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There’s something wrong when a veggie burger is worse for you than cheesecake

Recently spotted in the Los Angeles Times Food Section “Dear SOS”

Veggie burgers from North Peak

Dear SOS: My family and I just got back from a trip to Traverse City, Mich., where I had the absolute best veggie burger I’ve ever had. Is there any way you could coax North Peak Brewery Co. to give up its recipe for its Black Bean and Portobello Mushroom Burger?

Dear —–: This burger even had some non-vegetarians going for it. The restaurant also sometimes serves it with provolone cheese and sliced avocado along with a dab of basil pesto aioli on toasted ciabatta rolls.

Total time: 1½ hours, plus cooling time Servings: 8

The recipe starts out with a 9-ingredient pico de gallo homework item–let’s just agree it’s basically salsa, and it gets mixed into the beans and other stuff at midpoint in the cooking process–which is long. One and a half hours? Yikes. But then check out the rest of the ingredients for the veggie burger itself:
Veggie burgers and assembly
  • 4 cups cooked black beans, from about 2½ (15-ounce) cans (drained)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 teaspoons salt, more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cumin, more to taste
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for sautéing the burgers
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 9 ounces portobello mushrooms, cut into ¼-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
  • 1 cup pico de gallo
  • 3 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Semolina flour for dusting
  • Sliced cheese, if desired
  • Sliced toasted ciabatta rolls

And then — guess the nutrition stats?

Each burger (without cheese or garnishes): 604 calories; 21 grams protein; 103 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 16 grams sugar; 1,227 mg sodium.

Whoa. 604 calories for a single veggie burger. 103 grams of carbohydrate–more than a meal’s worth just by itself. Honey, molasses and panko turn what might have been a reasonable amount of carb from a serving of black beans into something that reminds me of the old sketch from Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion on NPR: “Here’s my secret. I just add sugar to the same tired dinner and wow! suddenly everyone loves it!” … or words to that effect.

No doubt the honey and molasses also go a long way toward disguising the fact that each burger contains more than 1200 milligrams of sodium. Where’s that coming from, anyway? the canned beans–400  mg or so per serving. The added salt–a quarter-teaspoon or about 560 per serving. Breadcrumbs–more salt. Add a ciabatta roll and cheese and you’d be above 1500 mg easily.

At this point, despite their long laundry list of ingredients, the MorningStar Griller’s Vegan burgers I used to eat are looking a little more decent nutritionally–about 300 calories apiece and 280 or so mg. sodium. So if they could do it, why couldn’t you?

In theory, at least, you could make veggie burgers a little less dangerous and cheesecake-like if you just skipped the added syrups and salt, and cut the large excess of frying oil for the mushrooms and other sundries by simply microwaving them to precook. That is, choose a sensible recipe instead of something ridiculous.

Oh yeah. But then it would just be, you know, veggie burgers. Not keeping-up-with-the-chain-restaurants versions with the pumped-up sugar-salt-and-fat formulas. I ask again, is there any hope?

2 Responses

  1. This reminds me of when Linda McCartney had a line of frozen vegetarian meals that had more fat and salt than the cheapo meat ones next to them. Also missed the point.

    • Unfortunately, most of the processed stuff is just as awful and twice as expensive as the nonvegetarian stuff–frozen, boxed, whatever. I think people are afraid of fresh food that isn’t doused in syrup or salt or deep-fried. I’m still trying to find a really good recipe for veggie burgers that will come out looking and tasting right in my kitchen, with decent nutrition stats, for cheap, and not take 10 or more steps…

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