve flavor a bit. I may eventually do a blog post on these as well

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