Frozen, packaged veggie burgers have long had a place in the freezer, taking up an almost nostalgic place in our rotation of easy vegetarian meals. But sometimes, it seems like nostalgia is all they’ve got going on because let’s face it: most veggie burgers are made with an indiscernible mix of ingredients, way too much salt, and frankly, a taste that could best be compared to cardboard. Veggies are meant to be fresh, vibrant, and flavorful, which is why there’s really only one way you can capture their personality in a patty: make your own.
That may sound like a lot of extra effort for what’s generally a casual meal—and yes, you will need to put in some elbow grease—but if you can mash potatoes and shape things into disc-like objects, you can make your own veggie burgers too. And it’s totally worth it for a final product that’ll make you feel like a master of meatless foods.
Even better, DIY veggie burgers don’t really require a recipe. With a knowledge of the basic method, you can make them a thousand different ways and bring in your own flair. So let’s get into the 101 of patty perfection.
1. Pick Your Base
Packaged veggie burgers usually consist of a long list of starches, stabilizers, and additives, leading you to wonder “where’s the veg in my veggie burger?” When you make your own, the ingredient list can even get shortened to just one. Any plant that holds together when mashed is a potential candidate for your burger. That means most root veggies, legumes, and firm squashes. Some of our favorites include:
- Butternut & acorn squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Beans & chickpeas
To start, you’ll want to fully cook your base so that it’s soft enough to mash—in most cases, simple steaming or boiling will do. To save time, you can always use ingredients that are canned or pre-cooked, like these beets or prepared sweet potatoes. Once that’s done, we recommend mashing them by hand with a potato masher to a creamy consistency with some chunks, which gives you a pleasing rustic texture. You can purée them in a food processor, but proceed with caution because it’s very easy to overdo things this way, leading to a glue-y, dense heaviness that you don’t want.
2. CHOOSE A binder
Although it is possible to skip this step, you’ll want to add something starchy to the mix to help hold everything together and absorb excess moisture. There’s no need to go overboard here—in most cases, even just a tablespoon or two of a binder can make a difference. Simply fold it into your mashed base. Some possibilities include:
- Flour (any type is fine, including gluten-free)
- Cooked grains (i.e. rice, quinoa, bulgur, oats)
- Eggs or egg substitutes
3. Add Some Mix-Ins
While meat-based burgers can get away with a uniform texture, veggie burgers typically are best when they have a bit of variety to them—you probably don’t want to feel like you’re eating a mashed potato sandwich. You can choose from whatever chopped vegetables fit your fancy, as long as they’re rather finely chopped (big pieces make it more likely that your burger will fall apart). Small seeds and nuts are great too to add a little crunch. Some ideas include:
- Diced onion
- Diced peppers
- Corn kernels
- Chopped tomato
- Sliced mushrooms
- Shredded leafy greens
- Diced celery
- Sliced scallions
- Flax, sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, or chia seeds
- Crushed almonds or cashews
- Crumbled tempeh
4. SEASON IT
A little bit of seasoning can make a big difference! Adding some spice or aromatics to the mix can mean the difference between a legitimate burger and a patty made of soggy vegetables. Think about what toppings or sides you’re ultimately going to add for inspiration. In the mood for something Tex-Mex-ish? Put in a few dashes of chili powder. Want a bit of Mediterranean flair? Blend in some pesto or a bit of za’atar. Love a smoky char-grilled flavor? Try a bit of smoked paprika. Any herbs or spices really will do here. And while we’re on the subject, don’t forget to season everything well with salt and pepper.
5. Get Cooking!
Once you’ve mixed all your ingredients together, make sure you’ve got a consistency that’s pliable but not stiff or loose and adjust as needed with more of your base or binder—it should feel like soft clay in your hands. Scoop out individual portions and shape them into patties that are slightly wider than the buns you’ll be using (this will ensure the best fit and account for any shrinkage that happens during cooking). Each should be between 1/2- to 1-inch thick: Any thinner and they’ll risk becoming overly-crisp fritters, any thicker and they’ll become unwieldy and unevenly cooked. After shaping, put them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to allow them to set. Tip: At this point, you can freeze the uncooked patties for use another time.
When you’re ready to cook, heat a sauté pan with a layer of oil over medium-high heat—you want to keep the heat on the higher side to quickly sear the outsides, which will help the burgers keep their shape. Add your chilled patties to the pan and cook on each side until nicely browned (try to flip them only once to lower the risk of falling apart). And while we do love a grilled burger, grilling is generally not recommended for homemade patties because of their delicate nature, though a grill pan will do the trick.
6. Top it Off
What you put on top of your burger is just as important as what goes in it. The classic combo of lettuce, tomato, and onion will do, but in the same way that veggie burgers are a template for inventive ingredient and flavor combinations, so are the toppings. Because veggie burgers lean heavily on mashed, softened fillings, it’s a good idea to turn to crispy, highly textured items on top. We love a good, fresh cabbage slaw, sliced cucumbers, and tender-crisp greens. And to turn up the flavor factor and make up for any dryness, a healthy schmear of sauce will always help. Hummus or mayo is a reliable to go-to, although this is a great opportunity to play with a creative option like Haven’s Kitchen fresh sauces.