When Lukas Volger first published Veggie Burgers Every Which Way in 2010, he had the sense, even at the time, that veggie burgers were more of an old-fashioned, “fringe” thing, he says. Veggie burgers made of tofu, mushrooms, and quinoa are what author Jonathan Kauffman calls “hippie food” — important and influential, yes, but also tied to a particular perception of the past. Still, Volger’s debut cookbook sold steadily, leading him to start a veggie burger line called Made by Lukas (now defunct) and build a career as a cookbook author and recipe developer.
In the 13 years since the book’s release, however, veggie burgers have have evolved far beyond the hippie food cliche, to become a symbol of a particular kind of innovation. New-school fake-meat burgers produced by tech companies came to “embody the future of food,” Volger says. The rise of Impossible, Beyond, and a renewed interest in “plant-based” eating ushered in fresh conversations about the ethics and impacts of eating meat. As a result, Volger says, “veggie burgers became completely normalized as a menu item and as their own legitimate food category.”
But we’ve seen those fake-meat veggie burgers boom and then bust. As the hype around lab-manufactured meats died down, Volger had the opportunity to do something he never anticipated: re-release Veggie Burgers Every Which Way. Where the original cookbook offered “vegan and vegetarian burgers,” the new edition, out last week, includes modern language touting “plant-based burgers” instead. In addition, it offers updated recipes, a supplemental section about cooking methods, and a new look. Once considered retro and niche, veggie burgers made from actual vegetables have a new shot at relevance, and Volger has a chance to offer his vision for the future of food, one in which people are excited about vegetables, just as they are.
Veggie Burgers Every Which Way is comprehensive, offering three categories of veggie burgers in addition to recipes for buns, salads, fries, and condiments. There are bean and grain burgers made with edamame, fava beans, and lentils; vegetable burgers, like tortilla-crusted stuffed portobellos and sweet potato and kale patties; and finally, tofu, seitan, tempeh, and textured vegetable protein burgers. Volger has useful insights even for more experienced veggie-burger makers: Instead of requiring eggs as a binder, for example, he suggests steamed potatoes and blended tofu.
Mimicking meat has never been Volger’s goal. He explains that veggie burgers are too often framed as meat substitutes; even when made of vegetables, they’re meant to mimic the shape, texture, and flavor of a beef burger (consider a mushroom patty on MyRecipes.com titled “the best ‘beefy’ vegan burgers”). By comparison, “I’ve always thought that veggie burgers are exciting, just as a vessel for vegetables,” Volger says. For him, this means emphasizing the many different flavors and textures of vegetables, legumes, and grains rather than forcing them all into the same faux-beef format. He uses the word “meaty” only once in the book, alongside a tempeh burger from the Denver restaurant Watercourse Foods.
Volger’s approach is about “leaning into what [the ingredient] is,” which extends to how he describes his veggie burgers. This is a subtle but, in my opinion, important consideration when presenting vegetable cooking, especially to omnivores: A mushroom recipe can just be a really good way to cook mushrooms, as opposed to something that’s intended to “taste like meat.” One is neutral (except maybe to mushroom haters); the other sets up an argument or provides a reason to say no. “A ‘beet-hazelnut veggie burger,’ to me, sparks interest,” Volger says. “It’s selling the things that are naturally very appetizing and enticing.”
Given how strongly meat is intertwined with traditions, emotions, and personal relationships to food, “I don’t see it going away,” Volger admits. However, “I’m very heartened by the normalization of more vegetable-based home cooking,” he adds. “To make it really exciting and to make it look really doable — I think that’s a great direction for people to be going in. It’s better for everybody’s budgets, and it solves so many issues.” This idea seems to be gaining traction, especially in the cookbook industry. Hetty McKinnon, Susan Spungen, Andrea Nguyen, and Nik Sharma, to name just a few, have all written new or soon-to-be-released vegetable-focused cookbooks.
These cookbooks argue against another outdated idea: that a vegetable-focused diet means making our culinary lives small and boring. In her forthcoming book No Meat Required, Alicia Kennedy writes that while shifting to a vegetarian diet gave her some restrictions, it also allowed her to find “a new way to create abundance.” With 35 recipes for veggie burgers alone, Volger’s book proves this very point in delicious, colorful detail, and asks the timely question: what if the future of food really does lie in better vegetable cooking?