There was a time, not so long ago, when the mere words “veggie burger” were enough to make me cringe. All my associations were of dry, dusty, bland little patties, often tricked out with toppings to make them more palatable.
But as leading chefs across the country (and even, gasp, France) increasingly embrace a diet heavier on plants than animals, the humble meatless burger has exploded into a veritable cottage industry, with infinite variations — many of which actually taste like meat (or better!).
These burgers are no longer a menu item afterthought. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Industry Forecast, the number of veggie burger listings on menus in the United States has increased by 17 percent since 2008. And that makes sense when you consider that the association’s 2011 National Household Survey also found that 72 percent of adults said they are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago.
While the classic veggie burger ingredients — soy, grains, nuts and beans — are still popular, chefs are turning to more unusual fixings as well. Beets, dried fruit, black-eyed peas, edamame, corn and quinoa are just some of the new ingredients finding their way into the mix. And the flavorings and toppings run the gamut as well, from smoky and spicy chipotle aioli and tomato chutney to sweet and fruity pineapple-jalapeño salsa and chimichurri spread.
Food manufacturers haven’t quite kept pace with chefs in terms of creativity, but that’s slowly changing. Today, supermarkets offer a smattering of exotic burger flavors, such as spicy black bean, roasted pepper and a “farmers’ market” blend. This is great for convenience’s sake, but if you want a truly terrific meatless burger, you should do it yourself. It’s easy and fun — plus you can tweak the recipes to satisfy your preferences. While you're at it, you may want to make a batch of four or more so you can freeze some.
Those aforementioned typical veg-burger ingredients are all great sources of protein, and they’re higher in complex carbohydrates and fiber than their ground beef counterparts and lower in saturated fats. In short, they provide a healthy — and delicious — dose of nutrients to your diet. And once you get the texture and seasonings down, you (and your omnivore friends) may find you prefer them to the “real” thing.
Try this Moroccan-inspired veggie burger featuring chickpeas, tahini, peanuts and scallions. Rounding out the menu are a carrot salad (with Mideastern flavors) and a decadent-seeming dessert that's actually light on fat and calories. The best part of all: From start to finish, the entire meal takes only one hour to prepare and cook, and is a great way to treat yourself to a restaurant-quality meal without leaving the house.
And remember, just because you're dining alone doesn't mean you should forgo the sensual pleasures of a delicious meal. Set a nice table, use the good dishes, pour yourself a glass of wine or beer and enjoy!
Menu (total prep time: 1 hour)
Chickpea Burgers with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Spiced Orange and Date Sundaes
Wine and beer suggestions: A hearty rosé wine or a fruity Beaujolais-Villages, or a hoppy IPA or German pilsner.
Chickpea Burgers with Yogurt-Mint Sauce
To freeze uncooked burgers, individually wrap them in plastic wrap, then with foil. Freeze up to 1 month. Thaw the burgers in the refrigerator overnight before using.
1 (15- to 16-ounce) can chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup minced scallions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2-1/2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large egg
Olive oil as needed
For 2 servings:
2 pita bread rounds, halved or 2 buns
1/2 cup shredded romaine lettuce
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
Yogurt-Mint Sauce (recipe follows)
- In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, scallions, parsley, breadcrumbs, peanuts, lemon juice, tahini and garlic. Pulse the mixture until roughly chopped.
- Remove half of the mixture to a medium bowl; add the egg to the food processor and process until smooth. Add to the reserved mixture in the bowl and blend well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Shape the mixture into four patties, each about ½-inch thick. Brush each side generously with oil.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the burgers until golden brown and heated through, about 3 minutes on each side. Or grill the burgers over a medium heat.
- Place the burgers in pita breads or buns. Top with lettuce, tomatoes and the Yogurt-Mint Sauce.
Use this sauce for the chickpea burgers or as a dip for cucumber spears or baby carrots.
Makes about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup plain yogurt (low- or nonfat okay)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, mint and cumin until well blended. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Despite its complex flavor, this salad is deceptively simple. It’s wonderful made with just carrots, or you can add some grated radish, such as daikon or jicama, for another flavor dimension.
3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, combine the carrots, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and cumin and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
Spiced Orange and Date Sundae
This delicious dessert also makes a great breakfast parfait — just substitute plain or vanilla Greek-style yogurt for the ice cream or frozen yogurt.
3 navel oranges, peeled
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau or Triple Sec, or orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
1 pint vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Whipped cream, optional
- Using a small sharp knife, remove the white pith from the oranges. Working over a medium bowl, cut between the sections to detach each section of fruit from its surrounding membrane (then discard the membrane). Cut the sections into 1/2–inch pieces and transfer to the bowl.
- Add the orange liqueur and lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon and toss to mix. Let stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes for the flavors to blend.
- When ready to serve, scoop the ice cream or frozen yogurt into stemmed bowls. Sprinkle with the chopped dates and then spoon over some of the oranges and juice. Top with whipped cream, if desired.