Veggie burgers need a combination of dry, wet, sticky and tasty ingredients, plus a nutritious balance of protein, carbs and fat, to be a complete meal in a bun
Generally, if your combo of dry, wet, sticky and tasty ingredients results in a successful veggie burger, the carb, protein, fat balance takes care of itself.
The proportions of dry, sticky and wet in a veggie burger should be about 5 | 3 | 1.
I've consolidated many possible veggie burger ingredients into four main categories.
Most veggie burger ingredients fall into more than one category, so you'll see them several times.
Soak up moisture from the wet and sticky ingredients. If there is too much dry stuff in a veggie burger recipe, then the patties will crumble when they cook.
Flours, oatmeal & cornmeal, nutritional yeast, breadcrumbs, ground nuts & seeds, dry spices and herbs are definitely dry. But sometimes they become sticky when wet.
Beans, tempeh and seitan are partly dry because they soak up moisture when they cook. TVP is dry but gets moist when you reconstitute it.
Have to be used sparingly because just a little too much will make the texture of the burger mixture more muffin batter gooey than firm like dough.
Raw or cooked veggies, fresh herbs, lemon or lime juice, soy sauce, ketchup, tomato paste, prepared mustard, barbecue sauce, and vinegar are mostly wet.
Beans, lentils, tofu, nut & seed butters, seitan, tempeh and cooked grains are partly wet - they have a fair amount of moisture in them.
Oil has no water but contributes to the wet effect. Don't ask me how that works!
Hold the veggie burger together for easy cooking and eating. Most sticky ingredients are also wet, so use a little rather than a lot. You can always add more at the end if needed.
Besides being wet, mashed beans, lentils and tofu nut are sticky. Nut & seed butters, and oil are sticky. So are mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes, tomato paste, prepared mustard and barbecue sauce.
Breadcrumbs, flour, cornmeal and oatmeal are all sticky when wet. So if you have a too wet veggie burger mixture, add more of those ingredients and you'll also get more sticking power.
Tasty ingredients can be dry, wet or sticky. Their role is to make your veggie burger taste and look yummy.
Tastiness and color comes from veggies such as onions, garlic and mushrooms, shredded carrots or beets, dried or fresh herbs, condiments like ketchup, bbq sauce, prepared mustard, soy sauce, vinegar, lemon or lime juice, salt & pepper.
A veggie burger can have a minimum of three ingredients and no maximum ingredients, e.g. a grilled Portobello or slice of eggplant or slab of tofu or tempeh, marinated in soy or barbecue sauce, brushed with oil, and grilled or baked, then slapped on a bun.
In that case, you can dispense with the dry/wet/sticky ratio, since its all in one ingredient.
Once you get into more than three ingredients, then you have to pay attention to the balance of dry, wet, and sticky in your veggie burgers.
For instance, cooked grains are very nice in veggie burgers, but tend to make them crumbly. They also have moisture built in so they can cause mushiness.
The solution is to use very sticky grains, like rice, and/or use smaller quantities (no more than 25% of the volume), and combine them with dry & sticky ingredients, like mashed beans, plus dry things like flour.
Tofu is moderately wet, sticky when mashed, high in protein and fat. It just needs some dry ingredients to give it texture, a little veggie and lots of spice for color and taste, maybe some soy suce or Braggs, and you're good to go.
Tofu burgers are easy to make, they go on the grill no problem, and everybody loves them. Be sure to use extra firm tofu to avoid excessive wetness.
Nuts & seeds are a little more finicky. When using them as a main ingredient, go for a combo of finely chopped or ground nuts or seeds. Then add things like nut butter or yam for sticky, and pick dry ingredients that are sticky when wet, like chick pea flour, wheat flour, oatmeal.
For nut burgers, use less dry ingredients than you might in other veggie burgers, and add very small amounts of veggies.
When I looked at our Walnut Veggie Burger Recipe, I realized two things. It needed more walnuts and less rice, and something sticky (tahini). I made those changes, and I'm sure they'll be perfect now!
Besides being wet and even sticky, beans are also dry, i.e. they're high in fiber and suck up moisture from the other ingredients. So it's good to balance them with sticky moist ingredients like tahini, tomato paste, mashed potato or yam, then add just enough dry ingredients to hold it together along with lots of herbs, spices and salt because beans are bland.
Our chickpea blackbean burger is a fine example of those principles in action.
Lentils aren't moisture sucking like beans; they do the opposite - turn to mush in cooking, and bring plenty of the cooking water to the mix. Soak lentils in salted water for 1 hour, and cook them in a minimum amount of salted water, removing from heat when they are still intact and slightly chewy. Drain well before adding them to your veggie burger.
As always when cooking beans or lentils, make extra to freeze for future veggie burgers, or even soup - just for a change.
When using drier non-sticky grains like millet or quinoa, most of the other ingredients should be first sticky then wet. E.G: Lentils, soft beans like pintos, nut & seed butters.
Dry herbs and spices are great in veggie burgers because they add to the dry factor, they add color, and they release tons of flavor when cooked.
Veggies are wonderful in veggie burgers because they're full of vitamins and minerals, taste, texture and color. But they're also wet and not at all sticky. So they should be added in small quantities - no more than 1/5 the volume of the burger mix.
Fresh herbs are considered veggies when making veggie burgers.
Mushrooms are popular in veggie burgers because they're meaty tasting, chewy, high protein. But they they release moisture when they cook, and they have unpredictable amounts of moistness, which can cause unpleasant surprises. The mushroom solution: stir fry them first to drive out excess moisture before adding them to your veggie burger.
Onions and eggplants also release copious wetness, but at least they're consistent. Stir fry onions, salt, rest, then press eggplant.
Sometimes it makes more sense to pile those troublesome veggies on top of your burger than putting them in it. E.G. a slice of purple onion or some sautéed mushrooms or grilled eggplant between your burger and bun.
Beets are wonderful for adding color to veggie burgers, but a little goes a long way -one or two tablespoons of grated beets does the job.
Dry ingredients like flour, oatmeal, dry breadcrumbs, and cornmeal become sticky when wet, and they also suck up excess moisture, so they're useful additions to veggie burgers. Only add enough to do the job and remember they'll continue to suck moisture as they cook.
An easy sticky element, but use sparingly, as oil adds calories with very little nutrition plus it also adds to the wetness. Oil is best used to fry veggie burgers, or brush with before baking to get a nice brown crispy outside, without drying out the inside.
Prepared mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce & mayo seem to work better on the bun than in the veggie burger because they are very wet. Soy sauce or Braggs add flavor, salt and color, but should be used sparingly as they are of course, WET. Ditto lemon or lime juice.
A food processor is an ideal appliance for mixing up veggie burgers quickly and easily. If you don't have one of those babies, it's possible to spend $40 at Walmart for a machine that works quite well.
With just a bit more time and effort, you can make veggie burgers by hand.
Chop all veggies fine with your trusty chef's knife. Mash everything mashable with a potato masher, a fork, a sturdy pastry blender, your hands - whatever works. Then add all other ingredients, and mix everything together with a big spatula or spoon - or your hands. Messy but effective!
When your veggie burgers are mixed up, the mixture should be firm, not sticky or gooey to the touch.
You should be able to see and feel bits of the individual ingredients, but over all the ingredients should be well blended into a dough-like ball. Then the burgers won't fall to bits when you cook them.
You should be able to form patties with your hands, without getting the mixture all over your hands. There could be a bit on your hands, but it should be manageable.
One of the best things about making veggie burgers is if your mixture ends up too moist, you can easily add a bit more dry stuff, or if it's too dry, add more sticky stuff.
When cooked, your veggie burger patties should hang together and not fall apart when you flip them over. This is especially important when grilling veggie burgers. When they're in a frying pan, you can always sort of mash them back together.
Cooked veggie burgers should be crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside, never wet or mushy.
Nutritionally, your veggie burger should give you protein, carbs, veggies and fat in that order. It can be a complete meal - with or without the bun and fixings. Well ok, maybe with a salad on the side.
And of course, a GREAT Veggie Burger should be supremely tasty, thanks to your generous hand with the seasonings.