Upscale Veggie Burgers: On Trend for Meatless Monday

When Adam Platt, restaurant critic of New York magazine, recently dubbed chefs “philosopher kings,”  he was referring to the industry’s power to propel forward the most cutting-edge, socially engaged “ideas of our times” through the vehicle of food. Specifically, he was referring to the recent catapult to star status of the formerly humble “veggie burger,” a trend that’s been equally driven by customers concerned about their health as well as the environmental impacts of eating meat.

Trend-setting chefs, not only feature veggie burgers, but imaginatively ‘curate’ their ingredients—everything from fillings to sauces, toppings and sides.

This move toward veggie burgers neatly dovetails with the agenda of Meatless Monday, a nonprofit public health initiative created in 2003 by former ad exec Sid Lerner in cooperation with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The simple principle—choosing to forgo meat one day a week— is a tactic that may reduce your risk for chronic disease as well as lower your carbon footprint. Today, food influencers including Mario Batali, Marcus Samuelsson and Dos Caminos’s Ivy Stark along with restaurants, schools, organizations, individuals and groups in over 40 countries (count those cuisines!) participate in Meatless Monday week after week. Even Oprah endorses going meatless on Mondays.

But back to that humble veggie burger. It’s the perfect dish to promote on Meatless Monday, not the least because it’s inspiring awesome culinary statements from chefs of all kinds. Recently, the New York Times spotlighted an array of trend-setting chefs, such as Daniel Humm, of Eleven Madison Park and NoMad Bar, Dan Barber, of Blue Hill, and April Bloomfield, of Salvation Burger, who not only feature veggie burgers, but imaginatively “curate” their ingredients—everything from fillings to sauces, toppings and sides. Momofuku Nishi in Manhattan is even experimenting with a Silicon-Valley-engineered patty from Impossible Foods, famous for its near-realistic blood-like juices.

The Impossible Burger, pictured above, looks, cooks, smells, sizzles, and tastes like conventional ground beef but is made entirely from plants. A molecule called “heme” is the magic ingredient that makes meat look, cook and taste gloriously meaty. While heme is exceptionally abundant in meat, it is a basic molecular building block of life on Earth, including plants. Producing the Impossible Burger requires approximately a quarter of the water used to produce the same burger from a cow, a twentieth of the land, and only an eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions, according to a lifecycle analysis conducted by Impossible Foods. The Impossible Burger’s key ingredients are water, wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and leghemoglobin (i.e., heme) plus natural flavors and micronutrients. The Impossible Burger delivers comparable protein and iron to conventional beef but contains no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics.
“I was genuinely blown away when I tasted the burger,” said chef and founder of Momofuku, David Chang. “The Impossible Foods team has discovered how to re-engineer what makes beef taste like beef. First and foremost, we think this makes a delicious burger.”
But veg-inventiveness isn’t limited to the East Coast.
For example, in San Francisco, Mission Bowling Club has mastered what SF Weekly calls the “destination burger”— a square, deep-fried panisse patty of chickpea flour, sautéed kale, edamame, green onion, and roasted shiitake mushrooms, topped with guacamole, fennel, and house-made sambal chile sauce. Chicago’s Chicago Diner goes even further with its “Buddha’s Karma Burger,” a curried sweet potato tofu patty, sprinkled with grilled pineapple, sprouts, onion, and chimichurri sauce. In contrast, at Austin’s Hopdaddy, the laid-back “La Bandita” has been engineered to be the perfect companion to a couple of beers: a black bean-corn patty, topped with goat cheese, avocado, arugula, cilantro pesto, and chipotle mayo—a true Texas blend of savory and spicy.

If you’re still craving more inspiration, check out 15 fantastic veggie burger recipes we have curated from around the web and download our free Monday Burgers e-cookbook with 10 more recipes—from chickpea burgers with mint raita to Arborio rice eggplant burgers. Then make your own veggie burger debut on any Meatless Monday. With just a little imagination, you’re sure to capture your customers’ taste buds, but you’ll also be doing one of the best things you can for their health and the health of the planet.

Let us know how your restaurant runs Meatless Monday, email