February 4, 2017 by Jean
I am a bit of a foodie. Mostly that means that I love food. And what I love most is simple, fresh foods from local farmers. My commitment to what is sometimes called “locavore” eating means that I eat seasonally. I find that eating what is in season further enhances my enjoyment of what I eat; almost any food becomes a special treat when it is only available at certain times of year.
I cook most of what I eat from scratch. My feelings about cooking are similar to my feelings about gardening. It’s not that I love the hard work of gardening; what I love are the results of that hard work. Similarly, I’m not a person who finds cooking a deeply rewarding, creative activity; but I do love being able to eat the fresh, delicious, healthful food that cooking produces.
In late fall, as I began to transition from my standard warm season lunch of salad and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to my typical cold season lunch of homemade soup and a veggie burger, I wondered if I could replace the commercial frozen veggie burgers from the supermarket with a homemade version.The veggie burgers were one of the few highly processed foods left in my diet, and my local supermarkets kept discontinuing the low-fat, low-sodium bean-based versions I preferred. Since the frozen burgers had also become quite expensive (almost $4 for a box of four), the time was right to look for an alternative.
I got out a bunch of my most likely cookbooks and began to leaf through them looking for veggie burger recipes. Since my favorite commercial burgers were a black bean burger from Boca and a Mediterranean garbanzo bean burger from Morningstar, I looked especially for bean-based recipes. I found just what I was looking for in Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook (Simon and Schuster, 2010), a recipe for “Bean-and-Grain Loaf, Burgers, and Balls.” This is the kind of basic recipe that allows for almost endless variations. The basic ingredients are as follows:
- 2-cup container of cooked beans (e.g., garbanzo beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, navy beans), drained
- 2 cups of cooked grains (e.g., bulgur, cous-cous, rice)
- 1 bunch of greens (e.g., spinach, chard, kale), steamed
- 1 egg
- other raw, diced vegetables as desired
- seasonings, as desired
Whenever I cook either beans or grains, I follow Mark Bittman’s suggestion of making a big batch and freezing what doesn’t get used immediately. This means that I usually have 2-cup containers in the freezer of several different kinds of beans and several different kinds of grains. Sometimes, making my veggie burgers simply involves thawing out one container of beans and one container of grains and then mixing them with the other ingredients and cooking. When I set out to make veggie burgers today, I began with a thawed container of garbanzo beans from the freezer but made a new batch of grains (in this case, quinoa, a grain I hadn’t used before).
I mix all the ingredients for veggie burgers in my food processor, which makes it quick and easy. I began today by cooking up a batch of quinoa on the top of the stove. When the grains were done, I washed and trimmed a bag of spinach leaves and put them in a pot to steam, and I turned on the oven to preheat. While the spinach leaves were wilting and the oven was heating up, I minced 2 garlic cloves, 1 small onion, and two small carrots in the food processor. Then I added the drained garbanzo beans and pulsed a few times to mash them. Next I added the two cups of quinoa, then the egg (pulsing after each addition to mix the ingredients). Next I added the drained, wilted spinach and finally some spices (cumin, which I find goes well with garbanzo beans, thyme, black pepper, and red pepper flakes). I processed all of this for a few seconds to get it thoroughly mixed. Then, I used a two-cup measuring cup to drop lumps of the mixture into an oiled roasting pan, using the back of my spoon to flatten them out a bit into patties. This recipe makes 8 veggie burgers. Bittman advises baking burgers for 30 minutes at 400F and turning them once or twice during the cooking, but I find it works better for me to bake them for an hour at lower temperature (350F) and without turning. Once they have cooled, I load them into a plastic freezer bag, separated by sheets of waxed paper to keep them from sticking together, and put them in the freezer. A single frozen burger is ready to eat after 75-90 seconds in the microwave.
As I experiment with different combinations of beans, grains, greens and seasonings, I’m finding some favorites. So far, spinach seems to work best as a green. (Kale was my least favorite.) As was true when I bought commercial veggie burgers, garbanzo beans and black beans are the flavors I like best. Using quinoa as a grain worked out very well, and I also found an earlier batch of burgers I made with bulgur delicious. All in all, I am enjoying these wholesome homemade veggie burgers, especially sandwiched between slices of homemade whole wheat bread. Yum.