Vegans, rejoice: you now have more choices than ever when it comes to approximating the great American staple that is the cheeseburger. Many restaurants and grocery stores now stock plant-based burgers—chances are you've already tried at least one.
Not only are plant-based burgers more popular than ever—they taste better, too. No longer do they have the texture of a doormat and the taste of cardboard; vegan burgers nowadays are made from black beans, chickpeas, seitan, mushrooms, tofu, brown rice, carrots, nuts, and other nutritious ingredients.
But with so many options out there, how can you tell which vegan burger is best? And what impact does a meatless diet have on the planet, really?
Consider the Source
Just because a burger is plant-based doesn't mean that it's good for you. Some burger makers add components from white rice and potatoes—and although they're plant-based, they have a high glycemic load and can raise your blood sugar levels, Harvard Medical School says.
Certain meatless burgers, too, come with the same kind of concerns as ground-beef hamburgers, explains Food and Wine. Some brands have twice as much saturated fat as a lean beef burger, and some have much more sodium—neither of which is optimal if you're trying to maintain your health on a vegan diet. If you're jonesing for a good plant-based burger, Harvard Medical School advises that it fit into the standard parameters of a good plant-based diet: it should have a proper balance of vegetables, whole grains, protein, and healthy oils. Check what's in your bun and condiments, too, to make sure that they don't contain eggs, dairy, or excessive salt.
The Impact of a Meatless Diet
The planet and its animal inhabitants benefit, too, when humans adopt meatless diets.
According to a study published in Science, a vegan diet can reduce a person's carbon footprint by as much as 73%. If everyone in the world adopted a plant-based diet, food land use would be reduced by 76%. That's a massive number, and it could improve the health of our planet. For example, if the land used to raise cattle for meat and dairy were returned to its natural state, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate wildlife extinction.
Build Your Own Vegan Burger
There are myriad premade plant-based burgers on the market, but you can have more control over the ingredients by making your own at home. The following vegan burger recipe is nutrient-rich and full of flavor.
To make four plant-based burgers, start by gathering the following ingredients:
- ¾ cup whole walnuts
- ½ onion, diced
- 2–3 tsp. olive oil or avocado oil
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 tsp. coconut palm sugar, or 1 ½ tsp. date sugar
- 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
- 1 tbsp. cumin
- pepper, to taste
- 1 15-oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup of brown rice or barley, cooked per package instructions
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 2–3 tbsp. vegan barbecue sauce
Toast the walnuts in a hot skillet or a toaster oven for about 5 minutes. While the walnuts toast, sauté the diced onion until soft in the olive or avocado oil. Set the onions aside.
Combine the walnuts, salt, sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, and pepper in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture has a fine, powdery texture.
In a large bowl, mash the black beans and stir in the rice or barley, onions, walnut meal, and bread crumbs. Mix in the vegan barbecue sauce slowly. Here, you can play with your mixture; add more sauce or bread crumbs until you achieve your ideal consistency.
The burgers won't form if they're too moist, but they'll crumble if they're too dry. Test your mixture by scooping a handful and shaping it into a patty. If it survives a trip to the baking sheet or skillet, then it's good to go. If it's too moist, add some bread crumbs. If it's too dry, add some barbecue sauce. Taste the mixture, and add salt or spices, if necessary.
Form four equal patties and transfer them to a hot, oiled skillet or baking sheet. Cook for a few minutes on each side. Serve on a vegan bun.
In addition to the usual burger fixings—lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion—you can add vegan cheese, vegan mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. For a delicious Thousand Island-style spread, mix a half cup of vegan mayonnaise, two to three tablespoons of ketchup, two tablespoons of relish, a quarter teaspoon each of garlic powder and onion powder, and a pinch of salt. For a simpler, quicker spread, mix four tablespoons of vegan mayonnaise and two tablespoons of ketchup. Spread it on the bun, add your patty and fixings, and enjoy your homemade plant-based burger.
For more meat-free meal ideas, follow the Meatless Monday board by @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!
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Why It's Good
With so many delicious alternatives to traditional burgers available, you can be confident in your choice to maintain a lifestyle that supports both bodily health and the health of the planet.