When you think of a Top Chef, you probably think of expertly seared steaks, impeccably presented seafood, and a way with charcuterie that can make any dish sing. But even renowned professional chefs are getting behind Meatless Mondays and the plant-based protein craze. “I believe in the ‘everything in moderation’ method,” Top Chef All-Stars winner Richard Blais tells us. “I stick to a plant-based diet several days of the week to cleanse and refresh my system, and enjoy meat in moderation on other days.”

If you’re uncertain about how to add more plant-based meals to your diet, read on. Chef Blais shares his favorite plant-based proteins, along with his tips for making the most of an easy-to-prepare vegetarian classic — the veggie burger.

Top Chef Richard Blais shares his tips for perfect veggie burgers

The best plant-based proteins

Lest you think vegetarian protein is all about tofu and soy, think again. Blais assures us that the right plant-based foods “can be delicious, with dynamic flavors.” His favorites? “Quinoa; seeds like sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds; and nuts and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils … They’re packed with nutritious, hearty ingredients that will keep you satisfied,” he says.

And you can use many of these in meals you already love, from subbing smashed chickpeas for eggs in a scramble to swapping out the beef in your burgers with black beans.

Making the best veggie burgers from scratch

Veggie burgers are a go-to vegetarian meal, and they’re usually packed with protein and fiber to keep you full. When making veggie burgers from scratch, it’s all about balance to create a flavorful blend with great texture that won’t disintegrate, according to Blais. “You need to have a balance of cooked veggies like carrots, onions, and mushrooms, as well as starchier vegetables and grains (beans, quinoa, lentils, etc.) to keep them from falling apart,” he says.

Other tips?

  • Char the burgers on the grill over open flame so they get browned on the outside
  • But don’t keep them in the hottest part of the grill or they’ll dry out
  • Use a spatula, not tongs, to turn your burgers so they don’t break apart

Once you’ve found a recipe you like, you can make the patties ahead of time and stash the extras in the freezer. Slap them on buns, serve them with grain bowls, or crumble them to make a filling for vegetarian burritos.

How to jazz up store-bought veggie burgers

Of course, we don’t always have time to make veggie burgers from scratch. Blais says that when buying frozen veggie burgers, you want to look for an ingredient list that’s “packed with healthy vegetables and grains and no ‘extra’ ingredients.” He likes MorningStar Farms burgers, which he and his wife started eating when training for long races.

But you don’t have to just eat them plain. Blais likes to add character to his veggie burgers, and some of his favorite combos include:

  • Romesco: Spicy black bean burgers with romesco spread, cilantro, and seasoned romaine lettuce
  • Mediterranean: Veggie burgers topped with tzatziki sauce on grilled pita, and served with watermelon salad and oven-baked fries
  • Island: Veggie burgers topped with grilled pineapple, dressed cabbage, and barbecue sauce on a Hawaiian roll
  • Tandoor: Veggie burgers topped with tandoori-spiced yogurt, spinach infused with garam masala, and eggplant, served on garlic naan bread

With these recipes in your arsenal, making the switch to a more plant-based diet is easy *and* delicious.

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Photo via Tom Sodoge/Unsplash