03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Delicious Analysis of Veggie Burgers

The other day, I went out to lunch with my friend Aaron at Cafe Colonial on Houston Street. He works around there, but I'd really chosen the venue because of the veggie burger they have on the menu. See, veggie burgers with sweet potato fries might be my ideal lunch. But I'm oddly not so picky about what the burgers are actually like. Not because I'm not a discerning eater in general, but because all the many varieties are based on ingredients I like: beans, grains, veggies, nuts. Moreover, with some ketchup, pickles, and avocado spread on, I find them good almost across the board.

This nonjudgmental attitude was doing me no good when I picked up the menu at lunch though. There was no veggie burger with fries on it at all. There was only one dish that seemed it might meet my expectations, which was described as black eyed pea patties over a salad with yucca fries. I ordered it, but only after begging the waitress to serve it to me on a bun with all the fixings (she didn't seem to want to). I asked Aaron, "Where'd the veggie burger go?" and he said, "I don't know! You chose the place." "Right," I said stupidly.

Anyway, when the patties I ordered arrived, I took one bite of them and was reminded in both taste and texture of these Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers, which I had made the week before (including the sweet potato in the burger, since I wasn't going to make fries for one). And in spite of my disappointment at not having been served the lunch of my dreams, I was happy to be in for a revelation: these soft, crispy-exterior types of burgers may actually taste better on salad than on bread. The "type" is not the chewy, meat-like sort of veggie burgers that contrasts well with the consistency of the bun. It is more bean-y than that, along the lines of these sweet potato-squash croquettes, and is quite well served by the crunch of the lettuce underneath.

--Cara Eisenpress of Big Girls, Small Kitchen


Sweet Potato Black Bean Burgers
Makes 2 small burgers

I made these pre-Cafe Colonial revelation, so I served them with toasted bread. If you don't have any lettuce on hand, just toast the bread to achieve a nice contrast between crunch and softness. You can also shape these into smaller balls and serve them as appetizers.

1 small sweet potato, cut into chunks
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 small onion, diced
1 small rib celery, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
pinch of cayenne
fresh cilantro (optional)
1/2 cup black beans
1 tablespoon flour

Bread or salad, pickles, and avocado for serving.

Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Add the sweet potatoes and cook until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain and cool until they're not painful to handle.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 teaspoon olive oil in a small skillet. Cook the onion and celery for a minute or two over very low heat, then add the garlic. Saute until the vegetables are soft but not browned. Add the spices and pinch of salt, then add the black beans and a tablespoon or so of their water. Cook down for another few minutes, then transfer about 2/3 of this mixture to a food processor. Add the sweet potatoes, flour, and fresh cilantro if using, then processor until mainly smooth. Mix in the reserved black beans from the skillet for added texture.

Warm the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons in a skillet over medium heat. Form the sweet potato-bean mixture into two 4" patties, then cook until crispy and brown on each side (about 5 minutes each), flipping once. Serve over greens (it will wilt them a bit) or on toast.