Overall Rating 2.8/4
What first intrigued me about this veggie burger was the mayonnaise. Not on top of, but INSIDE the burger. The rest of the appeal largely came down to ethos. This is Cooks Illustrated‘s vision of the “ultimate veggie burger”.
We didn’t want [our veggie burgers] to taste like hamburgers, but we did want them to act like hamburgers, having a modicum of chew, a harmonious blend of savory ingredients, and the ability to go from grill to bun without falling apart.
Their solution: bulgur and lentils for texture, onions, garlic, celery and leeks for depth of flavor, and “to replace the meat-like taste, we turned to food rich in umami –specifically, cremini mushrooms and cashews.”
Umami – what a brilliant idea. But do they hold up to the test?
There are people in the world who like mushrooms, and there are people who don’t. I fall in the former camp, fortunately, and so appreciated the pound of mushrooms that went into these burgers.
Beyond umami, the burgers have a pleasing balance of vegetables (mushrooms, leeks and celery), protein (lentils and cashews) and grains (bulgar wheat and breadcrumbs).
As already state, the burger mix includes mayonnaise, but no egg (aside from what’s in the mayo). Fat phobics who shudder at the thought of mayo should rest easy – it’s only 1/3 cup distributed across 12 burgers. At about 10g of fat per 4-inch burger, the result is not excessively fatty, and in fact is choc full of fiber (7g) from all the lovely nuts, legumes and whole grains.
As a bonus, the lack of egg would make these easily adaptable to a vegan diet, if that’s your thing.
As others* have mentioned, these burgers are not easy to make. Each ingredient needs to be prepared separately – boil the lentils, boil the bulgar, saute the veggies, grind the chashews. It takes a while. (I suggest that, next time you make lentils, beans, rice, bulgur, whatever, make extra and freeze it for occasions like these.)
Once everything is prepared, it all gets blitzed in the food processor, but this step is easy to get wrong – if you don’t blitz it enough, the burgers won’t hold their shape (as I woefully discovered with my first trial – see “Crumble Factor”). In fact, no matter how much I pulsed my food processor, I couldn’t achieve the “coarse-textured paste” called for in the recipe. So I turned to the VitaMix.
If you do make this recipe, I recommend using a blender. You will have to push the mix into the blender as it goes, but it helps immensely, and results in easy-to-form burger patties not unlike the one pictured in Cooks Illustrated (shown above).
When it comes to texture, these burgers are a win. The bulgar and cashews give the burger excellent “bite”, while the soft lentils and mayo keep the burgers from being too dry. I’m sure the sauteed celery and onion have something to do with it, too.
Mush Factor 4/4
At last, a burger that is not a mush burger.
As the picture shows, the burger did not ooze from the bun as I bit into it, as is often the case with so many ill-fated bean-based burgers, where by the end of the burger you’re left with something more akin to hummus than a burger. Not so here. This is a solid burger. I credit the bulgar and cashews which helped keep the moist lentils in check.
Crumble Factor 3/4
When prepared correctly, these burgers do NOT crumble. But it’s easy to get wrong, which is why I give them a 3 out of 4. My first batch of burgers were not blended enough, and so the result did not hold together but fell apart immediately on the bun.
However, after pureeing the burger mix in a blender, the crumble disappeared and the burgers held their own.
These burgers taste like a cross between Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (thank the mayo and the mushrooms for that) and good ol’ fashioned stuffing (thank the celery). Bot of these foods I really like, but not so much in a burger form. The stuffing-effect also made me feel like I was eating a bread burger.
Overall Rating 2.8/4
I must hand it to Cooks Illustrated – they created a wonderfully well-textured burger that did not fall apart on the bun. It’s a shame, though, that for all that effort, and such promising ingredients, that its flavor isn’t all that it should be. Perhaps a few spices would help – maybe some mustard, or soy sauce? It needs something more substantial. Alas, I’m not sure if these burgers are worth the effort it would take to experiment.
Mushroom Cashew Bulgur Burgers
3/4 C dried green lentils, rinsed
2 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 C bulgur
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium or 1 large onion)
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 small leek (white and light green parts), chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lb. brown or white mushrooms sliced
1 C raw unsalted cashews
1/3 C mayonnaise
2 1/2 C panko bread crumbs
black pepper (lots!)
Bring the lentils to a boil in 3 cups of water with 1 tsp of salt over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook uncovered for 25 minutes. Drain the lentils in a mesh strainer and then spread them out on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to dry out a bit. Cool to room temperature.
While the lentils are cooking bring 2 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil in a small pan. Add the bulgur, stir, cover, and remove from the heat. Soak for about 15-20 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Drain in a mesh strainer and gently press out the excess moisture. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp of oil over medium high heat. Add the onions, celery, leeks, and garlic. Stir occasionally and cook until everything starts to brown, about 10 minutes. Spread these veggies out on a baking pan and cool to room temperature. (If you’re doing this all in order, the lentils are probably cooked by now, so add them to the mixing bowl with the bulgur and re-use the same sheet pan).
Add 1 Tbsp of oil to the same skillet and turn the heat up to high. Cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until they start to brown. They should give off all of their liquid, and then that liquid should cook off, so you have a pretty dry batch of cooked mushrooms. It takes 12-15 minutes. Spread the mushrooms on the pan with the other veggies and cool to room temperature.
Chop the cashews in the food processor for a few pulses. Coarse is ok since it’s all going to get mixed and chopped again.
Add the cashews, veggies, mushrooms, and mayonnaise to the bowl with the bulgur and lentils and mix everything up. Move half of the mixture to the food processor and pulse about 15 times. It should be a coarse-textured paste (use a blender if the food processor doesn’t work). Transfer this to another bowl and repeat with the second half of the mixture. Combine it all in the big bowl you started with.
Add the panko, 1 tsp of salt, and ground pepper to the mixture and mix thoroughly.
Shape into patties about 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick.
Heat 1 tsp of oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Cook the patties for 4 minutes per side, until golden. If they’re browning too fast, turn it down a bit.
Makes 12 4-inch burgers. Per burger: 308 Calories; 10.5g Protein; 13.6g Total Fat; 38.1g Total Carbohydrates; 7.5g Fiber.
*What other people say:
“I recently tried the “Ultimate Veggie Burgers” recipe from Cooks Illustrated, and it came out great! It’s not the simplest recipe, but I think it’s worth the effort. It makes a good size batch and they freeze very well.”
- Dan, perfectlyedible.com
“The best non-meat burger I’ve ever had was the veggie burger recipe from Cooks Illustrated. The combo of bulgur, lentils, cashews, mushrooms, onions, leeks, and panko give them a really great, firm texture and a satisfying, round flavor. I’ve served these to vegetarians and dedicated meat-eaters alike with raves from all.”
- JaimePMac, thekitchn.com
“These are kind of a pain to make, but they are so awesome! They’re worth the trouble to me because I always freeze some, and we get burgers for a while. Fab on onion buns with seasoned mayo!”
- Tesseract, veggieboards.com
“…boy was it ultimate! It took a couple hours to prepare, but was so worth it, that I may be swearing off store bought veggie burgers for good. It was great with some grilled veggies and a cold porter.”
- Linsay Preston, linsay-preston.com
Also seen on ultimateveggieburgers.com.