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No beef with these chef-made veggie burgers

Deborah Madison - gardener, author, restaurateur and chef - is famous for her love of vegetables and deep knowledge of vegetarian cooking.

Deborah Madison - gardener, author, restaurateur and chef - is famous for her love of vegetables and deep knowledge of vegetarian cooking.

But ask her about veggie burgers, and you get a surprising blast.

"I hate the word 'veggie.' I don't even like the word 'burger,' " she says, "and I'm not really into veggie burgers."

Like it or not, the veggie burger is everywhere these days, from fast-food chains to hipster hangouts and places in between, including the frozen-food case in the supermarket. Why not on the Memorial Day grill, as an alternative - or an addition - to the traditional meat-centric menu?

As anyone who's tasted a few veggie burgers knows, good ones are harder to make - and far more complicated - than you might think.

Before that discussion, Madison explains her beefs, you might say, with the nomenclature.

"Veggie" strikes her as infantile.

"We don't say meaties, duckies or cheesies," she fumes.

"Burger" connotes imitation meat, and "veggie burger" - Madison can't help it - brings to mind "dry little disks with strange little flavors when, actually, vegetables are amazing and fantastic."

Way better to rebrand those "little disks" as croquettes or cakes or fritters, and to envision them not as a round of thick bean hash, but as an artful combination of quinoa and beet greens or kale and potato.

They sound delicious, don't they? Recipes for both are included in Madison's newest cookbook, her 10th, Vegetable Literacy, from Ten Speed Press.

Great taste is goal number one, says Dave Conn, chef de cuisine at Jose Garces' Village Whiskey and Tinto restaurants in Center City.

Then comes "serious nutritional content, which tends to be very important for someone who opts for veggie," he says.

Third goal: A burger mixture with enough starch in it to hold up during cooking and eating.

"Ideally, you want to do your best to emulate a meatlike texture," Conn says, avoiding fall-apart crumbly and hockey-puck dry.

In formulating his recipe, Conn shunned common additives such as sodium bicarbonate, which, when warm, firms things up. He also rejected as unappealing oats, grains, and bread crumbs.

He found the flavor, nutrition, texture, and moisture content he sought in a mix of black beans and lentils, to which he adds onion, bell pepper, fresh corn, blanched edamame, Swiss chard, and sweet Japanese shishito pepper.

"We're kind of going with a Mexico/Southwest flavor," Conn says, describing how he does "a little bit of a knead on the mix, by hand," before shaping the 6-ounce patties. They're served on a sesame roll and garnished with fresh guacamole and pickled red cabbage.

"It's all about balance," Conn says, conceding that for the home cook, "the process can be very involved."

Master chef Phyllis Farquhar, who owns Sketch, a gourmet burger place in Fishtown, couldn't agree more. She spent a year perfecting the $8 veggie burger on her menu.

It contains eight kinds of beans, 17 grains, potatoes, onions, carrots, peas, textured vegetable protein, and seasonings.

"Oh my God, it was tough to figure out," Farquhar says, "but it's hugely popular."

One reason is that the burger is deep-fried at the end.

"That's where the yumminess comes in. I call it a fortified falafel," says Farquhar, who serves it on vegan Italian bread or a standard Le Bus country white roll. Customers can put sauce, cheese, even bacon on top.

Which raises a question: How healthy are veggie burgers?

Stella Volpe, chair of Drexel University's nutrition sciences department, advises home cooks and consumers to seek burgers made from basic ingredients without a lot of fillers, additives, or processed foods in them.

Salt is a concern, too.

"Everybody's got a 'veggie burger,' just like everybody has 'organic' products, which can be good or bad," Volpe says. "People really need to take a look at what the ingredients are."

As for cooking methods, grilling veggie burgers is often a challenge. They can be dense, burning before they're cooked through, and even with bread crumb or egg binders, they can break apart.

Farquhar recommends baking burgers in the oven (375 degrees, 10 minutes a side) before tossing on the grill for "a quick crisp and a char." That way, you know they're cooked through.

Conn and Dan James, the chef at Vintage Wine Bar in Center City, sear their veggie burgers in a hot skillet or on a griddle.

"It gets a nice, uniform crust on the outside and sears up real nicely," says James, whose $11 veggie burger is made with white bean puree, French green lentils, rutabaga, sweet potato, parsnip, and panko bread crumbs. It's served with sautéed spinach, shallots, and cayenne aioli on a brioche burger roll.

"It's all very natural," he says, "nothing weird going on in there."

Which is exactly what Madison means when she advocates veggie burgers made of "real food, real flavors," including the toppings, whether cheese, pickled onions, chile salsa, or avocado.

"You can have fun with those," she says, "but you could have fun with a bowl of beans, too."

Craig LaBan's Veggie Picks


Vintage Wine Bar Veggie Burger

Makes 5 burgers (6 to 7 ounces each)


8 ounces white beans (dry)

8 ounces lentils (dry)

1 sweet potato

1 rutabaga

1 parsnip

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs


1. Soak white beans overnight in 16 ounces of water. Cook white beans in 1 quart of water until very soft (about 20-30 minutes). Strain. Puree in food processor until smooth. Add a little warm water if it gets too dry.

2. Cook lentils in 1 quart (32 ounces) of water until al dente (about 10 minutes). Strain.

3. Peel and cut sweet potato, rutabaga and parsnip into 1/4-inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in baking pan covered in foil for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine roasted vegetables, lentils, beans, and bread crumbs. Fold ingredients together until the mixture is even. Salt/pepper to taste. Form patties.

5. In a cast-iron pan on medium-high heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil. Sear the veggie burgers on both sides to brown. Finish in the oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes.

Per serving: 419 calories, 25 grams protein, 77 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams sugar, 2 grams fat, no cholesterol, 115 milligrams sodium, 25 grams dietary fiber.

Village Whiskey Veggie Burger

Makes 4 burgers; 6 ounces each


1 cup dried black beans,  soaked, simmered in vegetable stock with onion and bay leaf till very tender

1 cup Le Puy green lentils, simmered in vegetable stock with onion and bay leaf till very tender

1 Spanish onion, small dice

1 bell pepper, small dice

1/2 bunch Swiss chard, chopped

12 shishito peppers, roasted, seeded

1/2 cup shelled edamame, blanched

1/2 cup white corn

2 tablespoons roasted garlic, smashed

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chiffonade

1 teaspoon cumin, toasted, ground

1 teaspoon coriander, toasted,  ground

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 tablespoon salt


1. Cool cooked legumes. Pulse lentils in food processor till rough puree.

2. Sweat onion, bell pepper, Swiss chard, and corn. Combine with lentils, black beans, and remaining ingredients.

3. Allow mixture to chill for 1 hour before forming 6-ounce patties in a 5-inch ring mold.

4. Sear on hot griddle to order and garnish with pickled red cabbage and guacamole.

Per serving: 448 calories, 29 grams protein, 76 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 5 grams fat, no cholesterol, 2,574 milligrams sodium, 27 grams dietary fiber.

Smoky Kale and Potato Cakes

Makes 12 three-inch cakes or 4 servings


Kale and potato mash with Romesco sauce (see accompanying recipe)

1 large clove garlic, pressed or pounded in a mortar

1 cup grated smoked cheese or unsmoked aged cheese, such as Cheddar, provolone, or mozzarella

Olive oil, for cooking

1/2 onion, diced

Several pinches of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon smoked salt or smoked paprika

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Dried bread crumbs, semolina, or sesame seeds for coating, about a cup


1. Make the kale and potato mash and stir in the garlic and cheese. Pour enough oil into a roomy saute pan to cover lightly and warm over midium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper flakes and cook for several minutes to soften the onion. Add this to the kale and potato mash, taste, and season with salt and pepper.

2. Form into cakes by pressing the mixture into a 1/2 cup measuring cup, then turn it out onto your hand. Coat the cakes on both sides with the bread crumbs.

3. To cook the cakes, film a roomy skillet, either cast iron or nonstick, with enough oil to cover lightly and warm over medium heat. When hot, add the cakes and cook, turning once, until nicely browned on both sides, about 4 minutes on each side. Serve with or without the Romesco Sauce.

Per serving: 710 calories, 18 grams protein, 65 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 50 grams fat, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 1,857 milligrams sodium, 9 grams dietary fiber.

Kale and Potato Mash With Romesco Sauce

Makes 4 servings


2 large russet potatoes, peeled

8 ounces yellow-fleshed potatoes (such as Yukon Gold),   scrubbed

Sea salt

1 large bunch kale, any variety, stems removed and leaves chopped

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Romesco sauce (see note)

Chopped parsley, to finish


1. Cut all the potatoes into similar-size chunks. Put them in a saucepan with cold water to cover and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are nearly tender when pierced with a paring knife. Then add the kale and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft enough to mash and the kale is tender.

2. Scoop out 1/3 cup of the cooking water and set it aside, then drain the potatoes and kale and transfer them to a roomy bowl. Add the reserved cooking water and the olive oil and mash to a chunky texture. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

3. Divide among warmed plates, spoon over plenty of the sauce, sprinkle generously with parsley, and serve.

Note: To make two cups of Romesco Sauce, warm two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a small skillet. Add one thin but sturdy slice of country bread, turn it immediately so that both sides are moistened with oil, then fry over medium until golden and crisp. When it's done, grind it with 1/2 cup toasted almonds and 3 cloves of garlic in a food processor until the mixture is fairly fine. Add more garlic, 11/2 teaspoons New Mexican or other ground red chile, 4 Roma tomatoes, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves, a scant teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of sweet or smoked paprika, and 2 roasted, peeled, and seeded red bell peppers and process until smooth. With the machine running, gradually pour in 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, then 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Taste and make sure the sauce has plenty of piquancy and enough salt. Store the sauce in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. It will keep for up to a week.

Per serving: 482 calories, 7 grams protein, 44 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 39 grams fat, no cholesterol, 210 milligrams sodium, 7 grams dietary fiber.EndText

Summer Quinoa Cakes With Beet Greens and Beet Salad

Makes 6 cakes


A pound or more beet greens (from 2 large bunches)

4 small beets, about 12 ounces

Olive oil

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons finely diced onion

4 tablespoons chopped cilantro

11/2 cups cooked quinoa

4 ounces grated provolone, mozzarella, or goat feta cheese

1 egg

Dried bread crumbs, if needed



1. Discard the stems from the greens. Wash, then cook over medium-high heat until wilted and tender. This is a rather large volume of leaves, so you will need to turn them once or twice as they cook. When done, put them in a colander to drain.

2. Steam the beets until tender-firm, then peel them. Cut them into wedges or fine dice and toss them with a little olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, give it a stir, and cook for a few minutes, taking care that it doesn't burn or brown. Stir in the cilantro, then remove from the heat and add to the quinoa, followed by the cheese, egg, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

4. Returning to the greens, use the back of a spoon or, if the greens are cool enough to handle, your hands to sqeeze out as much liquid as possible. (Since the greens were not salted, you can put this juice in your garden.) Finely chop the greens, stir them into the quinoa mixture. To check the seasoning, fry a little and taste. If more salt is needed, add it, then season with pepper. If the mixture seems too wet, stir in enough bread crumbs to drink up some of the liquid.

5. To make each cake, pack the mixture into a 1/3 cup or

1/2 cup measure. Warm a nonstick pan with enough oil to coat well over medium heat. Turn the quinoa mixture out of the cup into the pan. Gently press on it with a spatula to even the cake out. Cook until golden brown, then turn and brown the second side, 2 or more minutes on each.

6. Serve the cakes with the beet salad. Top each one with a dollop of yogurt.

Per cake: 296 calories, 15 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams sugar, 11 grams fat, 38 milligrams cholesterol, 222 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.EndText