Vegan Veggie Burgers, with Seitan

Last summer, I aimed to perfect a vege burger recipe. Like uninspired iceberg lettuce salads, non-meat burgers often pop up as the only vegan options on menus or at cookouts. These limp pieces of cardboard taste just like the freezers in which they were stored for so long. If you’ve ever begrudgingly chewed such travesties, then I implore you to throw down your bun and take up some tongs in action!

I meant to post this for Memorial Day, but my! did that come and go. Hopefully you’ll still find the time to try out this recipe for the summer.

One note: it’s really best with homemade seitan, slathered in homemade barbecue sauce.

The Goal

In order to reach a goal, one needs clearly defined criteria. My criteria for the perfect vege burger are that it shall:

  • Be able to be grilled without falling apart
  • Have some bite to it, and won’t be perfectly consistent on the inside like kofta or falafel
  • Not squish out the back of the bun when eating; retain its patty form
  • Taste awesome (obviously); have some spice to it, and make no mistake that there are plenty of vegetables in it

Note that I’m not trying to make something that fools omnis into thinking that they’re devouring a carcass (although if I were, then it would have beets in it). In order for a veggie burger to have the same basic function as its cruel and unsustainable cousin, however, it does have to take a hint here and there.

Denaturation

Normally, vegan substitutions are pretty easy to make. The thing that makes it so hard for veggie burgers to emulate real burgers is is the fact that veggie burgers don’t undergo denaturation.

Denaturation is a chemical process that causes a structural change in proteins, firming them up. It’s why egg whites turn from clear to white and harden when heated, and it’s why cooked meat turns from pink to brown and hardens when heated, too. It’s also why the acid in ceviche turns fish firm.

Given that veggie burgers also contain protein, it’s likely that there’s some denaturation going on there, but it’s not quite like cooked meat. I suspect that this is why so many vegetarian vege burgers call for an egg.

The Method

After some thought, I came up with these basic ideas for vege burgers, in order of preference:

  • Seitan
  • Garbanzo bean or flour
  • Black or pinto bean
  • Mushroom and oat
  • Beet and something-or-other

I thought that I could make something like kofta with garbanzo flour, but then I realised that the consistency, bite, and chew would be off. I still think that a pinto bean version may work well. Mushroom and oat would be too squishy and have weird flat oats in them, and I wanted to make one with beets really just to have pinkish-red juice squish out for giggles.

Seitan, however, seemed promising. I then turned to the Internet for inspiration.

I found none.

A Vegetarian Times recipe for Barbecued Seitan Burgers from 2000 seemed like it might be a good place to start (actually, it seemed like the only place to start), since I already wanted to make barbecue sauce. The recipe called for cornmeal, though, which I thought would be too floury. I briefly entertained using masa harina until I remembered all of the experience that I have with the Gluten-Free Ratio Rally and decided to play around with my own flours.

The Result

So here it is: my best vegan burger recipe.

I’m really pleased with the result. It has a great consistency and chew; it doesn’t squish out the back; and it’s evident that there are vegetables in it.

It’s best slathered in homemade barbecue sauce before going on the grill. I love mine on a bun with mustard, avocado, tomato, onion, and any greens that are left around.

At a cookout or potluck, serve it with some crunchy chips and dip or salsa and guacamole, or just as a relaxing evening meal outside.

And of course, enjoy it with a wheat beer, summer ale, or white ale. An orange wine would hold up, too.

Finally, don’t be afraid to make a mess. It happens. Take it with grace.

Vegan Veggie Burger Recipe

By M. M. Cassidy Published: June 12, 2012

  • Yield: 4 Burgers (4 Servings)
  • Prep: 15 mins
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Ready In: 30 mins

Grillable, toothsome, and tastes like vegetables are in it!

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Make a vege paste. Slice the onion, garlic, and zucchini and grind in a food processor until they form a smooth paste. Humour me on this one.
    Sticky onion and courgette mush
  2. Line a colander with a clean kitchen towel and turn the paste into the towel. Wrap and squeeze out as much moisture as you can. A little moisture is fine, but the mix should be somewhat crumbly.
    Squeezed sticky onion and courgette mush
  3. Start the burger mix. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add some olive oil, the paste, and the spices. (I used the spices listed above, but feel free to use whatever you like. Have a favourite steak rub? Stick it in! People seem to forget that you can still use your favourite rubs and marinades on vegan foods, too.)
    Spicy vege burger beginnings
  4. Stir over heat until the spice are mixed in, then remove to a medium-sized bowl and add the oil. Stir to combine.
  5. Add the flours and flax seed meal to the bowl and stir well. Taste and adjust seasoning, remembering that it should still be a little over-seasoned, since you still have to add the seitan.
    Slightly less spicy vege burger beginnings
  6. In a food processor, briefly pulse the seitan until it's chunky. Don't worry if the chunks are a little big—it's likely that they'll break up as you stir the burger mixture.
    Chopped seitan
  7. Add the seitan pieces to the bowl and fold to combine, so as to keep the seitan chunky so that your burgers will have a good bite and texture to them.
    Vege burger mush
  8. Remove any jewellery, roll up your sleeves, and scoop 1/4 of the burger mixture into your hands. Shape into a patty and place on parchment paper or some other surface. Repeat for the other three.
    Vege Burgers
  9. Use immediately, or refrigerate or freeze these patties for later use.
  10. On the grill, cook until well-browned on the outside, about 5-7 minutes each side, depending on your grill method/temperature.

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  • The denaturation thing totally makes sense! This looks like a really great recipe.

    • Yeah, there’s always some chemistry to get around, isn’t there? These burgers still firm up. I’ve been wondering what putting everything, including the seitan, together in a food processor would do, but I think that the consistency would be off. Anyway, I hope that you try them out!

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  • disqus_iRXktebWoD

    YUUUUUUUM ! :p

    Do you think these would freeze well?

    With a family to feed Im always looking for freezable recipes!

    If so, par cook and freeze or cook, freeze and reheat?

    Thanks for sharing.. you’re a star 🙂 ♥

    • Leanne,

      You’re the star, feeding all of those mouths!

      I do think that these would freeze well, although I don’t think that I’ve ever done it. I know that I’ve refrigerated them (uncooked patties) for up to a week, wrapped in parchment paper and in a container. Moisture is key, since they’ll dry out a little if they’re not wrapped well.

      I’d suggest par cooking for storing in the freezer. In the fridge, as I mentioned, I got away without cooking at all (although the veges and seitan are already cooked). You might even try that for the freezer.

      Let me know how it works out!

      Meaghan

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  • Tom Bates

    Great recipe, finally made my own seitan and gave this a try. I have to say though, I didn’t get that texture I was going for, that you described in the denaturation section. Whilst the seitan did have a nice firm, bouncy texture before I whizzed / combined with the burger mix, the end result was paste like, didn’t have that ‘bite’ which I was looking forward to. I agree that it’s probably the egg that gives a lot of the meaty veggie burgers this texture.

    I did swap in a yellow pepper instead of the zucchini, but squeeze out the moisture thoroughly. That said, they are pretty different in colour / appearance to yours! Any feedback / tips for my next try?

    Thanks 🙂

    • Hi Tom! The zucchini has a pretty good ability to bind things together, so I’d say try it with that next time. The other thing I’d suggest is to keep your seitan a little chunkier, but it looks from your pictures (thanks for sharing!) that you did a good job of that here. I also usually grill mine, which gives them a different look than frying, but these pictures are all from a fried version.

      They may still be a little squishy—it won’t be the same as a burger made from ground cow’s flesh, because that’s 100% protein and obviously reacts differently to heating than a mostly-protein seitan burger.

      Let me know how it turns out when you give it a second try!

  • Rachel Schoenbeinhorn

    “Nutch” what is it? And where can I find it?

    • Hey Rachel—nutch is nutritional yeast, specifically large-flake nutritional yeast. Red Star makes some in a shaker, or you can find it in the bulk foods section of your local health food store (or Whole Foods, if it’s big enough).

  • Esti

    Just made these – delish! Thanks so much for a great recipe. I doubled the recipe, but didn’t know what the proportion of paste to flour mixture was so I didn’t add the full doubled flour mixture as it seems too much. How much paste to flour? My instincts were good, because they came out great. Also used ground seitan. The texture and bite of these burgers is really satisfying. Also, I made them like little sliders rather than full-sized burgers.

    • Hi Esti, those look great! Thanks for sharing! It does look like your instincts were good.

      I actually don’t know an exact paste-to-flour mixture myself. It’s probably not quite 1:2 (twice as much flour as paste), maybe 3:5. If I were doubling it, I’d use a large onion, 2 cloves garlic, and a large zucchini, and I’d double the flour mixture, but add it in gradually to make sure it wasn’t too much. The mixture should be a bit tacky.

  • Michelle

    Hi! I’m a seitan fanatic and am trying to perfect a burger recipe myself because I’d like to set up a vegan burger joint in my home town. So far the only recipe I’ve been able to come up with that satisfies the requirements you mentioned in the beginning (doesn’t fall apart, doesn’t squish, etc) includes eggs. But I want it to be vegan so I’ve been scouring the Internet for inspiration. Yours seems very promising, and I will try it out and see how it goes. However, my reason for contacting you is that I wanted to know if your recipes were copyrighted? Or if you had a problem with me possibly using it for my burger joint? Or at least some aspects of it.

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