Build a Better Burger: 3 Healthy Alternatives to Beef

better-burger-healthy recipes

These three healthy alternatives prove that burgers don’t have to be made with beef to be delicious.

On occasion, I get a craving for a hamburger. Who doesn’t? Juicy, meaty, layered with melted cheese and a plethora of toppings, all squished between two golden toasted buns… And, sure, from time to time, I indulge. But here’s the thing: I don’t like to eat a lot of red meat, and I’m very conscious of the steep calorie and fat intake that comes with eating a burger — no matter how good it is or how rarely I have one.

So how do I satisfy that craving? I bite into a delicious alternative version of the classic. Below are three of my favorite recipes. The texture and flavor of each is a variation on the real thing, but these lean burgers offer a ton of taste and still pack a serious protein punch. And, as a bonus, you won’t have to jog 5 miles to burn them off!

Curry-turkey-burger healthy recipe

Curry turkey burger with cucumber-yogurt spread

makes 4 burgers or 8 sliders

1 pound ground turkey
1/3 cup frozen petite green peas, thawed
1 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 egg white
4 pieces of naan (Indian flatbread)
cooking spray

Cucumber-Yogurt Spread

1/3 cup plain greek yogurt
1 1-inch piece of cucumber, grated
1 clove garlic, grated
pinch of salt
To make spread: Mix all ingredients until combined.

Accompaniment: Wildly Delicious beet and red onion marmalade

To make the burgers
Heat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Using a small round cookie cutter or small bowl, cut out eight circular pieces from the naan. (Alternatively, use a knife to cut the bread into eight slices of roughly equal size.) Line the pieces on a cookie sheet, sprinkle very lightly with water and toast in oven for 8 minutes. Remove immediately and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the first eight ingredients in a bowl, and gently incorporate. (It’s messy but easiest to use your hands). Divide the mixture into four equal parts and form patties.

Next, heat a cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat with cooking spray and place burgers on skillet. After 3 minutes, flip patties then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover skillet and cook burgers for 7 to 8 minutes longer. The cover will help keep the meat from drying out.

Remove burgers from pan and place each on a piece of naan. Top each burger with cucumber-yogurt sauce, and, if you’re able to get your hands on a jar of it, the Wildly Delicious beet and red onion marmalade, a delicious savory spread, which I put on everything! (You can thank me later!) The red onions zing and the sugar beets bring the sweet. It goes fantastically with the curry flavor of the burger. Finally, top the whole concoction with another slice of naan, and you are in business!


Lentil veggie burger

adapted from Annette Leonard’s recipe in Sunset. Makes 4 burgers

1 cup green lentils
1 1/2 cups water
1 clove garlic, halved
1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup chopped fresh spinach or swiss chard
1/4 cup grated carrot
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
2/3 cup Gouda or cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil

Suggested accompaniments: lettuce, tomato, onion, hummus, pickles, horseradish sauce, and pickled cabbage slaw.

To cook the lentils
Combine dry green lentils, salt, and water. Cut garlic clove in half and add to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until water is absorbed and lentils are soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (Tip: Grate and chop carrots, cheese, onions, and greens while lentils cool.)

To make the burgers
Place carrots, cheese, green onions, and spinach or chard in a bowl. Mix in the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, egg whites, and cooled lentils. Gently mix until combined. Form the mixture into four patties. Next, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the burgers for about 5 to 7 minutes, turning once, until crispy and browned. Remove from heat and serve on Bibb lettuce, or your favorite bun or bread and toppings. I like to dress mine with a dollop of horseradish cream sauce and a pickled red cabbage and garlic slaw that I get at my local farmers’ market.

Chili-bison-burger healthy recipe

Chili bison burger with cheddar and crispy onions

makes 4 burgers

1 pound ground bison
1 1/2 tablespoons prune puree (found in baby food aisle)
1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
3/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 slices cheddar cheese
4 ciabatta bread rolls
olive oil

Apple-avocado spread

1 avocado, diced
1 green apple, diced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
pinch of salt
To make spread: Mix all ingredients together until incorporated.

Crispy onions

1 red onion
1 tablespoon butter
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
To make the onions: Heat a frying pan on high. Melt butter and oil. Add onions, salt, and sugar and stir to coat. Cook for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook onions until the crispy.

Garlic Ketchup

1/3 cup ketchup
1 clove garlic, grated
To make ketchup: Mix ingredients together. Allow to sit.

To make the burgers
Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Gently mix until spices are incorporated evenly. Divide mixture into four equal parts and form into patties.

Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat and cook the burgers on one side for 3 to 4 minutes then flip. Reduce heat to medium-low and cover skillet. Cook for another 7 minutes. Remove cover and lay a slice of cheese on top of each patty. Turn off the heat, cover the skillet, and allow cheese to melt, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Slice ciabatta rolls in half and brush with olive oil. Toast or grill the bread to your liking. Next, layer avocado mixture on the bottom piece of toasted bread. Spread garlic ketchup on top piece. Place burger on the lower bun, top with crispy onions and squish on the top piece of bread.

Kate Filloramo has always had a knack for coming up with creative dishes. After marrying an Australian sailor, she began traveling the world while raising two young children. Those adventures broadened her palate and introduced an array of ingredients and culinary pleasures to her kitchen. Kate graduated from Roger Williams University, has taught school in Newport, RI, and has explored her passion for interior design at the Rhode Island School of Design. She currently lives with her family in Portsmouth, RI. Follow her food adventures on Instagram @forkandtwine.

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