I like being vegetarian—My conscience and body both feel good. However, I don’t subscribe to the all-or-nothing approach when it comes to being vegetarian for a couple of reasons:

  1. That gets boring and restrictive. I happen to love the French fries at a local restaurant that fries them in duck fat. I eat them a few times each year, and it’s delicious. #NoRegrets.
  2. Sometimes it’s not all that healthy. Say I want to hang out with my friends and they want to go to someplace like Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the game. Sure, mac & cheese or chips and queso are vegetarian, but they aren’t healthy. I’d rather eat a 4 or 6-piece basket of chicken and get some protein mixed in with my fats and carbs! Or, an even better example may be a small diner my brothers like to go to when we visit my grandma… they literally only serve burgers and chicken sandwiches. They have one vegetarian offering: A loaded baked potato. Sure, I could get it without the load of stuff on top, but again… where’s the protein? I’d rather have a grilled chicken sandwich, thank you very much.

Italian veggie burger cooking in pan.

So anyway, I decided to become vegetarian a few years ago and did take the all-or-nothing approach… it sucked. I also began to notice that the veggie burgers and other items I was buying were loaded with soy. Now, I don’t want to get into a full-blown discussion about the good and bad of soy, but it seems to me that if you’re going to be VEG-etarian, you should be eating veggies. So, I migrated back to incorporating chicken and turkey in my diet.

But then, I was having a conversation with a fellow vegetarian who suggested making my own veggie burgers. Despite my love of cooking and finding ways to make anything healthy, I had never thought of this—I’m slightly disappointed in myself. But nevertheless, the search began and I found this versatile veggie burger formula. Then, after trying a few variations of my own, I came up with the most amazing Italian veggie burger ever. Get the recipes for both below:

Italian veggie burger prepared next to stove.

Italian veggie burger (makes 6-8 large):

  • 1.5 cups cooked pinto beans
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minsed
  • 2 cups chopped bell peppers
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp pasta sauce
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 cup oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa

What to do:

  1. Heat 2 tsps oil in a pan over medium heat. Fry the onion, garlic, and 2 cups veggies until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer to a food processor and pulse with beans, liquid flavor, spice, and salt until combined, but still chunky.
  3. Add in dry base and texture ingredient and pulse until combined.
  4. Heat oil or cooking spray over medium-high heat.
  5. To make small burgers, simply form golf ball size balls and flatten into patties.
  6. To make full-size burgers, flatten desired amount on parchment paper, foil, or other thin object and use a circular object to cut a burger. Scrape away what’s outside the circle and use your thin transportation device to flip them into a pan.

Veggie burger formation process.

To serve:

Add a little spinach to the bottom of the bun, and place the burger on top. Top your burger with sliced or shredded cheese (muenster or mozzarella are good), a little pasta sauce, and a little avocado if you like!

Cooked italian veggie burger with pasta sauce and avocado.

Formula for any veggie burger (makes 6-8 large):

  • 1.5 cups cooked bean/s of choice (or 1 lb. can, drained and rinsed)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 cups diced veggies (try anything and everything! carrots, celery, mushrooms, chopped spinach or kale, corn, chopped artichokes, zucchini, squash, sweet potato…)
  • 2 teaspoons oil of choice
  • 3 Tbsp “liquid flavor” (mix and match for a great combo: mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, buffalo sauce, balsamic vinegar, salsa, pasta sauce…)
  • 4 tsp spice (try combining at least two: paprika, cumin, chili powder, italian seasoning, curry, oregano…)
  • 1/2 tsp salt (omit or reduce if liquid flavor or above spices contain salt)
  • 1 cup dry base ingredient (my favorite are oatmeal or unflavored protein powder. You could also try buckwheat, cornmeal, or breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 cup texture ingredient (chopped nuts, olives, avocado, cooked rice/quinoa, parsley…)

As you can imagine, there are endless combinations to be tried here! If you get bored of regular burgers, try crumbling it and combining with veggies in a stir-fry type concoction.

Nutrition Information (for one Italian burger): 113 calories, 2.8 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 78.9 mg sodium, 18.3 g carbs, 3.7 g fiber, 2.7 g sugar, 3.7 g protein.