We finally got around to doing a side-by-side taste test of traditional versus nouveau burgers or, in everyday parlance, a Whopper vs. an Impossible Whopper. I was predisposed to liking the latter, as some of my family members had purchased some of the Impossible meat (roughly three times as expensive as ground beef) and made what they described as insanely delicious sliders with it. But as much as I wanted it to be otherwise, the Impossible burger was drier than its Whopper brother, which was already dry by any burger standards. Both of them were pretty much standard fast food burgers: same squishy bun, same pale lettuce and tomato, same pickle and same weird sauce. Frankly, you could put anything between those buns with those toppings and they’d taste the same: a slice of dish sponge or plastic flip-flop comes to mind.

Still, if you’re thinking of saving the planet, reducing the wastefulness of the animal agriculture industry is a good place to start. It’s a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination, deforestation and other environmental destruction. According to food industry standards, producing Beyond or Impossible burger meat generates 90% less greenhouse gas, requires 46% less energy, has more than 99% less impact on water scarcity, and has 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef. But it takes 22 ingredients for the Beyond Burger to look like raw meat, cook and sizzle like meat, and have a beefy flavor and texture. Some of these ingredients — pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, potato starch, sunflower oil, beet extract for color — seem relatively benign. Other ingredients — cellulose from bamboo, and methylcellulose, which gives the mixture its meat-like fiber and texture — not so much. 

As most of us who’ve looked for vegetarian or vegan answers to “Where’s the beef?” know, there are plenty of veggie burgers already available in market freezers. 

Most of them are a bit dry and sad, but gussy them up with a good bun and lots of toppings and they are acceptable. But this is also true of other things that can be put between two halves of a bun. Portobello mushrooms first come to mind. Meaty flavor and texture? Check. Plant-based? Check. Easy on the planet? Check. While you can just slam a whole portobello under the broiler or on the grill, here’s a recipe for a ’shroom burger that makes Impossibles look anemic.

P O R T O B E L L O   B U R G E R S

4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 portobello mushrooms, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sea salt and black pepper
1 large egg
12 cup walnuts, finely chopped
12 cup chopped fresh parsley
14 cup breadcrumbs
4 slices Swiss cheese
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cook onion, mushrooms, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until the mushrooms release their liquid, stirring. In a large bowl, combine egg, mushroom mixture, walnuts, parsley and breadcrumbs. Form four patties, using about 1⁄2 cup mixture per patty. Heat remaining oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Cook patties for five minutes on each side, or until browned. Lay a slice of cheese on top of each burger and continue to cook until melted. To serve, place on the best buns you can bake or buy and top with tomato, sprouts, lettuce, arugula or any good crunchy green you’d like. 

A second kind of non-beef burger that’s worth its toppings is one made with beets. The beets keep them from having that mushy veggie burger texture and give them a rich color. I haven’t made these burgers in years, but now that I know Impossible burgers are perhaps an impossible dream, I’m about to begin again. They do require a bit of work, with lots of steps and bowls, and some planning ahead, so doubling the recipe is a good idea.

B E E T   B U R G E R S

3 large red beets, roasted
112 cups cooked rice
1 medium yellow onion, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
14 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 (15112-oz.) cans black beans
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. brown mustard
2 tsp. cumin
1 large egg
To roast beets, heat oven to 400°F. Wrap beets loosely in aluminum foil and roast until easily pierced with a fork, 50 to 60 minutes. When cool, use a paper towel to slip the skins off, then grate the peeled beets on the largest holes of a box grater. Transfer the beets to a strainer set over the sink and press and squeeze, removing as much liquid as possible. Set aside. Heat a teaspoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and a pinch of salt and cook until they are golden. Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Pour in cider vinegar, scraping up the mixture in the pan, and continue to simmer until the cider has evaporated and pan is nearly dry. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Process oats in a food processor until they are reduced to a fine flour. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans and transfer them to the food processor. Pulse eight to ten bursts, just until the beans are roughly chopped, not so long that they become mushy. Transfer this mixture to a large mixing bowl. Drain and rinse second can of beans and add whole beans to the mixing bowl as well. Add squeezed beets, cooked rice, and sautéed onions to the bowl with the beans. Sprinkle the olive oil, brown mustard, smoked paprika and cumin over the top of the mixture. 

Mix all the ingredients until combined. Taste the mixture and add salt, pepper, or any additional spices or flavorings to taste. Finally, add the oatmeal flour and egg and mix until you no longer see any dry oatmeal or egg. Refrigerate the burger mix for at least two hours or (ideally) overnight. To form patties, use about 3⁄4 cup of the burger mixture and shape it between your palms. To cook, heat a cast iron skillet or other heavy frying pan over high heat. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil to completely coat the bottom of the pan. When oil is hot, transfer the patties to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, then flip them to the other side. You should see a nice crust on the cooked side. Cook for another 2 minutes, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 4 more minutes until the patties are warmed through. If you’re adding cheese, lay a slice over the burgers in the last minute of cooking. Serve on your best burger buns or lightly toasted sandwich bread along with some fresh greens.

Note: These burgers can be frozen raw or cooked. Wrap each burger individually in wax paper or between sheets of parchment paper, and freeze. Raw burgers are best f thawed in the fridge overnight before cooking. Cooked burgers can be reheated in the oven, a toaster oven, or the microwave.