A Bean Burger Worth Biting Into

This post is a long time coming. For years, What's Cooking Vegetarian readers have been waiting, ever so patiently, for a reliable meatless burger recipe made from beans or grains (rather than mock meat). The requests have been piling up in my inbox, but trust me, they have not gone unheard. It's just taken me a few years to find a vegetarian burger that not only tastes great but holds together on a bun.

At long last, a veggie burger that works. (Kim O'Donnel)

I hardly expected to find the holy grail in a book called "Recipe of the Week: Burgers," but sure enough, tucked among the other 51 recipes in Sally Sampson's new collection, is a killer recipe for black bean burgers.

Now this I gotta see, I mumbled to myself, as I assembled said patties in about 20 minutes. Black beans are a smart choice for a veggie burger because of their fibrous skins and starchy quality (a kidney bean might do the job equally well). For additional binding action, Sampson uses eggs and panko, Japanese-style breadcrumbs with a more heft than the finely ground stuff found on American shelves (you could get a comparable panko effect from hand-pulverizing a stale baguette in a food processor). I also like her technique of pulverizing only half of the beans, another strategy to keep the patty nice and bulky.

After shaping my patties, I chilled them in the fridge for about 15 minutes to help them set up and keep their shape for fry time. Sampson recommends a cast-iron skillet -- but if you've got a flat griddle, I think that would work, too. And get this -- she uses a dry skillet -- as in no oil added - which keeps the fat quotient down. As long as the skillet is good and hot, you'll have no problem getting a nice brown exterior, and the scallions love the heat, sweetening up a bit.

The results, may I say, are simply terrific: the patties are bursting with flavor, in a very good black bean taco kind of way, and even better, they keep their shape!

During these tough financial times, isn't it nice to know you can have burger night for under five bucks? Try 'em; you won't be disappointed.

P.S. to the beef burger hounds: I'm not saying this "burger" takes the place of meat, but it sure ain't no sissy.

Spicy Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from "Recipe of the Week: Burgers" by Sally Sampson

4 cups cooked, rinsed and drained black beans (about 2 ½ 15-ounce cans)
1/2 cup Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
4 scallions, both white and green parts, minced
3 tablespoons (a small handful) chopped basil or cilantro, or a combination
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2-2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Place 2 cups of the black beans in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chunky.

Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add remaining whole black beans, plus panko, eggs, scallions, fresh herbs, garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes and mix until well combined.

Using a dough cutter, portion mixture into patties about 1 inch thick. Suggested diameter: 3 inches; otherwise, the patty will be difficult to flip when cooking. KOD extra step that's worth doing: Place patties on a plate or tray and chill for 15 minutes so they can set up.

When ready to cook, remove patties from refrigerator and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a cast-iron skillet over high heat, without any fat; when it is hot but not smoking, add burgers to dry pan.

Cook for about four minutes on first side or until well seared and with a flipping spatula, turn onto second side and allow to cook for an additional five minutes, over medium heat.

Serve immediately with fixins': Monterey jack, cheddar or queso fresco, lettuce, fresh tomato slice, pico de gallo or jarred salsa, sour cream, avocado. Good on a soft bun or by itself.

Makes four to six burgers.

By Kim ODonnel |  May 16, 2008; 10:22 AM ET Dinner Tonight , Discoveries , Vegetarian/Vegan
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Looks good. I'll have to try it. I find that my nine-year-old daughter is almost always happy to have a cheese and bean burrito. And I've been making quick and easy huevos rancheros by nuking a big dollup of fat-free canned refried beans on a plate, adding two eggs over easy topped with Mrs. Renfro's salsa accompanied with sourdough toast.

Posted by: Dave | May 16, 2008 10:45 AM

Yuch sorry a burger should never be veggie, bean, chicken or turkey or anything but either beef or lamb. If you dont like the thought of the wonderful flesh and muscle of a dry aged organic humanely raised prime little cute steer with those penetrating eyes being run through a meat grinder too bad. Grilled on a Weber over hardwood charcoal to medium rare with saute shrooms and onions and nice hunk of VA cheese and placed on a toasted english muffin. Some catsup and deli mustard and you bite in and let the juices and blood run down your chin. Nothing like it and the reason Mr Buffett wrote "A Cheeseburger in Paradise" served with a cold draft beer. And life is good and vegans are scared. Man I know what I
am havong for lunch.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2008 11:05 AM

Those look FANTASTIC. I can't wait to try them out! As a dried bean newb, would you recommend putting the beans to soak in the morning, say before work, to have them nicely soaked for an evening dinner? (Dried seem so much better than tinned...)

Posted by: Violet | May 16, 2008 11:06 AM

Two comments and a question-

1) the burger sounds delicious (contrary to the 1105 post's opinion. My question: could you change the proportion of beans and add in cooked vegetables (e.g., carrots)? that would change the consistency but doable?

2) 1105: i am not vegan or vegetarian but don't eat beef and rarely lamb so your description of a "cute steer" is not so appetizing. My reasons for not eating beef burgers are not because i am "scared" but religious belief and preferred choice. Also, I enjoy chicken and turkey burgers.

So i wonder why it is a problem for you if others like non traditional burgers as long as no one is forcing you to give up your burger or eat their style of burger?

Posted by: ny | May 16, 2008 11:13 AM

the appetite repair shoppee in sperryville used to service a fab black bean burger. i say used to serve because that particular eatery is gone. i never found any brand of burger that came close to what they served. i might given is a try.

Posted by: quark | May 16, 2008 11:20 AM

Looks good! And a lot easier than I would have thought. Just a quick note that there's a typo in the first line - thinking it should probably say "black beans", not "black buns."

Posted by: Michelle | May 16, 2008 11:34 AM

Looks good. How many patties does this recipe make?

Posted by: Phoebe | May 16, 2008 11:38 AM

Phoebe: Makes 4-6 servings, depending on size.
Michelle: thanks for the typo heads up!
NY: I think diced carrot would work -- and I'm think about diced red bell pepper as well.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | May 16, 2008 11:43 AM

If I want to freeze - cook first and then freeze and reheat, or freeze first, and then cook later?


Posted by: Carla | May 16, 2008 11:44 AM

Could I make the burgers then freeze them and fry and eat individually as I want?

Posted by: Adrienne | May 16, 2008 11:48 AM

There's a restaurant up here that serves a similar black bean burger but they add some corn kernals to it. It's delicious. They serve it on sliced, toasted cheddar cheese bread. There may have been a chipotle mayo on it, too. Yum!

Posted by: Upstate, NY | May 16, 2008 11:55 AM

My money is on 11:05 being a LaLohan lover.

Kim - these look awesome, and per Upstate, NY's post, I'll pick up some cheddar bread at our market. Can't wait for dinner tomorrow night! Thanks, Everyone!

Posted by: Centre of Nowhere | May 16, 2008 12:14 PM

Sound yummy and much easier than the Cook's Illustrated recipe that I've used in the past which is mostly mushrooms and lentils.

Posted by: Little Red | May 16, 2008 12:39 PM

One more question. Is it okay to grill them? Does anything need to be done differently? I'm thinking of making these for a bbq that I'm going to in a few weeks and I offered to bring homemade veggie burgers.

Posted by: Little Red | May 16, 2008 12:43 PM

101cookbooks.com has a great veggie burger recipe, using chickpeas/eggs/breadcrumbs, pretty much like this recipe when you cut it down to the basics. It is excellent.

And as to the 1105 posting -- see this past Wed's WaPo food section for further evidence that carnivores are on the attack against vegetarians, probably as a way to assuage their own guilt. What happened to live and let live? If you eat meat, don't feel guilty about it. And if you do feel guilty, don't eat it.

Posted by: anon | May 16, 2008 1:06 PM

I am not a vegan BUT there is a fantastic similar recpe for black bean burgers in Veganomicon. I don't have it off the top of my head but 1 can of rinsed beand, gluten some spices and bread crumbs made six burgers which were so great and filling that none of us could eat more than one. It was remarkably great and remarkably inexpensive.

Posted by: Newton Mom | May 16, 2008 1:26 PM

"Serve immediately with...." You forgot the red onion.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2008 1:39 PM

Someone at WP, please, delete the trolls who post annoying, irrelevant or derogatory comments. Don't give them a forum, even for a second.

Posted by: Please, please, please... | May 16, 2008 2:31 PM

Adrienne and Carla, I have not tried doing the freezing thing. If I were, I would fry, cool, then freeze individually.
Little Red: Even though these guys are sturdier than most other bean burgers, they're still too fragile to take on the grill.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | May 16, 2008 4:06 PM

i like to make a veggie burger with mashed beans and tempeh - based on a sausage patty recipe from VWAV--tastes great but crumbling is still a real problem. perhaps hope is out there!

Posted by: Anonymous | May 16, 2008 4:33 PM

I love black beans! They are my favorites. Even my carnivore husband though this "might" be tasty, so I'll try it next week. Sounds like it would be a perfect weeknight dinner.

Posted by: DC Cubefarm | May 16, 2008 7:27 PM

I love me some meat but this sounds great too. Veggie haters, please dial it back a notch. You don't speak for all carnivores.

Posted by: Sam888 | May 17, 2008 2:44 PM

Great photo. Also, beans are such a great source of protein. You should write one on vegetarian meatloaf.

Posted by: Rayfil Wong | May 17, 2008 9:18 PM

These look fabulous! Can't wait to make these. thanks Kim

Posted by: Omnivore who loves vegetables | May 18, 2008 8:15 PM

Wonder what the calorie count would be, though it should be a healthy meal. Will have to try it.

Posted by: So County | May 19, 2008 8:37 AM

For the person asking about freezing before or after cooking: we make a different bean burger recipe all the time and always cook them then freeze. They defrost and heat up in the skillet really well. Good to have on a night when we don't feel like cooking. Those burgers are actually a Washington Post recipe too, and they're really good:
Red Zone Recipes

Vegetarian Burgers

4 to 6 servings

With no measuring spoons in my Baghdad kitchen, I would approximate the amount of the ingredients. Here's a more user-friendly version. Also, in Baghdad, I had to use regular yellow mustard. In my kitchen at home, I would opt for Dijon-style. Leftover patties can be frozen. We ate these plain, but you can serve them on toasted buns.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder


Freshly ground black pepper

Two 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 teaspoon yellow or Dijon-style mustard (may substitute a pinch of mustard powder)

2 tablespoons ketchup

1/2 cup rolled oats

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely grated

In a medium pan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the cumin, chili powder and salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mash the beans with your hands (it's okay if some of the beans remain whole). Add the mustard, ketchup, oats, carrots and the onion mixture and mix until well combined. Form into about large 6 balls. Do not flatten into patties.

In the same pan over medium heat, melt 1 teaspoon of the butter. Cook 2 balls at a time. After about 2 minutes, flatten each ball slightly with a spatula but do not make them too thin. After another 2 minutes, or when the patties are firm enough to hold together, flip over. Cook an additional 2 minutes until browned and heated through. Repeat with the remaining butter and balls. Serve hot.

Per serving (based on 6): 202 calories, 9 g protein, 31 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 3 g saturated fat, 537 mg sodium, 7 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Anne McDonough; e-mail questions tofood@washpost.com


Posted by: Chicago | May 20, 2008 11:09 AM

Why do veggie people always have run off into their self-rightous rants. I rarely bother to read these postings because they seem to be dominated by people who want to tell everybody else HOW TO EAT. Get a life, folks!

Posted by: x-woman | May 20, 2008 1:16 PM

I'm not sure where this last comment is coming from. Most of the posters here don't even seem to be vegetarians. The only other person who seems to be on a soapbox is the anonymous poster from 11:05 AM who is extolling the virtues of real ground beef.

Maybe you *should* bother to read the postings before making assumptions.

Posted by: alex | May 20, 2008 4:27 PM

Made these tonight. LOVED the flavor but discovered a little glitch in my approach. Except for special breakfasts and some desserts, we typically use Eggbeaters instead of regular eggs. So I made these tonight with 1/2 c Eggbeaters, which is the equivalent of 2 eggs. Except that it isn't. The mixture was a bit too soft (no fat or cholesterol though!). I made do, but am just suggesting to anyone else that if you use an eggwhite substitute, add it slowly and just until you reach the right consistency.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 22, 2008 9:44 PM

I made a half recipe, and loved the burgers. I added one chipotle chile in adobo sauce, added to the food processor with the beans.

My observations: The burgers were quite large. With my half recipe, I shaped and cooked three burgers, but they were way too big for the bun...I think you could make four with a half recipe, which would mean eight with a whole recipe. I did chill the shaped burgers before cooking, and they were pretty difficult to transfer to the pan...they wanted to stick to the plate, and then to the spatula. If I make them again I'll put them on waxed paper, then lift and slide them into the pan.

Also, because I'm a meat eater I'm used to juicy burgers. Sliced tomato would add some moisture.

BTW, what is a dough cutter?


Posted by: Ellen | May 24, 2008 9:55 PM

I made the recipe last night. We had a friend coming over who is not a meat eater and I was intrigued by the recipe. I'm a happy omnivore, but also a big fan of frijoles.

The "batter" was promising, though it seemed a bit sticky. So, I decided to take my inspiration from crab cakes and rolled the patties in panko crumbs after taking them from the refrigerator. I also used a bit of vegetable oil in a pan to get a good crust. I used a non-stick pan to keep oil down to a minimum and rolled the patties against the edges of the pan to get a sear onto the sides. This also had the effect of keeping my patties nearly circular.

This method might fend off the burger purists. Technically, I made black bean cakes rather than burgers.


Posted by: Fairlington Blade | May 26, 2008 5:27 PM

TIPS to replace egg & for easy & flipping:

Use 1/4c soft tofu for 1 large egg (yes the batter coheres).

For superior handling & if you're only going to put in refrigerator. Chill batter (all together or portioned), THEN place & flatten each portion on a hot skillet. If freezing, yes shape them first.

Posted by: monticello | June 8, 2008 12:57 PM

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