Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Black Bean Burgers

Last spring in preparation for going to hear Michael Pollan speak, I read, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto I realized that many of the veggie meat substitutes we ate were highly processed, with all the implications to the planet and our health as a Twinkie. So while it may be lower in fat then the real thing, the ingredients are shipped all over the country and many of the ingredients are not possible to make in your home kitchen. You can make them but you need chemicals and chemical reactions to produce them. So gone are the veggie bacon, veggie sausage and veggie burgers from my freezer. Sigh. We aren't vegetarians but these products were so convenient.

I tried to make veggie burgers last spring. My 6 year old was so excited for a "homemade veggie burger", right up until the moment he tasted them. Well this months Gourmet has a black bean burger recipe. It looked so appetizing in the photo and the recipe was easy, so I decided to try again to make veggie burgers.

The recipe called for 2 cans of black beans, however I used dried. Dried beans are cheaper, tastier, lower in sodium and are not mushy. I have figured out 2 tricks to make cooking with dried beans easier. The first one is, just go ahead and soak and cook up some beans. Once they are done look up recipes and cook with the beans now residing in your fridge. Cooked beans in the fridge are like beautiful produce you found at the farmer's market that you bought on a whim. (No, this doesn't mean you should leave them there until they become compost). Once it is lounging in the fridge you have to be creative and use it.

The second and often harder approach for me, is plan ahead. Cooking dried beans is really not that time consuming in a hands on way. So if you want to cook with beans for dinner, remember to soak the beans the night before.

So for these burgers I rinsed, sorted and began soaking the beans before going to bed the night before. Cooking them for dinner took about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. If you cannot do that the night you need them soak them overnight and while making dinner on the second night cook them until tender. Then put them in the fridge for the next nights dinner prep. You can also just used canned beans, I give you permission.

The first time I made the Black Bean Burgers my 3 year old was in the kitchen watching, snacking on black beans. His brother was not much of a bean eater so I swore him to secrecy, and went ahead and prepared the burgers. At dinner that night 3 out of 4 of my family members loved them. Surprisingly the 3 year old bean lover is the one who would not eat them. However I think that is related to the 3 bowls of beans he had snacked on during dinner preparation.

I prepared them again last night, making even more changes to the recipe based on the first attempt. One of the changes is because of my new jar of Smoked Spanish Paprika that I got from a Penzy's order that Cheryl of Cranky Cakes and I split. They were even better last night with the new additions and are now firmly part of my repertoire. Last night my 6 year old even figured out they were made with beans and now says he loves beans because "they are so yummy". The 3 year old again opted for the bowl of plain beans, because now he remembers refusing them the first time. If I come up with any other great changes I will let you know.

Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from Gourmet, February 2009

1 cup dried beans
1 bay leaf
1 onion chopped
1 tsp butter
2 garlic cloves, germ removed if any, and minced
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika (If you don't have smoked use regular sweet paprika)
1 tsp dried mixed herbs (I used a mix of thyme, marjoram, and basil. Oregano would also work well, stay away from dill, and sage).
1 tsp tomato paste
2/3 cups bread crumbs lightly toasted in a 350° oven or toaster oven, divided use
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
3 Tbsp Olive Oil

addition 8-19-09
(adding tsp of powdered egg whites to the mix makes the burgers hold together better)

Pick over and rinse the dried beans and then soak in 6 cups water at least 6 hours. Drain and rinse the beans and place in a large pot with 6 - 8 cups water and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. After about 45 minutes add salt to taste, continue simmering beans until they are tender. Cooking time varies based on the type of bean, their age and quality. In this case total cooking time was approximately 1 1/2 hours. While the beans cook melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Stir the onion to coat with the butter and sprinkle lightly with salt. Lower the heat to low and cook stirring occasionally until light golden brown. When the onion has reached the desired color add the garlic and cook briefly.

After beans are tender put 1 1/4 cups drained beans in a food processor with mayonnaise, cumin, soy sauce, paprika, dried herbs, tomato paste, 1/3 cup toasted bread crumbs and pulse until a coarse purée forms. Empty into a bowl and stir until well combined with the cilantro and 1 1/2 cup cooked black beans. It is helpful but not essential to place in the fridge for 30 minutes before forming. To form burgers place remaining bread crumbs on a plate. Form mixture into 4 - 6 burgers with wet hands. When shaped coat both sides of patty with bread crumbs.

To cook, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large non stick skillet until hot but not smoking and cook until golden brown on each side. If desired put sliced cheese on the top after flipping.


  1. I like the lentil burger recipe that I *think* is in Moosewood. I will have to check. Dry lentils don't even have to be soaked. Sometimes when I am getting ready to leave the house in the morning I just throw a small amount of beans (maybe a third of a cup for two people) in water to soak. Then when it is time to decide what to make for dinner I say, "I guess we could have those beans." If they never get cooked it is only a third of a cup...

  2. Looks yummy. Must try. The one item I don't generally have on hand is tomato paste. On that lazy Sunday when I finally decide to make this, am I going to have to trudge out to get some, or do you have a clever substitution for me?

    Eating Well ran a recipe a year or two back for chickpea burgers with a yogurt sauce. Yum. I don't make 'em nearly often enough.

  3. Anna, I will have to check for the lentil burger recipe. I bet it is the one Moosewood I don't have.

    Teege, The tomato paste is not essential, it wasn't even in the original. However the easiest way to remedy that is to buy the tunes of tomato paste. They last forever and are really great for the times you need just a small amount of tomato paste. Plus i find that a small amount of tomato paste can really add to many dishes like stews etc. Small amounts of sweet peppers, roasted or not can be used instead.

  4. I was going to say the same thing about tubes of tomato paste, but you beat me to it. The recipe is in moosewood and it is for lentil walnut burgers. Do you have any tips for making buns?

  5. Anna, Wow, that is not in the Moosewood cook book I am missing, in fact I have 2 copies of that one. The original and the updated version. I should have bought a different cookbook instead of the new version. (like maybe another title in the Moosewood collection). I wonder if the beasts would go for those, the only question is the walnuts. I will try them soon.

    For these buns I consulted my Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads and the hamburger bun recipe. However I used my everyday bread recipe and guesstimated that it was a little less then half a recipe. His rolls are formed into disks that are 1 inch by 4 inches. They were tasty and light, and HUGE. So I still need to tweak them. Way tastier then commercial buns though.

    I am planning on trying these: http://bakingbites.com/2008/04/soft-yogurt-sandwich-rolls/
    A friend made them and loved them. I will use half whole wheat pastry flour though, we no longer like all white.

    I also want to try these


  6. Robin,
    Doesn't an understanding of Pollan's work necessitate vegetarianism (hasn't he admitted as much)??? Are you moving in this direction; or do you disagree with him...?

  7. Actually Pollan does not beleive that being a vegetarian is the correct way to help our planet or our health. If every human was a vegetarian animal pasture and lands that they range on would have to become fields that were farmed to feed us. In places like New England if no animals are raised for food there would not be much local food available, much of the landscape is suitable for pasture and not crops. Without animals as food we also would not have manure to fertilize the crops and we would have to rely on all chemical fertilizers and shipping things to the places that could not grow enough crops. So for the planet eating meat is the correct choice. It just needs to be grass fed and finished, locally produced not feed lot meat.

    I also agree with mark Bittman's latest work that Americans eat far too much meat and meat should not be the major item at all our meals. When I buy us steak to eat now it is 1 steak spit among the four of us. I think Sebastian is the one who suffers the most with this one. We also have more meatless meals as well.


  8. We made this recipe and it was very good. I think the only thing we did differently was to omit the cilantro. That way we were able to do the whole thing with items we always keep around, which had great appeal. It felt like a special meal even though all the ingredients were mundane. The patties didn't really hold together - a typical problem with bean burgers. Yours looks very solid in the picture...

  9. The reviews of the original recipe on Epicurious mostly state that they don't hold together well. For some reason mine did okay. My guess is it is luck. Cilantro for me is mostly a pantry staple. It is a very resilient herb so it doesn't die in the crisper drawer before I have a chance to use it up. I also really like that you can use the stalks. The first time I made these I was out, and they are still great. I am so glad you enjoyed them!!

  10. I finally got to make these, and really liked 'em. I used Penzey's adobo seasoning, tomato, and smoked paprika for flavor, and had no cilantro, and had to sub about 1/2 dried potato flakes for some of the breadcrumbs ... but it all seemed to work. And now I have them in the freezer for the next impromptu plea for burgers. Thanks for posting this!