What Comes Next in Our Meatless Burger Project

Welcome back to Burgerville: We're building on your ideas

It's been four weeks since we set out to Design the Best Meatless Burger and the response has been immediate and bold. Between the communities here and on Mark's Facebook page, we've gathered hundreds of comments and ideas, including some cheerleading on Twitter from @chefjoseandres.

Thank you one and all for participating. And a wee reminder our work is ongoing. It's clear from the range of responses we have a lot more to talk about. Many you are eager to try something that's not commercially processed from tons of ingredients and easy to make at home. That is our mission, too. What we didn't expect was the number of people who said something akin to, "Just throw a portabella mushroom on the grill, slap it in a bun, and call it a burger." (We totally get that, trust us.)

Still others questioned the need for a vegetable burger at all. As the kind of cooks who are happy to grill everything from lettuce to chocolate panini, we get this, too. But the incredible popularity of fast-food and supermarket plant-based burgers makes this hunger impossible for the recipe developing side of us to ignore.

Now with the biggest grilling holiday of the year upon us — and many of us planning to gather around grills for the first time in over a year — let's prepare to expand the discussion. Next Thursday, July 1, the Bittman Project conversation will be all about plant-based burgers. Love 'em. Hate 'em. Or somewhere in between. To keep things lively, we can also talk about patty alternatives and old-fashioned beef burgers.

In the meantime, be sure to keep your ideas, photos, and comments coming, especially if you can't make the chat next Thursday. Since some of you on TBP and Facebook have asked about food allergies or dislikes, here are possible solutions for adapting the base recipes:

  • Gluten-free — Make sure you use declared gluten-free oats (if you’re comfortable with that option), which are the starch in both recipes. Or try overcooked short-grain brown rice. For the soy sauce in the black bean burger recipe, you can skip it altogether, use a little crumbled seaweed or extra bean or mushroom liquid, or try a gluten-free soy sauce alternative.

  • Porcini — Substitute the same quantity of extra beans or finely chopped cooked greens or winter squash (squeezed dry).

  • Coconut cream — There are no tree nuts in either recipe (just chia seeds) but if coconut is an issue, you can try a solid non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening (there are several on the market; read the labels) or freeze your go-to vegetable oil and incorporate it into the mix when still solid. (Things to do with the leftover coconut cream after skimming the fat: You can use it in smoothies, sauces and dressings, soups, or cocktails. Stored in an airtight container, it keeps for several days in the fridge or months in the freezer.)

  • Legumes — You can try grains — we’ve had best results with overcooked whole grains and flours — combined with vegetables and nuts or nut butters if those are an option for you.

  • Soy — There’s soy sauce in the black bean burger; see above for other options.

Since the goal is a vegan, plant-based patty, that means no eggs, cheese, honey, or condiments like fish sauce or Worcestershire.

Though we agree with you that any delicious meatless patty is a boon — and there’s certainly nothing the matter with cooking in a pan or grill pan in other circumstances — the challenge of making a new grillable vegan patty is our goal for this crowdsourcing adventure. We’re defining “grilled” as cooking on grates over a gas or charcoal fire.

Thank you again, Everyone! Looking forward to what comes next. Here are the original recipes so they're handy.


The Bittman Burger — Baseline Recipe

Makes: 6 servings
Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 can (about 14-ounces) unsweetened coconut cream

  • 2 small cans (14-ounce) or 1 large can (28-ounce) pinto beans, rinsed and well-drained (or about 3 cups drained homemade beans)

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds

  • 1/4 cup red miso 

  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

  • Good-quality vegetable oil, for brushing

Instructions

1. Put the can of coconut cream in the freezer while you prepare the burgers. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the beans into a large rimmed baking sheet and roast, shaking once or twice until the skins of the beans dry, crack, and darken slightly, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Working over a large bowl with a palm-full of oats at a time, rub them between your hands to crumble them a little; repeat with the remaining oats. (It’s okay if they don’t know all break apart.) Add the chia, miso, smoked paprika, mustard, and pepper and stir, mashing with a fork to combine. Remove 1/4 cup of the thick fat from the top of the coconut cream and refrigerate the rest of the fat and liquid for another use. Stir the fat into the bowl until a thick paste forms; let sit until the beans are ready. 

3. Add the warm beans to the oat mixture and mash with a fork, a potato masher, or your hands until the beans are broken up but still in uneven pieces. The mixture should hold together when you squeeze some in your palm. To shape the burgers, divide the mixture into 6 balls, and working one at a time, press them into patties onto a large rimmed baking sheet until they’re about 1/2 inch thick. If the edges crack or they become uneven, simply press them back into a circle.

4. Cover loosely with parchment and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to a day. Or wrap the burgers individually and freeze for up to several months.) Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for medium direct-heat cooking. (Or if you're going to cook the burgers on the stove, heat the oven to 200° and get a baking sheet handy.)

5. To grill the burgers, brush the tops with some of the oil. Put them all on the grates directly over the prepared fire, oiled side down, brush the tops with more oil, and cover the grill.

To cook on the stove, put a thin film of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add three of the burgers to the pan.

6. Either way, cook until the burgers are firm, a crust forms, and they release easily 5 to 10 minutes. Turn and cook the other side the same way, another 5 or so minutes. If cooking in a pan, transfer the finished patties to a baking sheet in the oven and repeat with the remaining three burgers. Serve right away on buns or rolls if you’d like with all the trimmings.

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Baseline recipe developed by Kerri Conan


Mark's Best Black Bean Burgers

Makes: About 8 small burgers or 4 regular-sized burgers
Time: About 40 minutes with canned (or homemade cooked) beans

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup dried, stemless porcini mushrooms

  • 2 cups cooked or drained canned black beans

  • 1 teaspoon roughly chopped garlic

  • 3/4 cup rolled oats, or more if needed

  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika or chili powder

  • 1 teaspoon cumin

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

  • Salt and black pepper

  • Bean-cooking liquid, porcini soaking liquid, or water

  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water until pliable, 5 to 10 minutes. Lift them from the soaking water and chop; reserve the soaking liquid for the burgers or another use (like a soup, sauce, or stir-fry).

2. Put the mushrooms, beans, garlic, oats, spices, and soy sauce in a food processor with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is combined, not puréed, about 30 seconds. (Or use a potato masher.) When you pinch some in your fingers, the mixture should hold together without sticking to your hands. Add more oats to thicken it or a few drops of liquid to thin it, as needed. Stir in the cilantro with a fork, and let sit for 5 minutes.

3. Shape into 4 large or 8 small patties; let them sit for 5 minutes. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until crisp on one side, about 5 minutes. Flip and cook until the burgers are crisp on the other side, another 5 minutes or so. Serve with the usual fixings.

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Adapted from New York Times Cooking