Lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and ketchup — these are probably the most common burger toppings and they are delicious. But how about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new and different on top of your veggie burger? From “Hey, that sounds good” to “Really? That sounds strange,” think about foods you might love to eat but never thought to put atop a burger. Sometimes, all you have to do is take one of your usual toppings like ketchup and add some unexpected flavors to it. Or, go totally wild by adding creamy sauces, homemade vegan cheeses, or crunchy veggie chips. Make it a challenge at your next cookout: set up a bunch of different ingredients and see who can make the most inventive and most delicious burger topping.
1. Make Your Own Ketchup
The usual topping for a burger is ketchup. Instead of buying it pre-made, you can easily make your own ketchup by cooking a 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes, ¼ cup of vinegar, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and seasonings such as onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder, salt, pepper, and cloves. Alternatively, you can take store-bought ketchup and make it special by adding herbs and spices. Think about roasted garlic ketchup or spicy chipotle ketchup. Cumin-scented ketchup is perfect for these Roasted Beet Burgers.
2. Get Saucy
There are many sauces besides ketchup that would taste fantastic on burgers. Related to ketchup, add marinara sauce to a burger with some vegan mozzarella and you have a zesty pizza burger. It’s also easy to make your own delicious BBQ sauce. A combination of vegan mayo, mustard, hot sauce, and seasonings make up this pretty and spicy Mississippi Comeback Sauce, which is perfect for veggie burgers. Top Asian-themed burgers like this Hoisin Black Bean Burger with a Spicy Sesame Sauce. Give your burgers a Mediterranean flair with a creamy, vibrant Lemon Tahini Sauce or top a chickpea burger with a tangy Tzatziki Sauce. Want spice? Try pairing cashews with hot sauce to make this Spicy Chipotle Cream Sauce. Chances are if there is a sauce you love, it will work great on a burger.
3. Don’t Hold the Mayo
I love mayo on my burgers and fries. It’s easy to make your own vegan mayo and jazz it up with other spices, herbs, and flavors. Or you can buy one of the many brands of store-bought mayo and customize it for your own signature topping. I love topping my Eggplant Crunchburger with this Horseradish Mustard Mayo that is creamy and zesty at the same time. Combine vegan mayo with vegan sour cream, roasted red peppers, and spices to make this lovely Red Pepper Aioli or mix a whole head of roasted garlic into mayo to make a decadent Roasted Garlic Aioli. Process cashews with hot sauce and herbs to make this flavorful Lemon-Dill-Sriracha Remoulade that would really brighten up a Quinoa and White Bean Burger.
4. Go Green With Pesto
Is anything as beautiful as a bright green pesto? You can take any type of greens and mix them with any kind of nuts, olive oil, lemon, and spices to make a verdant topping for your burgers. These Pesto Mushroom Burgers are topped with a floral pesto made with basil and pine nuts. Bold flavors like that in these Red Lentil Burgers pair perfectly with a heartier pesto like this one made from kale.
5. Cheese Please!
There has never been a more exciting time in the vegan culinary world than now with the amazing varieties of vegan cheese available. Store-bought vegan cheese is better than ever, but you can make your own! Yes, you can! There are tons of recipes out there so that you can be your own cheese monger. Make this stretchy and melty Vegan Moxarella cheese or a Spicy Pepper Jack Cashew Cheese. Give your burgers a Greek twist with Almond Feta cheese or a French flair with this vegan Brie made from macadamia nuts. Your burgers will be insane with this Smoked Coconut Gouda that stretches, melts, slices and grates. If you want a crumbly cheese, try this Cauliflower Cashew Cheese and if saucy cheeses are your preference, this Béchamel Cheese Sauce will blow your mind.
6. Onions – Red, White, and Green
Yes, you can top a burger with raw red onions, but you can also do so much more with these aromatics. One of my favorite ways to top burgers is with caramelized onions. Just cook thin onion slices very slowly, about 30 minutes, over low heat. They take on a sweetness that is incredible. Another sweet way to prepare onions is to cook them in vegan butter and maple syrup like in these Maple Sweet Potato Pecan Burgers. For extra indulgence, top your burgers with onion rings but feel better about it when you make The World’s Healthiest Onion Rings. Don’t forget scallions and green onions – toss them on a grill with some hoisin sauce, Sriracha and ginger or just some toasted sesame oil for a smoky Asian flavor like in my Hoisin Black Bean Burgers.
7. Magic Mushrooms
Mushrooms make amazing burgers like these Mushroom Barley Grillers, but they also make great toppings for other kinds of veggie burgers. Simply saute sliced mushrooms in vegan butter, thyme and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle some kosher salt on them after they have browned and you have a rich and juicy topping for your burger. Add some Indian spices to make a spicy Masala Mushroom Bhuna. For a decadent topping, try wild mushrooms cooked in an Almond Cream Sauce. Yum!
8. Everything’s Better With Vegan Bacon
Yes, you can have a bacon burger with a side of compassion, too. There are an increasing number of ways to make vegan bacon. Marinate thin tempeh slices in smoky flavors like maple syrup, tamari, vegan Worcestershire sauce, cumin, garlic and smoked paprika. Then cook it up until it’s crispy and you have delicious tempeh bacon. For a soy-free option, try coconut flakes to make this irresistible Coconut Bacon. Shitake mushrooms soak up flavor to make delicious Shitake Bacon. For a meaty vegan bacon, use thin slices of seitan and for a lighter choice, marinate and fry up super-thin slices of eggplant.
Slaws are not only healthy with all of that cruciferous cabbage, but they add tons of flavor and texture to burgers. You can make a simple slaw – my favorite has shredded cabbage and carrots with thin slices of bell pepper and red onions. I toss it with some apple cider vinegar, dill, celery salt and a dash of agave nectar. If you love mayo in your slaw, try adding some miso to make this Sweet Miso Coleslaw or add apples for extra crunch like in this Apple Slaw. Cabbage also makes great sauerkraut. Top your burger with tangy sauerkraut for a Reuben Burger or with spicy Kimchi to make a superfood Korean-style burger. Another Asian twist is to top your burgers with pickled daikon and radishes to create your own Banh Mi burger.
10. Tater Tops
Everyone knows that burgers are best served with a side of fries, but who says the potatoes have to be cast to the side? They can also be the topping. I remember when I was a kid thinking how fun it was to stick my fries into my burger and eat them together. I was probably just being silly, but who knew I was actually experimenting with texture? It added crunch to the burger. Now it’s a trend to top burgers with fries and other crunchy foods like potato chips. In fact, that’s how my Eggplant Crunchburger got its name. It’s topped with potato chips to “crunchify” it. Fries, however, don’t have to be made from potatoes. You can make fries out of so many vegetables including daikon, eggplant, chickpeas and jicama. The same applies to chips; you can make chips out of almost any vegetable. “Crunchify” your burgers by topping them with Baked Kale Chips, Corn and Black Bean Chips, or crispy Beet Chips.
Once you begin topping your burgers with all these fabulous and creative toppings, you will never want simple lettuce and tomatoes again. Save those for your side salad and use more unexpected, uncommon ingredients to top your burgers and create edible masterpieces.
Lead image source: Kidney Bean Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce