I love a charred juicy cheeseburger with all the fixin’s, but every once and a while it’s nice to have a healthy, meat-free alternative. Most people, when they think of vegetarian burger options, they think dry and bland, but I promise you these burgers are nothing of the sort.
In my quest to create these burgers, I had to first think about what flavor profiles to highlight. I thought about my favorite, local restaurants for inspiration, and then falafel from Pita Inn came to mind. Those little chickpea fritters are the best around because they are incredibly flavorful, crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside, and extremely satisfying. I never miss eating meat when enjoying a falafel sandwich at Pita Inn.
Using falafel as my inspiration, I knew chickpeas needed to be the star of the show, but I also knew that I needed a grain to play a supporting role and bulk up the burgers. Thinking about grains that are used in the Mediterranean and Middle East, I landed on bulgur. Bulgur, also known as cracked wheat, is best know for being used in tabbouleh salad (a bulgur salad with lots of parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers and lemon) but can be used in place of rice or couscous depending on the size of bulgur you purchase.
Bulgur can be confusing because it comes in four different sizes - fine #1, medium #2, coarse #3, and very coarse #4 - and each one takes a different amount of time to cook. And if you go down a rabbit hole like I did, there are countless methods on how to cook each one. To eliminate any guess work or confusion, I recommend following the cooking instructions on the package. For the falafel burgers, I used medium #2 bulgur because it has some nice texture without being too fine or coarse. Because it’s in the middle, the texture is just right.
The first step in preparing the burgers is to cook your bulgur, and once it’s going, you can work on the other components.
In a food processor (yes, you really need a food processor for this) combine the garlic, chickpeas, baking powder (to add lightness and prevent the burgers from being too dense), tahini paste, lemon juice, spices, herbs and an egg to help bind the mixture.
Once the bulgur has cooked and cooled, add it to the processor and pulse until the mixture still has a bit of texture from the bulgur, but is processed enough so it holds together.
To test if it will hold together, form a golf ball of the mixture with your hands and if you can form it into a patty without it crumbling, you’re good! If it crumbles, pulse the mixture a few more times.
To make equal-size burgers, you can use a portion scoop to make the patties or just eyeball it.
You can cook them right away, keep them in the fridge for a day or two, or place them in the freezer with a parchment square in between each one to prevent them from sticking together. These burgers come in very handy when we have vegetarian friends come over!
To cook the patties, fire up your griddle or nonstick pan (sorry, these are not suitable for an outdoor grill as they are too delicate), add some neutral oil and cook on both sides until they are golden brown and crisp.
Because these burgers have a falafel vibe, I keep the ketchup and mustard in the fridge, and turned to tzatziki as my go-to condiment. Tzatziki is a yogurt, cucumber, herb and lemon sauce used as a dip or condiment and is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine which is why it’s the perfect accompaniment.
Place your crispy falafel-bulgur burger on a toasted bun of your choice, dollop with a generous spoonful of tzatziki sauce followed by lettuce and tomatoes. When I enjoyed my burger, I skipped the bun and served the crispy patty on top of a bright and fresh green salad with tomatoes and peppers. The hot burger and the cool and crisp salad were a great juxtaposition, and the tangy tzatziki on the side made for the perfect plate!
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Yield: 4 burgers
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
For the burgers:
3/4 cup #2 medium coarse bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cups water
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic
1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons tahini paste
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, rough chopped
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, rough chopped
1 egg, well beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Grapeseed oil for griddling
For the tzatziki sauce:
1/2 cup Greek-style yogurt, regular or low-fat
1/4 seedless cucumber, coarsely grated
Lemon juice to taste
1 teaspoon fresh dill or mint, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 ripe tomato, sliced
4 leaves bibb lettuce
Whole wheat hamburger buns, lightly toasted
- To cook the bulgur wheat, measure together the bulgur, water and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, covered, for 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to sit for an additional 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and allow to cool.
- While the bulgur is cooking, finely chop the garlic in a food processor. Add the chickpeas and pulse until broken up. They should not be completely smooth, but there should be no whole chickpeas remaining.
- Add the baking powder, tahini, lemon juice, spices, herbs and egg to the processor bowl. Process until well combined.
- Add the cooked bulgur, and pulse several times to thoroughly mix. The mixture should still have some texture from the bulgur, but processed enough so it holds together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide the mixture into four patties, and set them on a parchment-lined sheet tray.
- Heat a griddle or nonstick sauté pan over medium heat and add the grapeseed oil. Place the burgers on the hot griddle or pan, and cook until browned and crisp on the outside and warm all the way through, about 5 minutes per side.
- While the burgers are cooking, prepare the tzatziki sauce. In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, cucumber, lemon juice and herbs. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Place the burgers on the toasted buns followed by a generous dollop of the tzatziki sauce. Top with the tomatoes and bibb lettuce, and serve.
We truly have something for everyone at The Chopping Block. Looking for that classic grilled cheeseburger experience? Sign up for our new All-American Grill on the Patio class this August. Or if you’re looking for a delicious vegetarian burger option, sign up for our Virtual Mediterranean Vegetarian Workshop on Sunday, August 6.