If you think a thick juicy beef burger is the one dish you could never give up, try these bean burgers. Over the years I've made many grain, bean, and veggie burgers that just weren't worth the effort. Not these. You'll find really simple, really delicious burgers come together almost as quickly as it takes to flavor and form beef patties. Best of all, the only simpler vegetarian burgers you'll find are the ones in the freezer case. No need to cook grains, beans, or vegetables-it's just 2 cans of drained beans-1 mashed, 1 left whole-bound with dried breadcrumbs and eggs. The mix of whole beans and mashed works well, the whole beans providing texture, the mashed ones binding the patties. As with regular burgers, you've got a choice of cooking method-stovetop or grill-and the flavoring and topping possibilities for these bean burgers are endless.
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Warm the buns in a 300 degree F oven for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat % cup olive or canola oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook, turning only once, until a crisp brown crust forms on both sides, about 6 minutes total. If you've chosen a burger that gets topped with cheese, add it now. Cover the skillet, turn the heat to low, and let the burgers continue to cook until the cheese melts. Top the burgers as desired.
The Classic: Make the burgers without any extra flavoring and cook according to Stovetop or Grill Method, topping the burgers with 6 thin slices of sharp Cheddar cheese when instructed. Stir together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon coarse-grain mustard; spread over warm buns and dress the burgers with green leaf lettuce, lightly salted tomato slices, and thinly sliced red onion. Serve with ketchup.
The Southwestern: Mix in 1/2 cup prepared salsa, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro before forming the burgers. Cook burgers according to Stovetop or Grill Method. Mix 2 mashed avocados with 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 2 teaspoons fresh lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Spread over warm buns and dress the burgers with lightly salted sliced tomatoes and thinly sliced red onion.
The Neapolitan: Mix in 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves and 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar before forming the burgers. Cook the burgers according to the Stovetop or Grill Method, topping the burgers with 6 slices mozzarella cheese when instructed. Stir together a generous 1/4 cup mayonnaise and 1/4 cup pesto. Spread over warm buns and dress the burgers with lightly salted sliced tomatoes.
The Curry: Mix in 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/4 cup Major Grey's chutney (mincing any large mango pieces), and 1 tablespoon curry powder before forming the burgers. Cook the burgers according to the Stovetop or Grill Method. Spread chutney over warm buns. Dress the burgers with cilantro and pickled carrots (4 peeled and coarsely grated medium carrots tossed with 4 teaspoons rice vinegar and a big pinch of salt).
The Cajun: Mix in 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, 2 tablespoons vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, and 2 teaspoons Cajun spice before forming the burgers. Cook the burgers according to the Stovetop or Grill Method. Dress the burgers with slaw (4 cups shredded cabbage mixed with 1/2 cup finely diced bell pepper, 2 thinly sliced scallions, 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 4 teaspoons cider vinegar, and 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning).
The Tahini: Mix in 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, 2 tablespoons tahini, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, and 1 teaspoon ground cumin before forming the burgers. Cook the burgers according to the Stovetop or Grill Method. Dress the burgers with tzatziki (1 hothouse cucumber-grated and squeezed dry-mixed with 1 cup 2% Greek yogurt, 2 minced garlic cloves, 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste).
The Five-Spice: Mix in 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, and 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder before forming the burgers. Cook the burgers according to the Stovetop or Grill Method. Spread the buns with Thai sweet chili sauce. Dress the burgers with cilantro sprigs and pickled cucumber (1 thinly sliced hothouse cucumber, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, and salt to taste).
Notes and Tips:
- Not every type of bean works for these. When you are using a mix of mashed and whole, the smaller ones, like black beans, white beans, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas, hold together better than bigger legumes like cannellini beans and chickpeas.
- You can add fresh herbs, spices, and flavorings as seen in many of the variations, but the classic is flavored simply-just garlic powder and black pepper-and since most canned beans have already been seasoned, there's no need to add salt.
- For an even quicker bean burger, substitute 1 can (16 ounces) vegetarian refried beans for one of the cans of beans and reduce the eggs from 2 to 1.
- Fork mashing 1 can of the beans helps the patties keep their shape; leaving the second can whole lends appealing texture to the burgers.
Photograph by Quentin Bacon.