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Where’s the Beef? Not Here!

Where’s the Beef? Not Here!

The time is now to use an array of produce to create veggie burgers that WOW!

No matter if you use frozen or make your own patty, having a veggie burger on your menu has become somewhat of a requirement if you offer any other kind of beef burger.

More and more diners have started moving toward plant-based diets — or, at least, trying to cut back on their meat intake. And a veggie burger is an easy way to make people happy.

That said, not all veggie burgers are created equal. It wasn’t that long ago that pre-made, frozen patties were limp, lacked flavor and, honestly, somewhat resembled a beige hockey puck. Not to mention there wasn’t much innovation behind the ingredients. In the last few years, however, brands like MorningStar Farms, Gardenburger, Boca, Amy’s, Hilary’s Eat Well and Dr. Praeger’s, among others, have really stepped up their game. You can now find well-made frozen veggie burgers made with kale, quinoa, crimini mushrooms, millet, coconut oil, arugula, collard greens and apple cider vinegar that you can then also spruce up with other fresh toppings and delicious buns made from whole grains — healthier options diners are looking for.

“Now more than ever, consumers are taking a holistic approach to food that they eat,” said Peter Nelson, key account executive at Kellogg Company, which owns MorningStar Farms. “Consumers are not only seeking healthier items, but vegetarian specific. They also want environmentally responsible options, as sustainably sourced food is more important than ever.”

When it comes to a scratch-made veggie burger, there’s a lot of trial and error that goes into making a great one; you’ll no doubt come up with some not-so-great combinations of ingredients in your quest. But once you nail that delicious blend that forms a patty that can stand up to the consistency of a meat-protein-based burger, diners looking for that alternative will thank you.

At Chicago’s Bad Hunter, chef Dan Snowden experimented with more than 20 different recipes before settling on one that made him happy enough to call it the Bad Hunter. At one point he tried making a chickpea-based patty, but found the taste too vegetal and green, and thus felt like it was distracting. Ultimately, the combination that worked best uses black turtle beans cooked down in water with onion, fennel and other aromatics until it’s all tender. The beans then roast in the oven before adding shiitake mushrooms, onion and garlic that’s all covered in a chickpea miso to roast further. Shaved beets get added before all the ingredients are bound together with egg white powder and the naturally occurring vegetarian enzyme transglutaminase (a.k.a. “meat glue”), grilled, topped with cheddar cheese from Hook’s Cheese Company in Wisconsin and a housemade tomato jam, and served on brioche with a side of either fries or carrot-kohlrabi slaw.

“What I liked most was using really simple flavors that didn’t taste so out there and over the top,” Snowden said. “I wanted to emphasize umami and savoriness. Most veggie burgers are one big dense patty that can be a little challenging. One of my favorite styles of burger is a smash burger, which we re-created for this. It creates a caramelization and crust to give it the texture of a real smash burger. All those flavors together are reminiscent of an old-school diner burger.”

You can keep things even easier by using fewer yet still high-quality ingredients. At the green-certified Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland, James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer created a fairly simple veggie burger with better ingredients and never used any chemicals or fillers. The result is a burger made with cannellini beans and long grain brown rice that Sawyer tops with aged cheddar, tomatoes and housemade pickles.

You can get creative and stack meaty grilled portobellos with different ingredients like grilled peaches, guacamole or goat cheese.

“After eating the same veggie burger over and over at a restaurant in Columbus that was heralded as the best, I wanted to mess around and see how we could make it better,” Sawyer said. “We started making it with cold-pressed veggie peeling (pulp), messed around with the pulp and about seven different combinations of rice and beans, finally coming to our current recipe. The beans make for a ‘meatier’ body, while the rice lends texture, and sugars and starch that release from the rice to aid in binding.”

While binding is a tricky part to a great veggie burger, don’t think yours needs to resemble a traditional patty either. You can get creative and stack meaty grilled portobellos with different ingredients like grilled peaches, guacamole or goat cheese; or use grilled eggplant and layer that with hummus or pesto; play around with different grains like freekeh and couscous; or even make a falafel burger you can top with tzatziki, red onion and diced cucumber for a Mediterranean-style flair.

You can also let local produce and extra ingredients you already have in the kitchen for other dishes inspired you. At his two Tallahassee, Fla., restaurants Backwoods Bistro and Backwoods Crossing, chef/owner Jesse Rice did just that —conceptualizing a couple of veggie burgers. He used local Southern corn with black beans and hemp seed for the patty at Bistro and smothered hummus on a sourdough bun. At Crossing, he opted for quinoa and sweet potato for the patty that’s topped with avocado, roasted red peppers and arugula. “We had sweet potato mash as a side dish and I wanted to minimize waste.”

So not only can you get creative with your veggie burgers, you can also add sustainability to your checklist. It’s a win-win.

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