Last week I sent Mark Bittman a tweet asking for his recommendation for the ultimate veggie burger. He came back with a recipe for his Midsummer Vegetable Burger, one of the burgers in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.
According to Bittman
This light, colorful burger, which gets its crunch from corn, is terrific on a bun, especially with a little Salsa, Chile Mayonnaise, or Roasted Pepper Mayonnaise, or with sliced ripe tomatoes and drizzled with basil pesto.
As a great lover of corn on the cob, corn bread, corn salsa, and pretty much all things corn, I was sure this burger would be a hit. The base ingredients are fresh corn, cornmeal , grated zucchini, and chili, all bound together with a puree of fresh corn.
Alas, having made this burger and considered all of its components, the burger rates slightly below average for my tastes.
Tim and I argued over this – he claimed it was fairly easy to make but if you ask me, once you get blenders and food processors involved, it takes a recipe beyond simplicity into a mess. Add to that the necessity of cutting corn kernels off an ear of corn (and yes, you should be using fresh corn if you make this recipe).
Most of my prep troubles had to do with the instructions (something Mark Bittman usually excels at), some of which seemed unachievable by my food processor (the recommended tool). For example, “Put the onion, garlic, and chile in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind almost smooth” and “Put the remaining corn into a food processor and let the machine run until it becomes a thick paste.” For some reason, my food processor could only create “chunks” rather than “paste”. I had to turn to the Vitamix to achieve the desired result.
To me, a good veggie burger should be balanced in favor of hearty proteins and vegetables – after all, I’ll have plenty of bread to eat with the bun. I don’t want my burger to be made of bread, too. But, at nearly 50% Carbohydrates and only 7% protein, this burger is essentially burger-shaped cornbread. Still, we’ll give it a point for being vegan  – not an easy feat for a non-mushy, crumble-free veggie burger (see below).
The corn kernels offered some texture, but the cornmeal was a little chalky for my liking.
Mush Factor 3/4
At last, a burger that was not a mush burger. There was some slight oozing out of the bun as I ate my way through it, with one small bit falling overboard, but overall it maintained its shape throughout the meal.
Crumble Factor 4/4
This burger did not fall apart in the bun. I believe the grated zucchini helped create a lattice structure within the burger to help keep it together.
Too sweet. It tasted more like a corn fritter than a burger. Don’t get me wrong, I love the flavour of corn fritters. But I wouldn’t put a corn fritter on a bun with lettuce and tomato and call it a burger.
Overall Rating 2.3 / 4
I wouldn’t make this burger again, but those with a greater appreciation for sweet corn and bread-based burgers may find this more “ultimate” than I did.
Midsummer Vegetable Burger
Bittman recommends serving these with a little salsa, chile mayonnaise, roasted pepper mayonnaise, or with sliced tomatoes and drizzled with basil pesto. I reckon avocado is a better match for these corny patties.
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small red onion, halved
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 minced fresh chile (like jalapeño or Thai), or to taste, or hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 medium zucchini, grated (about 1 cup)
- 2 cups corn kernels, fresh if possible
- 3/4 cup cornmeal
- A little all-purpose flour, if needed, for binding
- Put 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a deep nonstick or cast-iron skillet with a lid over medium heat. Put the onion, garlic, and chile in a food processor and pulse a few times to grind almost smooth. Add the mixture to the pan with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and cook and stir.
- Stir the zucchini into the onion mixture along with 1 /2cup of the corn and another sprinkle of salt and pepper. Put the remaining corn into a food processor and let the machine run until it becomes a thick paste. Continue to cook and stir the zucchini mixture until the vegetables release all their water and it starts to evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the corn paste and the cornmeal. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes. If the mixture seems too wet, stir in a little flour to help bind it. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Form 4 to 6 patties and let sit for a few minutes if you have time. (You can make the burger mixture or even shape the burgers up to several hours in advance. Just cover tightly and refrigerate, then bring everything back to room temperature before cooking.) Wipe out the pan, put in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and turn the heat to medium. A minute later, add the patties. Cook until nicely browned on one side, about 5 minutes; turn carefully and cook on the other side until firm and browned.
- Serve on plates or on buns with the usual burger fixings. Or cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use.
Fresh Summer Vegetable Burger with Cheese: A little richer and creamier: In Step 3, when you stir in the eggs, add 1/2cup grated cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, or Parmesan cheese.
Makes 6 burgers. Per burger: 196 Calories; 3.6g Protein; 10.3g Total Fat; 25.3g Total Carbohydrates; 3.2g Fiber.
 Word to the wise – use a fine cornmeal for this recipe. I initially tried this with polenta – what a mistake! I ended up with a crumbly mess and had to start over.
Fortunately, the above crumble makes a great topping on chili (make the chili, then put it in a ramekin, distribute the corny crumble on top, then bake until the top is crispy). I am sure it would be yummy on other casseroles, as well (which is good because I have loads of the stuff).
 There is some question to whether this recipe is intentionally vegan. The book and his blog post both mention a variation which states: “In Step 3, when you stir in the eggs, add 1/2cup grated cheddar, mozzarella, Jack, or Parmesan cheese.” However, the recipe does not call for eggs. Queries on his blog post have so far been unanswered. One comment offers a suggestion that may improve the textures of these grainy patties:
I’ve been making Mark’s veggie burgers by following the chapter in his book and, while I don’t have it in front of me, my guess is that the egg goes in when you add the corn paste and corn meal to the cooked mixture. The egg will help hold everything together, but it also adds moisture which you may have to counter with more corn meal and/or some breadcrumbs. Just experiment, you can’t really go wrong here as long as you get the mixture to a consistency that holds its shape when pressed into a patty.