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Dressing Up Veggie Burgers

By Sharon Palmer, RDN

Plant-based eating is rising in popularity. Even if people don’t want to follow a total vegetarian diet, they’re increasingly engaged in eating more meatless meals. In fact, according to The Vegetarian Resource Group’s 2012 survey, 47% of the population eats vegetarian meals a significant amount of the time.1 People are consuming more meat-free meals for many reasons, including concerns about personal health, the environment, and the humane treatment of animals.

Diana Rice, RD, a dietitian for The Monday Campaigns, which includes Meatless Monday, says, “We’re seeing an increased interest in plant-based eating, especially from flexitarians who don’t plan to give up meat altogether. And I’ve seen more RDs take notice and incorporate the Meatless Monday concept into their work, whether it’s a community class on healthful eating taught by a supermarket RD, a hospitalwide initiative to combat antibiotic resistance introduced by foodservice RDs, or as a strategy to get quick, healthful meals onto the dinner table promoted by an RD author.”

Easy, Meat-Free Solutions
One of the most popular foods on a plant-based menu is a good, old-fashioned veggie burger, made from a variety of meat alternatives, such as soy, beans, tofu, tempeh, and wheat gluten. Veggie burgers have been around now for a few decades. Smithsonian.com reports that the first time the term “veggie burger” officially hit the modern lexicon was in 1982, when Gregory Sams put it on the menu of his London-based natural food restaurant.2 Popular with John and Yoko Ono Lennon, Sam’s restaurant had been serving vegetarian food since the late 60s. His first veggie burger was made of seitan (a traditional Asian food made of wheat gluten), tamari, aduki beans, and oat flakes. 

Fast-forward to today and supermarket shelves stock a variety of veggie burgers, ranging from the classic to the exotic. Morning Star Farms, with its founding company making meat substitutes since 1939, was one of the first food companies furnishing veggie burgers to the masses, offering a wide range of products today, such as Grillers, Garden Veggie Patties, and Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers, in supermarkets, schools, and restaurants.

Many other companies have joined the meat-free burger movement: Amy’s California Veggie Burger, Texas Veggie Burger, and Bistro Veggie Burger; Gardenburger’s Portabella Veggie Burger, Sun-Dried Tomato Basil Veggie Burger, and Black Bean Chipotle Veggie Burger; Sunshine Burger’s Garden Herb, Loco Chipotle, and Hemp Sage; Gardein’s Black Bean Burger and Veggie Burger; Boca’s Vegan and All American Classic; Yves Veggie Cuisine’s Meatless Beef Burger; and Wildwood’s Organic Veggie Burger.

According to Sarah Ludmer, RD, LD, a dietitian for Morning Star Farms, “One-third of meat substitute users eat [veggie burgers] because they’re healthy, and 51% believe they’re healthier than meat. This category is evolving beyond being seen as a meat replacement; instead it’s now a food that’s desired and preferred.”

Veggie burgers are easy to make at home, too. By combining whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, vegetables, spices, and herbs, people can make their own favorite burger and freeze the leftovers for meals during the week.

Easy Meal in Minutes
It’s easy to prepare veggie burgers: just throw one on the grill or in the oven or microwave and a few minutes later you can place it on a whole grain bun with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and mustard for a delicious, nutritious meal. But that’s not all you can do with a veggie burger. Today’s Dietitian asked several dietitians to share their favorite ways to dress them up.

RDs’ Favorites
• Salad Topper: Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, FAND, known as “The Running Nutritionist,” says her favorite way to eat a veggie burger is to “plop it on top of a salad.”

• Asian Layering: Food and nutrition communications expert Mindy Hermann, MBA, RDN, says she layers Asian flavors such as kimchee, pickled Korean salad, daikon, and carrots on her homemade veggie burgers.

• Flavorful Toppings: Virginia Messina, MPH, RD, coauthor of Vegan for Life, suggests an array of flavorful plant-based toppings, such as hummus mixed with chopped apples; cashew cream (soaked raw cashews blended with salt and lemon juice); lemon tahini sauce; broccoli spread (blanched broccoli pureed with tahini or almond butter, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt, and pepper), or pesto.

• Greek Makeover: Rice suggests taking your veggie burger on a trip to Greece. “Make a quick tzatziki with plain yogurt, minced garlic, and dried dill, then pair it with crunchy sliced cucumbers, sliced red onions, and black olives.”

• Veggie Burger as Filling: Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, author of Nutrition CHAMPS, says her favorite way to eat them is crumbled as a filling in wraps or tacos.

• Indian Persuasion: Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, culinary nutrition expert and founder and president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, loves pairing bean-based veggie burgers with Indian-spiced ketchup. Simply sauté onions in olive oil and add curry powder, mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and diced Roma tomatoes.

• Avocado Deluxe: McKenzie Hall, RD, nutrition communications expert and cofounder of Nourish RDs, likes to pair veggie burgers with avocados, which can take the form of an avocado yogurt spread (mashed avocado with plain Greek yogurt, lemon pepper, and a dash of salt and hot sauce) or avocado bean tomato salsa.

• Veggie Burger Stacks: Hermann suggests creating roasted vegetable disks, such as potatoes and winter squash, to stack onto a veggie burger.

• Salsa It Up: Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND, author of The Overworked Person’s Guide to Better Nutrition, likes to skip the top bun and instead top her veggie burger with a fruit- and veggie-heavy salsa, such as peach or mango salsa.

• Classic Comfort Dishes: I like to use a veggie burger to replace meat in classic comfort food dishes, such as chicken cacciatore, Swiss steak, or beef stroganoff. Or just cook up a delicious sauce, such as a hearty marinara, creamy mushroom, or lemony dill sauce, and ladle it over your veggie burger.

— Sharon Palmer, RD, is a contributing editor at Today’s Dietitian and the author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life.

1. Casalena, N. How often do Americans eat vegetarian meals? And how many adults in the U.S. are vegetarian? The Vegetarian Resource Group website. May 18, 2012. http://www.vrg.org/blog/2012/05/18/how-often-do-americans-eat-vegetarian-meals-and-how-many-adults-in-the-u-s-are-vegetarian. Accessed August 12, 2014.

2. Smith, AK. The history of the veggie burger, The Smithsonian website. March 19, 2014. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/history-veggie-burger-180950163/?no-ist. Accessed August 12, 2014.

Farro and White Bean Veggie Burgers

Serves 10

¾ cup uncooked farro
3 cups water
1 tsp reduced sodium vegetable broth base
One 15-oz can cannellini beans, no salt added, rinsed and drained (liquid reserved), or 1¾ cups cooked
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 cup finely chopped mushrooms
1 cup grated carrots (2 medium)
¼ cup chopped walnuts
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano, or 1 tsp dried
2 T minced fresh chives
1/3 cup uncooked old-fashioned oats
½ cup whole grain bread crumbs
1 tsp low-sodium herbal seasoning blend
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp turmeric
Pinch of sea salt, optional
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Ten 1½-oz whole grain buns
10 lettuce leaves
3 medium tomatoes, sliced into 20 slices
2 avocados, sliced into 20 slices

1. Place the farro in a pot with the water and broth base. Stir well, cover, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cook for 35 to 40 minutes, and drain any leftover liquid.

2. Place the cannellini beans in a mixing bowl and mash slightly with a potato masher, until thick and lumpy. Mix in the cooked farro, onions, mushrooms, carrots, walnuts, oregano, chives, oats, bread crumbs, herbal seasoning, black pepper, turmeric, and sea salt, if desired. Combine the ingredients using clean hands, then add 2 to 3 T of the reserved bean-cooking liquid in order to make a thick yet moistened mixture that sticks together. Chill for about 1 hour.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 T of the olive oil over medium heat. Form patties out of ½ cup of the bean mixture with your hands, mashing the ingredients together so that they don’t crumble. Carefully place 3 to 4 patties at a time into the hot oil and cook for 6 minutes on each side, turning carefully. Repeat, adding 1 T of olive oil to the skillet with each batch of patties, until all the patties are done.

4. Serve each patty with 1 bun, 1 lettuce leaf, 2 tomato slices, and 2 avocado slices.

Note: If you don’t want to serve all of the veggie burgers at once, prepare and cook all of the burgers according to the directions and refrigerate in an airtight container up to three days. Reheat in the microwave or in a skillet and serve as directed.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 354; Protein: 11 g; Carbohydrate: 50 g; Fat: 15 g; Sat fat: 2 g; Dietary fiber: 11 g; Sugar: 6 g; Sodium: 378 mg

— Recipe courtesy of Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of The Plant-Powered Diet and Plant-Powered for Life