Few things in this world are as universally magical as a burger. It’s the one item on the menu that almost never fails. Entire restaurants are built around them. Opinions vary on how to best assemble them, what the preferred meat is and if they’re better cooked over a braai or seared in a pan. Meat lovers have debated all of these topics at length before. So, it was inevitable that vegans and vegetarians would enter the chat.
I spoke to Anel Van Der Merwe a.k.a @kindbutgoodfood to pick her brain on what she thinks makes for a delicious veggie burger. Anel works as a certified chef and integrative nutrition coach so she’s the perfect person to turn to if you’re starting on your plant-based eating journey. I asked her what inspired her to become a chef and nutrition coach.
Anel: I have always loved food. Cooking, eating, and celebrating food is what my life has always centered around so going to chef school was a natural progression for me. The nutrition side of things came a little later when I started having serious digestive issues in my mid-twenties and started investigating what to eat for a healthy gut. It completely blew my mind how uneducated I was in terms of nourishing my body. I always thought I knew how to eat a healthy, balanced diet, but I never knew that there is a world of plant foods that can have such a beneficial effect on your health!
Since she is somebody who has not been plant-based for all her life, her story is inspiring to the plant-based curious. If it’s something you want to do, it is possible to make the switch in your own life.
“I went fully plant-based about three years ago. I first became curious about eating a plant-based diet around 2014 after starting to learn about the detrimental effects a meat-heavy diet had on the environment,” says Anel. “From there it was a very slow process of eating more plant-based meals a week and learning about the positive benefits of a plant-based diet”. Anel is a big proponent of taking it slow at the beginning of your plant-based journey. “Don’t feel like you have to go 100% plant-based overnight,” says Anel. “In fact, most of the time it might be better to change your habits slowly in order to make a sustainable, long-term change. Start by adding more vegetables to what you already eat. Experiment with veggies and fruits before taking away the meat on your plate. Get used to cooking with veggies, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Then once you’re comfortable, eat one fully plant-based meal a week. Then two. Then three. This is a great way for your digestive system to get acclimated with the higher amount of fiber you’ll end up eating as well! Before you know it, you’ll be eating so many more vegetables and naturally progress to eating less and less meat.”
Lerato: In your opinion, what makes a burger great?
Anel: For me it’s a few key things:
1) The bun: it has to be soft! If someone gives me a burger on a crusty ciabatta roll, I’m out. 2) The bun to patty ratio: the bun can’t be too thick and overpower the patty. It must be thin enough that you can bite into it without squishing everything out the back (that sounds gross. Because it is haha!).
3) The patty, obviously: it has to be flavour-packed and WELL SEASONED. Salt goes a long way!
4) The toppings and sauces: I find they are incredibly important – to me they make or break a burger.
Lerato: Do you prefer a burger over a braai or seared in a pan?
Anel: I love a braaied burger because of the chargrilled smokey flavour.
Lerato: Is it possible to have a “healthy” burger?
Anel: Yes, for sure! I love a whole-foods plant-based bean burger patty. Packed with nutrients and loads of fiber, on a whole-wheat bun or bunless on beautiful salad greens. Yum!
Lerato: What are some great store bought patties you would recommend for someone to cook at home?
Anel: It depends what you’re after. If it’s to mimic a meat-based burger, without a doubt the Beyond Meat patties are the best (get them at Woolworths). Locally, Herbivore Earthfoods make an excellent meaty burger! For a whole-foods bean-based burger, I really like the Meraki range (I get them at Spar in Sea Point, Cape Town).
One way to get excited about being more plant-based is to look at foods that you may have loved all your life and find a delicious vegan or vegetarian alternative for them. We decided to rank our best burger spots that you can try out for yourself. Hopefully this can lead you to choose that alternative every once in a while. The burgers ranked below are all certified delicious!
Our top 5 veggie burgers
5. The Whoop-whoop burger from Jerry’s Burger Bar @jerrysburgerbar
This is a chickpea patty with cheddar cheese. It’s very filling, creamy and delicious! The only negative would be that it doesn’t really have a “meaty” flavour. So, if you’re a long-time vegetarian, this burger is perfect for you! But if you’re a meat-eater trying to find a “meatier” alternative, this might not be your guy. Definitely the most “veggie” of the veggie burgers.
4. Vegan Regular from Junior @junior.co.za
This is a soy-based burger basted in the most delicious sauce you’ll ever taste.
Lerato: When I tried this burger, I had to double check with the waitress to check that really had given me the “vegan” burger. It tasted so meat-like! It’s got a really great barbeque flavour that I love.
3. The Veg Patty from The Dog’s Bollocks @yardcapetown
The Dog’s Bollock’s is famous for its burgers, so their vegan option was always set to be just as amazing.
Anel: The burger is ginormous (you’ll see – it is massive) and is so flavourful! Definitely hits the spot if you’re after a whole-foods lentil type burger.
2. The Ultimate Beyond Burger at Sheckter’s Raw @schecktersraw
Scheckter’s raw is a gourmet plant-based restaurants and has a wide selection of plant-based treats.
Anel: Sheckter’s uses the Beyond Meat patty in this creation and it definitely is the most “ultimate” of burgers I’ve ever had. It’s got vegan bacon, vegan cheese, and the perfect tomato, mustard, lettuce, and caramelised onion combination that makes this burger epic and so delicious.
1. Vegan Cheddar from Royale Eatery @royale_eatery
Not only is this a really delicious burger option but Royale Eatery also comes with a great vegan milkshake selection that would pair really well with the burger.
Lerato: The service at Royale Eatery is also some of the best I’ve ever experienced. As someone who still hasn’t made the transition to going fully plant based, I sometimes feel intimidated asking questions about a restaurant’s vegetarian offerings. The staff were so gracious and patient with me when I asked them close to a million questions!