Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers

A couple weeks ago my friend Ken sent me this New York Times article about veggie burgers with the following message: "Apparently veggie burgers are tasty now. I'm skeptical". It discusses how nasty commercial veggie burgers can be and how they're usually eaten because they are the only meat alternative available at say a barbecue, not because anyone really likes them (my friend Jill, a meat eater with a love for Boca burgers, may be the exception). The article brings up a point I've been trying to make for years: if a veggie burger is made right, bearing no resemblance to those hard, previously frozen disks that look and kind of taste like a hockey puck, it becomes something both vegetarians and omnivores actually want to eat. The take home message is think of a veggie burger not as a substitute for its meaty counterpart but as a potentially delicious food in its own right.

The first veggie burgers I ever made were the Black Bean Burgers from Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero's Veganomicon. They have a Mexican flare to them, which I usually heighten by adding chipotles in adobo. Perhaps their flavor profile is why I associate all homemade veggie burgers with Southwestern flavors. Inspired by the article, I set off to create a new veggie burger recipe that strayed from my usual. I incorporated Mediterranean flavors such as olives, sun dried tomatoes, and parsley. I know sweet potatoes aren't exactly the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think of the Mediterranean, but I had a surplus so I threw some in too. Also, I honestly can't stop myself from putting avocado on my burgers, unless I'm out of them. After all, they are nature's butter.

You might be asking yourself how these veggie burgers hold together. Well, the magic is in the chia or flax seeds. When combined with moisture they form a gelatinous paste that can be used as a binder in baking or, in this case, in a veggie burger. The burgers in Veganomicon are held together by vital wheat gluten, which you can find in most supermarkets these days, hanging out by the flour. If you'd like to use that instead, add 1/3 to 1/2 cup of it instead of the chia or flax seeds. 

Now get cooking and embrace veggie burgers!

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burgers
Makes 6 burgers
  • 1/2 medium sweet potato, baked or steamed, and mashed
  • 1 15 oz / 435 g can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced 
  • 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes (I used the kind packed in oil)
  • 1/4 cup olives (I used kalamata)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or ground flax seeds
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt (err on the side of caution since the olives will add some extra salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil (I used the oil my tomatoes came packed in) or olive oil cooking spray
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 F / 175 C. Pour the salt over the garlic and drag the garlic across the cutting board using your knife until the garlic has formed a paste. This will release the garlic oils and prevent anyone from biting into a big ol' chunk of it. Toss the garlic and the onion into a medium mixing bowl. Add the beans, olives and sun dried tomatoes. Using a potato masher, one with small holes will work best, or a fork, mash mixture until no whole beans remain; having some half beans is fine. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the oil, and mix --I find that using my hands works best -- until all the ingredients are uniformly distributed. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings. Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes to let the flax or chia do their binding thing.
2.  Divide the burger dough into six equal parts, roll each into a ball and flatten into a patty. Place the patties on a greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Brush both sides of each burger with olive oil or spray them with cooking spray. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, flipping half way, or until the burgers have browned on both sides. For a quicker cooking method, heat the oil in a skillet over medium to medium high heat and cook each burger for about 4 minutes on each side or until browned.


  1. (from Penny) Trader Joe's veggie burgers are a really good and easy. They've got the southwestern taste like you were talking about, I like them with salsa on top. Not as good as homemade I'm sure but still pretty yummy, and all this from a meat-eater :)

  2. I actually haven't tried them, but from what you're saying I should. They probably fall in the category of "new age tasty burgers". Their Masala Burgers (I think that's what they're called) are pretty good too. They're mostly made of veggies that aren't high in protein (like potatoes) and they don't have soy (I think) so they're not as filling but still pretty tasty.

  3. McDonalds India has had to innovate with vegetarian recipes. At home, we make vegetarian burgers quite a bit. The most common is making patties from potatoes. They're usually bound with bread crumbs and shallow fried/pan fried. To give them a kick, you can put some spices too. My mom puts in other vegetables in them like peas/grated carrots etc, making it a bit higher on nutrition, but you're right, they don't contain too much protein.

  4. I do love a good veggie patty, protein rich or not. The thing is I've had some disasters with all-veggie patties so perhaps I should get over my fear and give them a try again.