How to Make Veggie Burgers in 3 Ingredients


A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. For the next month, we’re sharing sneak peeks from the Big Little Recipes cookbook, all revving up to its release on October 26 (blasts airhorn, throws confetti in the air).

For a great burger, you only need ground beef. For a great veggie burger, you only need—actually, apparently, according to most recipes, you need a lot of things.

This makes sense. When you cook meat, be it beef or pork or chicken, its flavors multiply like a meme on Twitter. That’s thanks to the rising internal temperature, which intensifies the taste and smell, and also the Maillard reaction, which results in “several hundred aromatic compounds,” according to food science expert Harold McGee.

If someone is grilling burgers in their backyard or on their balcony and you happen to stroll by, you know it. But if someone is grilling a veggie burger, well, who’s to say?


So it’s easy to see why veggie burgers call for so many ingredients. There are hundreds of flavorful compounds to make up for, and more ingredients means more flavor, right? Maybe it’s toasted nuts, smoked paprika, or grated cheese. Or garam masala, garlic, or quinoa. You get the idea.

More ingredients might mean more flavor. But fewer ingredients can mean more flavor, too. You just have to know what to do with them.

This Big Little veggie burger doesn’t want to be compared to beef. It is—and I mean this in the best possible way—exceedingly lazy. You only need three ingredients (plus Big Little staples salt and oil). A food processor does all of the hard work. You can store the patties in the fridge for days and pan-fry them in minutes whenever you’re hungry.

The secret is to soak dried beans, rather than using the cooked or canned stuff. Such is the time-tested strategy for Middle Eastern falafel: Grind soaked chickpeas (or in Egypt, fava beans) into oblivion, shape the mixture into little balls, and fry them until they’re crunchy outside, juicy inside, and impossible to eat just one.

I’ve been stuffing my face with falafel for decades, but I never thought to falafel-ify veggie burgers until I read Joe Yonan’s wonderful cookbook Cool Beans and gawked at his Black Bean–Chipotle Falafel Burgers in our Genius Recipes column.

As he writes, “In the ongoing quest for the perfect veggie burger recipe, at a certain point a realization occurs: Wasn’t the perfect veggie burger created long ago—in falafel? Soaking but not precooking the beans, it turns out, is a good hedge against the curse of mushiness that befalls so many of this ilk.”

It’s also a hedge against the curse of blandness. Many falafel recipes include a handful of ingredients, from leaveners like baking powder to spices like cumin to herbs like parsley to aromatics like garlic. Yet there are also recipes that include just chickpeas, water, and salt, a testament to the sheer power of chickpeas.

In this week’s Big Little Recipe, we are adding only two other ingredients for a defiantly minimalist veggie burger: marinated artichokes (tangy and herby, thanks to floating in vinaigrette) and sun-dried tomatoes (make sure they’re oil-packed for that bouncy texture and buttery flavor). And in the Big Little Recipes cookbook, I share two more two-ingredient variations that are just as fuss-free.

But when it comes to toppings? Ignore everything I just said. Add mayo and mustard and ketchup and lettuce and tomato and pickles and cheese and whatever the heck you want. A little maximalism is delicious in moderation.

Snag a copy of the Big Little Recipes cookbook in our Shop, or a slew of other places, like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million,, Hudson Booksellers, IndieBound, Powell’s, or Target.

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