"Veggie burger" has become a catch-all term for any meatless patty, some of which I find ridiculous (the imitation-beef disks you find in the freezer aisle), and some of which I like a lot.
The best are the veggie burgers you make at home, using a food processor, and if you've never tried these, now is the time. Tofu, nut, and bean burgers can be made year round, but true veggie burgers -- brimming with fresh vegetables -- are best made in summertime. They're also a perfect cookout alternative, not only for vegetarians but for omnivores looking to try something different.
A Few Rules for Foolproof Veggie Burgers
Yes, there are rules, but there are also about a million ways you can vary them to your taste. To say "start with good-quality ingredients and add plenty of seasoning" may sound obvious, but it's especially important for homemade veggie burgers. Plain vegetables and beans simply don't have the same inherent flavor or fat content as meat, and need more than a little help, in the form of herbs, spices, aromatic vegetables, and plenty of salt and pepper. (You can also add condiments like salsa, ketchup, mustard, and miso for extra punch.) One of the nice things about veggie burgers, compared to beef burgers, is that you can taste the raw mixture to adjust the seasoning without fear.
It's All About Texture
A second general rule for veggie burgers is to use a mix of moist and dry ingredients to create a batter that can be formed into patties without falling apart. Dry ingredients like rolled oats (not instant), cornmeal, all-purpose or whole wheat flour, and bread crumbs soak up excess liquid from beans and vegetables, while eggs, cooked grains, and tofu have the right stickiness to bind other ingredients. If the texture is right, shaping will be easy; just cup a little of the batter in your palm and then press it down into a patty no thicker than an inch, just as you would meat. If the texture's not right, it's no big deal: add a little more of the dry stuff if the batter is too wet, and add a little liquid (anything from water to stock to milk to wine will work) if the batter is too dry.
Cook Them Up
The texture of the batter becomes even more important if you're grilling, since they are almost always more delicate than their meaty counterparts. Aim for a fairly thick batter if you want to grill, and brush both the patties and your grate with olive oil just before putting them on the grate. Keep the flame medium-high and the rack about 4 inches from the fire, and keep an eye on them: If you try to flip them too soon, they'll fall apart, but if you wait too long, they'll burn. The average veggie burger requires 5 minutes per side on the grill.
Whether you're grilling or pan-frying (you can also broil or bake), most veggie burgers benefit from a little resting time between shaping and cooking; if you let them sit for 5 to 10 minutes (or refrigerate them for up to a few hours), they'll be less likely to fall apart during them. If you're pan-cooking burgers, don't skimp on the oil, and don't rush the cooking process-the burgers will release easily from the pan when they're nicely browned and ready to be turned.
One more benefit: You can freeze cooked, wrapped burgers for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat them, microwave them until they're hot, or wrap them in foil and warm them in a 350° F oven for 20 to 30 minutes.
Make the Veggie Burger Recipes
The recipes here are a great place to start, especially if you've got an abundance of fresh vegetables on your hands. The first is a true vegetable burger, a slightly spicy blend of zucchini, onion, and fresh corn bound with a little cornmeal for crunch. The second is a sturdier and heartier succotash burger, relying on lima beans for body, with corn, red bell pepper, and fresh herbs rounding the patties out. Feel free to vary these with other quick-cooking vegetables and seasonings-just follow the above tips, and you'll be able to make a different veggie burger every night for the rest of the summer if you want to.