Take a stab at how big the plant-based food market is these days. In the next two years, analysts estimate that total sales of meat and dairy alternatives will reach $25 billion — that’s no small potatoes. Even Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, disclosed that 39 percent of its customer base wants to replace meat in their diets with plant-based foods.
It’s no wonder, then, that the commercial veggie-burger business is expected to evolve into a $5 billion-plus industry by the year 2020. Once a pariah, it seems plant-based patties have suddenly become the darling of barbecues and campouts.
In fact, you don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian to want to eat one. According to Beyond Meat, the parent company of pea protein-based Beyond Burgers, 70 percent of those who purchase their product are flexitarians — people who are cutting down on meat consumption for any of a variety of reasons, including health purposes, animal advocacy and concern for environmental sustainability.
As a result of market demand, the array of veggie-burger options at stores and around town has become vast. There are veggie burgers that try to imitate beef; some are made from heme, a genetically modified yeast that mimics the iron molecules found in real meat, while others are tinted a familiar red that comes from beets. There are hearty bean-based burgers, Mexican burgers, Asian burgers and California burgers, which are full of grains and nuts. There’s even that mysterious, albeit popular, yellow-tinged burger made from a fungus (an edible one) called mycoprotein.
But these store-bought and restaurant patties aren’t your only option for a meat-free burger. You can whip up something just as delicious in your very own kitchen with quality ingredients. And, if you’re willing to do some serious chopping, homemade veggie burgers can be a one-bowl wonder. Whole-food ingredients such as beans, whole grains, vegetables, seeds and nuts pack in nutrients, fiber and protein. When making veggie burgers at home, it’s easy and fun to tailor them to your own palate. Don’t like mushrooms? Leave ’em out! Want minced jalapeños in your Tex-Mex patty? Add ’em in! Understanding the components of a veggie burger — how the whole thing comes together and what makes it stick — will make the whole process easier.
Creating a veggie burger is all about consistency, flavor and binding. With conventional burgers, it is the combination of minced or ground meat and its inherent fat that keeps the patty together. How can you emulate this process with meatless ingredients to get the best results? We recommend a ratio of about 60 percent base to 5 percent flavorings to 35 percent binding.
Base: This will be your toothy, moist mixture made of beans or legumes, cooked grains or, as in the following recipe, tempeh. You’ll want to mash or grate these ingredients, but not too finely or uniformly. You can add finely chopped nuts to the mix to provide more texture, protein and fat.
Flavorings: Seasoning burgers is the best part of making your own, and you can freely use herbs, spices and other add-ins, such as minced vegetables. Choose a flavor palette and run with it. For example, Southwestern burgers call for dried spices, such as chipotle chili powder or cumin, and chopped peppers and corn kernels. Throw in minced fresh cilantro, too. If your taste tends toward Asian flavors, you can mince or finely dice scallions, greens and water chestnuts. These should be lightly pre-cooked, both for flavor and so they don’t prolong the burgers’ cooking process.
Binding: Various ingredients can be used to make veggie burgers stick together. Eggs are, of course, a wonderful binding agent. Oats and bread crumbs (regular or gluten-free) also become sticky when combined with moisture. Your aim is to have a mixture that is the consistency of cookie dough. Chilling the patties prior to cooking can be helpful in keeping them cohesive.
By the time your homemade veggie burger hits the bun, you’ll rest easy knowing there’s only goodness in the mix. And plant-based ingredients are generally inexpensive to boot!
As Americans continue to edge toward ethical eating with an increasingly conscientious mind-set, the plant-based food market will continue to expand. If you’re one of the many taking charge of your health by choosing plant-based alternatives over meat — whether you’re a vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian or just someone who enjoys a really good veggie burger — you can make a wide range of powerhouse patties right in your own kitchen.
By Michele Jacobson • Photography by Casey Woods