Black Bean Burgers with Corn and Cilantro Relish

After a few false starts to this article, I have officially decided that I’m just going to write about black bean burgers and corn relish.  I’m not going to tell you about how I took painstaking pictures every step of the way only to find that there was no card in my camera when the burgers were almost done.  I will not delve deeply into my sharply snapping rhetoric when I eventually found the camera card, still stuck in the card reader and bundled up in a drawer by someone-I-live-with-who-isn’t-a-cat.  Nor will I talk about my grudging and foot scuffing apology moments later when I took a look inside myself and quickly concluded that the wasted time and effort was my own fault.  If I would simply clean up after myself like any other responsible adult, then someone-I-live-with-who-isn’t-a-cat wouldn’t have to do it and I would always know where to find my camera card, left shoe, toothbrush…… For the most part, however, I’m just going to get right to the point and talk about the burgers because it we throw ourselves right into the article you might not notice that there is no photo documentation for the first 15 steps.  And, what’s more, the faster you can read through this article, the closer you are to making your OWN cheap and cheerful black bean patties.  There’s that, too.

These burgers are a far cry from fatty beef burgers (not that there’s anything wrong with a fatty beef burger, which in our house is known as MANNA FROM THE GODS).  Made with black beans and a handful of pantry staples, in addition to the sneaky helping of vitamin rich vegetables nestled throughout, these patties are heart healthy, low fat, and full of enough fiber to make you feel virtuous despite the Snickers bar that represented your lunch.

The other main reason that I enjoy black bean burgers so much is that they’re a big, fat, flavor packed patty that makes a great meal for both vegetarians and meat eaters alike.  There is so much happening in this bun that even your more carnivorous guests have the opportunity to forget that there is nothing on their plate that went, “Moo”, “Oink” or “Squawk” (birds are evil and in my mind all of our feathered ‘friends’ either shriek or squawk in the most jarring way possible).  And, more importantly, it is hale and hearty enough to keep the hunger wolves at bay for an almost unseemly length of time.

Before we get started, I just need to make a quick note about vegetarian patties.  Have you attempted homemade veggie burgers before?  Good, so have I.  And what happened when you went to grill them?  YEAH, ME TOO.  After 10 minutes on the grill there were just a few scrappy little veggie nuggets left for me to sandwich in a bun and balefully chew whilst glaring at the grill.  However, that’s normal.  Find me a healthy and homemade vegetable patty that sticks together on the grill, and I’ll find you a margarita where I haven’t licked the entire circumference of the glass (note: that’s a trick. Don’t fall for it.  I have already licked every margarita glass.  Yes, even the ones in your cabinet.  Wash them well because I travel under the cover of darkness).  This is what I’ve learned from my pitiful experiences:

  • Homemade veggie burgers fall apart on the grill.  Period.  End stop.
  • If you want to grill veggie burgers, try oiling a piece of foil and cooking the burgers on top of that.
  • Or, because the smoky flavor is already compromised, just give up the ghost and do them on your range in a frying pan.  You’ll be happier in the long run.

That’s enough out of me, so let’s just get right to the point and launch into the recipe, without all those pesky pictures getting in the way.

Black Bean Burgers with Corn Relish

Serves 6

Black Bean Burgers

  • 1 can (19 oz) black beans
  • 1 egg *
  • 3-4 large sprigs fresh oregano (2 tbsp chopped)
  • 1.5 tsp smoked paprika
  • 3/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 medium red onion
  • 1 small can (4 oz) fire roasted Hatch chili peppers
  • 1.5 cups quick cooking oats **
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 buns
  • lettuce for garnish (6 large leaves)
  • sliced tomato for garnish (about 2)
  • sliced avocado for garnish (about 2)
  • chipotle mayonnaise for garnish (about 6 tbsp) ***

Corn and Cilantro Relish

  • 3 fresh cobs of corn ****
  • 2 plump tomatoes
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 1/2 red pepper
  • 3 green onions (white and green parts)
  • small handful cilantro (1/3 cup finely chopped)
  • 1/2 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

* For a vegan option, use 2 tbsp of a vegan egg substitute in lieu of the egg.

**You can substitute well cooked and cooled leftover short grain brown rice for the oats if you prefer.

*** To make chipotle mayonnaise, simple mix regular mayonnaise with chipotle chili powder of a small amount of finely minced chipotle chili peppers in adobo sauce.  How much you add is entirely a matter of taste.

**** It is still too early for the succulent, sweet summer corn, but I just couldn’t help myself.  The cobs were quite small so I used 4. If you’re lucky enough to have the jumbo cobs of corn in late summer, two or three would suffice.  That said, if it’s the dead of winter and you’re craving a black bean patty, frozen kernels can do the trick in a pinch.

Finely chop (1/8″) one green and one red bell pepper.  Put half of the chopped pepper aside in a medium mixing bowl to use in the relish.

Heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Finely mince the garlic cloves and saute them along with the peppers for 2-3 minutes, or until the garlic is fragrant and the peppers are just starting to soften.

In the mean time, finely chop half of a red onion.  When the peppers are just starting to get tender, add the onion to the mix and saute for another 2 minutes.  You don’t want the onion to cook through because it’s nice to keep that sharply sweet bite, but the heat will temper it enough that it isn’t overly pungent.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool for at least 5 minutes.

Rinse and drain the can of beans under cold running water.  Put the beans into a food processor along with the egg, oregano, smoked paprika, cumin, and a healthy dose of salt and pepper.

Pulse the mixture until the beans are starting to puree but still have a bit of texture.  Scrape in the pepper mixture, finely chopped Hatch chilis, and add the oats.

Mix everything together well and season again with salt and pepper because, frankly, I don’t think you seasoned it well enough the first time. I’m not being a jerk here, but c’mon; beans crave salt. Oats are bland. Do your vegetarian friends a favor and test the mixture, decide that you agree with me that it needs just a touch more seasoning, and adjust the mix accordingly.

Divide the bean mixture into 6 even portions (which I do very inelegantly with a lazy karate chop or two) and form them into patties about 4 inches in diameter and 3/4 – 1 inch thick.  Place the patties in the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

While the patties are chilling, make the corn relish.  Start by sawing the kernels off the corn and discard the barren cobs.  Core the tomatoes before cutting them in half and scooping out the seeds and innards.  Finely chop the tomato flesh into a small dice and mince the garlic.

Heat the olive oil up over medium-low heat in a fairly large pan (you can use the same one that you just sauteed the peppers in for the burgers, and if you haven’t washed it out yet – because, seriously, I don’t move that fast – just add the oil and keep on trucking).  Add the corn, tomato and garlic and stir the mixture for the first few minutes as it starts to saute.  As soon as the garlic is fragrant and the tomatoes are starting to break down, take a step back and let the natural sugars do their thing.  Let the mixture cook for at least 4 minutes before giving it a quick stir and scraping up any caramelized bits on the bottom.  Leave the pan alone for another 4 minutes or so before the next stir, and continue this for about 15-20 minutes in total.  If the corn and tomatoes are starting to stick to the bottom, that’s a good thing and exactly what you want. Do they look like they’re almost getting burned a wee touch?  Again, that’s a good thing. Those dark brown sticky and crusty bits pack an amazing flavor punch, and caramelizing the corn in a pan yields the sweetest treat you can imagine from those sub-par early summer cobs.  Suspend your reticence for 15 minutes and just go with it.

Add the corn to the chopped peppers that you had reserved for the relish (it’s okay if the corn is still hot when you do this).  Squeeze in the juice of half a lime.  Season the mixture to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.

When the corn is cooled, mince the green onions and finely chop the cilantro.  Stir these into the corn mixture and your relish is ready.

Are the burgers chilled and firm?  Heat up 2 tsp of oil in a large skillet set over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, add the burgers and cook them for 3-4 minutes per side, or until they’re browned and cooked all the way through.  If you need to do this in batches, that’s okay.  And look! This is right about the point at which I discovered I hadn’t been taking any pictures for the last half hour and started to screech at Mike.  Huh. Good times……good times…….

Plate up the black bean burgers however you see fit, but I think they’re excellent on a wholewheat kaiser that has been slathered with a dollop of chipotle mayonnaise, some fresh greenery, a slice or two of hot house tomato, buttery sliced avocado, and, of course, a generous spoonful or so of the caramelized corn relish.

The patties are crispy on the outside but soft and tender on the inside.  Mike likened it to “a really good beef burger”, which I totally disagreed with until he clarified and said, “…a really good RARE beef burger.”  I’m still in the air about whether or not I agree with that statement, but I’ll tell you what; I don’t give a horned hoot whether these are ‘beefy’ or not.  A vegetarian burger doesn’t need to taste or feel like meat to be delicious.  In fact, I would rather have a black bean patty that tasted like mild fire roasted chilis, smoky cumin and sweet peppers than to have to endure a patty made of lackluster meat substitute.  After all, I’m not really into substitutes.  I EAT beef.  I really, really LIKE beef.  But I also like black beans and arteries that don’t shudder when I open the door to the fridge, so there’s that too.

The dark horse star of this show, however, has got to be the corn relish.  I’m telling you, try this technique for fresh corn that isn’t quite at its peak.  The texture and sweetness, layers of flavor and utter corniness are well worth the extra 10 – 15 minutes spent practically ignoring it in the pan. You’ve heard the mantra that browned bits = deliciousness, so put it to the test one more time and you won’t be disappointed.

We ate these burgers with a bright and acidic side salad of green apple, kohlrabi, radicchio and hearts of palm, but leafy greens would be just as welcome.

There we have it! Try another vegetarian meal this week, and see if you really miss the meat at all.  I bet you dollars to donuts that you won’t.

  • Glark

    Mmmmm, I used to make almost the same black bean burgers but with a orange salsa made with clementines and sriracha. Fuck, it’s 6:15am and now I want a veggie burger.

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  • Kristie

    Yaaaay Choosy Beggar Tina!! Love the vegetarian post, but moreso love the corn relish. I, too, am pulling half-assed ears of corn out of the bins, knowing it’s a bit too early, but being too excited to care. Sweet summer corn is one of my most fierce loves.

    Actually, I have an (uncooked) corn and bean relish that I should throw out on the blog sometime relatively soon… There can never be too much corn salsa in the world.

  • Jen T

    Could you freeze these? During what is currently the chilling process, I guess? Or would that get weird when you then tried to cook them?

    Also, my boyfriend and I really love your site. I’d been reading Mike’s site (Miscellaneous, Etc.) off the DHAK ring since before there were feed readers, and when you guys launched a food blog, I was psyched. We’ve made bunches of recipes you’ve posted, and they are always tasty. So thanks!

    • Mike

      Aw, thank you! Hey, I should actually go keep that site alive, shouldn’t I?

      • Jen T

        Well, it still…uh, exists. So there’s that. Look, we all understand you have novelty boozes to try and…stuff. To do.

  • Tara

    I was just going to ask about freezing these, but Jen beat me to it – I’m one person and six burgers is a lot, but I’m greedy and would love to have them on hand for nights when I’m too lazy to cook.

    Also – I just ran the nutrional info through Spark Recipes for these and each burger WITH salsa (without bun) is only about 310 calories. Sounds like I have something to try for dinner this weekend!

  • Mike

    Oh man, she got SO MAD at me. But even with that danger, I can say these burgers would’ve made a tremendous final meal.

  • Jason

    Tina, you’re a victim of the success of the Sexual Revolution and congrats to Mike for maintaining the cave.

    You’re going to make several vegetarian friends very happy and really, when is there ever enough fiber in the world?

  • Glenn

    Looks fantastic. Sarah & I made Nut burgers from the book “Feeding the whole family” they are fantastic. Give them a look as another option.

  • Tina

    Glark – You have officially given me a goal for the next batch of patties. Thank you for that!

    Kristie – Total agreement! I have never met a corn salsa that I didn’t like, and because I love everything that you make I’m right down with that.

    Jen T & Tara – I’ve never tried freezing them so I don’t want to lead you astray. I did do an internet search for the freezability of black bean burgers (because you know how reliable THAT can be!) and found some really similar recipes that suggested the burgers could be frozen as long as they were thawed fully before cooking. But…..but I don’t know. I worry about texture. I froze a batch of hummus once (don’t ask) and it ended up very granular and separated when it was thawed. I would worry that the same thing would happen to the burgers and they would leech out moisture and get crumbly when recooked. Then again, I haven’t tried. So this is a long winded way of saying that frankly I just don’t know…….

    Jason – Cheers to being friends with fiber!

    Glenn – Man, I’ve only had nut burgers once but they were FABULOUS and I loved the texture!

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  • Linda

    OMG! These look so amazing. One of my favorite quick meals is a black bean taco recipe where I replace the beef with black beans. I’ve been looking for something else vegetarian to add to the mix and this looks like it could be the thing to try.

    Sorry to hear you didn’t have the card in your camera at first, but the humor that came through in your writing for this post was fantastic.

    Thanks again for the recipe!