Black Bean Burger with Shiitake Bacon
Black bean burgers are not just for vegetarians. This meatless alternative is a healthier choice but doesn’t skimp on flavor and the shiitake “bacon” adds extra umami.
If you had told me twenty years ago–heck, even ten–that I’d one day enjoy a burger made with beans I would have said, “No way.” Not that I proudly carried around a carnivore badge or that I was a burger snob, I just never considered that any burger other than one made with beef would appeal to me. A burger without beef just was not in my purview then.
Case in point: Have I told you about the time many years ago when I was out with some friends in San Francisco? The restaurant was trendy, located in the heart of the city and it boasted an equally of-the-moment menu. Portobello mushrooms were all the rage in the 90s and when I spotted “Portobello Mushroom Burger” it’s what I ordered thinking I’d get a beef patty topped with sautéed mushrooms.
What I got instead was a saucer-sized grilled portobello mushroom masquerading as a hamburger on a toasted bun. Now, I’ve always loved mushrooms but on that occasion I thought I was simply ordering a grown-up, more sophisticated version of a burger. I get it now but even this San-Francisco-bred girl was clueless then about the “new and creative California-style” dishes that were being offered all over the city.
These days I embrace all kinds of burgers–salmon, turkey, veggie–I like them all…even those made with beans. I can’t deny that the latter have some great things going for them.
Over the last few years our diet at home has shifted to a greater focus on plant-based foods. We still enjoy fish and chicken once or twice a week and here on the blog I still have a short list of meat-based dishes from my childhood that I plan to share but our every day diet embraces heart-healthier, meatless choices. These black bean burgers fit the bill.
Keys to a Good Black Bean Burger
I first started experimenting with black bean burgers two years ago. At that point, I had not eaten a beef burger in at least three years so when black bean burgers appeared on the radar I became mildly obsessed. I spent some time playing around with a recipe and wasn’t very happy with the results. After some research and a tweak here and there here are some tips I’ve learned.
Texture: Black bean burgers can’t be mushy. Even if you opt for cooking your own dried beans instead of using canned (I’ve done both) the beans will still be too wet. Partially drying them in the oven improves their texture. Then, instead of using a food processor, it is best to mash the beans with a fork, leaving some intact to mimic some of the bite of a traditional burger. (Thanks to Serious Eats for the tip on partially dehydrating the beans.)
Moisture/Binder: Partially drying the beans improves their texture but you don’t want to eat a dry burger. A little mayonnaise adds a lot of moisture, as do vegetables. I like onions and scallions and even cooked finely chopped mushrooms would work well here. Eggs are a necessary binder and if you opt for the vegan option like I sometimes do, flax eggs work well here. Some breadcrumbs and oats help to bind the burgers, too.
Flavor: Don’t be shy with the seasonings: With a traditional beef patty sometimes salt and pepper are all you need but black bean burgers are much better with a good dose of seasonings. My basic additions are cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, Crystal hot sauce and nutritional yeast (or Parmigiano-Reggiano if you use dairy) but soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and even miso paste are good options, too.
Shiitake Mushroom “Bacon”
Add-Ons: I tend to be a burger traditionalist and usually go for just cheese, tomatoes, lettuce and pickles but sometimes it’s hard to resist bacon, avocado or sautéed mushrooms as a topping. One of my favorite vegan alternatives is to use shiitake “bacon” in place of regular bacon.
Shiitake mushrooms have a dense, meaty texture and are a satisfying bacon substitute. Select mushrooms that aren’t too small and slice them just under a quarter inch thick, sprinkle with salt and pepper and fry in a touch of oil or bake in the oven. They don’t get crispy like bacon but the umami contribution is huge.
Research indicates that the earliest mention of veggie-based burgers can be traced back as early 1969 (Source: Smithsonian.com). This was slightly before my time but my husband who was somewhat of a hippy in those days remembers them being mentioned in his circle. They started to go mainstream in the early 1980s and I was still a beef-burger-loving pre-teen then. Whatever their provenance, my 40-something self is happy to see more meatless options available now. My husband would gladly go 100% plant-based today but I’m not ready quite yet. This part-time plant-based journey is teaching me a lot, though, and it’s helped me to make smarter choices over the last few years about what to put on our table. Black bean burgers and shiitake bacon? Yes, please.
Black Bean Burger with Shiitake Bacon
- 2 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained (See Note)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1- 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
- 1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 – 2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano (or nutritional yeast if vegan)
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 2-3 tablespoons rolled oats (I use Quaker)
- 2 stems scallions, chopped
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon Crystal hot sauce (or Tabasco)
- 2 eggs (or flax eggs if vegan)
- 2-3 tablespoons mayonnaise (Vegenaise if vegan)
- olive oil for cooking
- 10-12 medium shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
- salt and pepper
- Burger buns
- sliced cheddar (vegan cheese if applicable)
- sliced red onions
- Lettuce leaves
Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Spread the beans in a single layer on a baking sheet and leave in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the beans begin to open. Let cool. While the beans are in the oven, sprinkle salt and pepper on the shiitake mushroom slices and cook in a little olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Cook on both sides until golden. They won’t get crisp like bacon but will have a nice umami flavor.
In a bowl combine all the ingredients from the beans to the 2-3 tablespoons of mayo. Use your hands to mix the ingredients together. The mixture shouldn’t be too dry and too moist. There should be enough moisture for the ingredients to hold together. If it looks too wet, add another tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs or oats. Form into six patties (or less or more depending on the size patties you want). Remember that unlike traditional beef patties, these bean burgers won’t shrink when you fry them.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook each burger patty for about four minutes on each side or when you start to see some golden sections on the patties.
If using cheese (vegan or regular), add the slices on the flipped burgers during the last minute or two of cooking time. Assemble your burgers and enjoy.
Black Beans: Instead of canned beans for this batch I used dried beans I cooked myself, about 20 ounces.