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VeganMoFo: Bobby Flay and The Eggplant Crunchburger

eggplant burger crunch bun top (3)

The “V” Word continues its celebration of VeganMoFo, the vegan month of food, with its theme “If TV Celebrity Chefs Went Vegan.” Today’s episode stars Food Network’s own Bobby Flay.

Bobby Flay is all over Food Network and The Cooking Channel. I swear that one day he will take over as president of the network. He’s the host of multiple shows (Boy Meets Grill, Grill it! With Bobby Flay, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Brunch @ Bobby’s, Food Network Star and Iron Chef America). He has written multiple cookbooks and has a dozen restaurants including his famous Mesa Grill and Bobby’s Burger Palace.

This native New Yorker has a great life story: born and raised in New York, asked for an Easy-Bake Oven at age 8, dropped out of high school at 17, started at the very bottom working at restaurants and worked his way up the ladder until he went to culinary school. Flay’s tuition for the French Culinary Institute was paid for by his then-boss, Joe Allen, who saw potential in the young man. Perhaps that is why Bobby established The Bobby Flay Scholarship which awards full tuition for someone with promise to attend the same culinary school. It’s always nice when people pay it forward.

Flay achieved some notoriety in 2000 when he appeared on the original Japanese Iron Chef.  The show traveled to NY for a special battle. Flay challenged Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. After the battle ended but before the dishes were judged, Flay stood on top of his cutting board and raised his arms in victory. This highly offended Chef Morimoto who felt that real chefs consider knives and cutting boards sacred. He declared that Flay was “not a chef.” Bobby ended up losing that battle.

He later challenged Morimoto to a rematch in Japan. At the end of the battle, Bobby threw his cutting board on the floor and then stood on the counter to raise his arms in victory. Flay won this battle. Flay and Morimoto, who are both on Iron Chef America, are now close friends.

Since I didn’t start watching food TV until 2006, I had never heard of Bobby Flay. I got to like him watching Throwdown with Bobby Flay. What appealed to me was his humility. The same chef who often appears arrogant and intense on Iron Chef is completely humble and friendly when he is dealing with people. Flay is funny, personable and while he does his best in the throwdowns, it’s clear that he really doesn’t want to win. Or at least, he feels really bad when his competitors lose. He doesn’t like showing up the people he challenges and if he wins, he usually declares that the judges were wrong.

That, his spicy Southwestern flavors and the fact that he is so obviously still in love with his wife, actress Stephanie March, and gets all gushy when he is around her or speaks about her, makes me melt. So yes, I’m a Flay Fan.

I veganized one of Bobby’s recipes when I first became vegan. I made a vegan version of his Meatloaf with Balsamic Glaze. It’s a great recipe. I made it with Gimme Lean back then but it works just as well with lentils. But for this post, I had something very specific in mind. See, as much as I like Bobby Flay, I do have a bone to pick with him. Bobby opened Bobby’s Burger Palace in 2008 as an homage to his memories of burger shops from when he was a kid. He now has about half a dozen Bobby’s Burger Palaces or BBPs but they do NOT serve veggie burgers.

When asked about it in an interview, Flay said, “I’m not interested. And I say that only because I’ve never had a veggie burger that I really liked. I’m very sensitive to vegetarians’ needs; I deal with it every day of my life. I think it’s a very, very important part of cuisine these days. It’s challenging to create creative vegetarian meals. That’s something we do at the other restaurants. But a veggie burger, I think it’s something I have not found that I can do well, so I’m not going to do it. I don’t want to serve something that’s subpar.”

Blah, blah, blah. That’s a very nice, diplomatic response but come on, it’s not hard to make delicious veggie burgers or for that matter, vegan burgers. Or even vegan, gluten-free burgers. I’ve made amazing chickpea burgers, lentil burgerskidney bean burgers, black-eyed pea burgers. If I can do it, am I supposed to believe that such a talented Iron Chef, one who proclaims himself “The King of Burgers,” can’t do it? There are rumors Flay said he was going to add one to his menu but it hasn’t happened yet. The only vegetarian sandwich you can order is a grilled cheese and there is no sandwich for vegans.

So I made a new burger. It’s vegan and it’s gluten-free and it’s the most delicious of all the burgers I’ve ever made. It’s made from eggplant. That’s right, no beans, no tofu, no TVP. The flavor of this burger is so deep and rich, it’s really amazing. Tom has declared it his new favorite burger!

The first time I made them, I topped them with caramelized onions and a simple spread made with mayo, mustard and vegan, gluten-free Worcestershire sauce. I served them on gluten-free English muffins.

But for this post I wanted to recreate Bobby’s signature burger, The Crunchburger. This is the “house” burger at Bobby’s Burger Palace. It’s a basic burger that can be garnished with lettuce, tomato, red onion and horseradish mustard. Then comes the crunch – a big handful of potato chips. Bobby loves the combination of the juicy burger, the oozy cheese and the salty, crispy chips all in one bite. At BBP, any burger can be “crunchified.”

Bobby’s Crunchburger

So at my Burger Palace, AKA my kitchen, I challenged Bobby to a throwdown (in spirit) and “crunchified” my eggplant burger to create The Eggplant Crunchburger.


My Vegan Eggplant Crunchburger

It’s big, it’s messy, it’s incredibly delicious. Honestly, I like it better with the simple toppings I originally made. I don’t like masking the rich flavor of the eggplant with mounds of toppings and potato chips but the point is I DID IT! I’m throwing down the cutting board, getting up on the countertop and raising my arms in victory for Battle Vegan Crunchburger! Enjoy!

Vegan Eggplant Crunchburger with Horseradish Mustard Mayo

For the Horseradish Mustard Mayo:
1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. prepared horseradish
A pinch of dried tarragon
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. The sauce can be prepared 1 day in advance and kept covered in the refrigerator.

For the Eggplant Burgers:
1 large or 2 medium eggplants, peeled and cubed
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 shallot, finely minced
1 cup vegan cheese shreds, any flavor
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped

1 cup gluten-free bread crumbs

For the toppings:
1 cup vegan cheese, either slices or shreds (as long as it melts)
4 gluten-free buns
4 slices beefsteak tomato
4 leaves romaine lettuce
4 slices red onion
Horseradish Mustard Mayonnaise (recipe above)
4 handfuls of potato chips


To make the Eggplant Burgers:

In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant cubes and sauté until they are browned and very soft, about 10-12 minutes. Make sure they are super-soft becausethey need to be mashed. You could also roast the eggplant to make it soft.

Transfer the eggplant to a large bowl. Mash the eggplant up until there are no whole pieces left. I use a potato masher to do this. Once you have a big bowl of mush, add the shallot, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley. Mix it into the eggplant. Add the bread crumbs. Don’t add them all at once; you want to feel the mix and see whether you need a whole cup. I add ½ cup of bread crumbs and mix it.

The best way to mix it is wet your hands and use one hand (keep the other hand clean) to gently mix the crumbs into the eggplant. You will probably need more crumbs so add another ¼ cup and mix it again. You want the consistency to feel firm, like it will hold up as a burger. If it feels too moist, add the last ¼ cup of bread crumbs. Usually, I end up using the whole cup of crumbs.

Put the eggplant mixture into the fridge for about 30 minutes. Take the bowl out of the fridge and with your hand, divide the mixture into 4 parts. To form the burgers, I use a 3 ½ inch cookie cutter. I spray it with a bit of cooking oil spray and then pack the eggplant mixture into the cookie cutter. Pat it down, let it sit for about 20 seconds and then gently lift the cookie cutter off. Let your perfectburger sit for a few minutes undisturbed while you make the other 3 burgers.

In the same skillet that you sautéed the eggplant in (but cleaned), heat the other Tbs. of oil over medium-high heat and add the burgers to the pan. Let cook until slightly browned on one side and (this is very important), you can lift the burger with a spatula without breaking it. I use 2 spatulas to gently turn the burgers. Flip them and let them cook on the other side. When the 2nd side gets golden brown, flip them back over and let the first side cook until golden brown.

To make the Vegan Crunchburgers:

Top the burgers with either 2 slices or ¼ cup of vegan cheese. Add about a Tbs. of water to the pan and cover it. This will create steam and allow the cheese to melt and get ooey-gooey.

If you want your buns toasty, put on some pants. If you want your burger buns toasty, preheat the broiler while you are cooking the burgers. Split the buns and put the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and cook them until they are lightly golden brown, about 30 seconds. Don’t burn them!!

Place the burgers on the bun bottoms and, if desired, top with tomato, lettuce, onion, and a dollop of horseradish mustard mayonnaise. Pile on the potato chips, top with the bun tops, and serve immediately. Make sure you have tons of napkins because it’s going to be messy.

The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.

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24 Responses to VeganMoFo: Bobby Flay and The Eggplant Crunchburger

  1. marjan noory September 1, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

    I am Vegan and going to make this in a few minuets, thank you so much for sharing it

    • Rhea September 14, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

      Hope you liked it! xoxo

  2. Sarah February 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    This is one of the best vegan “burgers” we have had! Get a good sear on the eggplant burger for some extra crunch. We used kettle chips and don’t skimp on the lettuce tomato and red onion. All together the flavor combinations are great! We added a touch of agave to mayo for some sweetness.

    • Rhea February 24, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

      Hi Sarah, I’m so glad you love the burger. It sounds great the way you made it. Thank you for letting me know. xoxo

  3. Amber December 19, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    My husband and I are not vegan but we made your crunch burger last night and it was AMAZING!!! It was the best burger I’ve ever had and we will definitely put it in our meal rotation. I skipped a few things because we were hungry but they still turned out excellent. We didn’t add tarragon, shallot, or garlic and didn’t let the burger sit for 30 mins but they still held up perfectly while frying. We also caramelized the onions. Wow-o-wow we both loved it so much! Thank you for a FABULOUS recipe 🙂

    • Rhea December 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

      Yay! I’m so gal you both liked it. I love eggplant burgers, they are so decadent. And Caramelized onions? YUM! Thank you for telling me! xo

  4. Anonymous June 7, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    The only thing good about Flay is his wife is an actress on one of my favorite shows “Law and Order SVU”. I used to watch his shows before becoming vegan; always thought he was a pompous ass.

  5. Anonymous April 23, 2013 at 5:53 pm #

    OK, thank you. I think I figured out the problem, in that case (substituted an ingredient). It was closer to what it should be than I realized. Thanks for the great recipe!

  6. Rhea Parsons April 23, 2013 at 4:20 am #

    I’m not sure what you mean. These burgers are soft on the inside. There is not a lot of chew since eggplant is soft. Texture comes from the bread crumbs so they hold together but these are very rich and creamy.

  7. Anonymous April 23, 2013 at 4:06 am #

    Any ideas why mine were like mashed potatoes on the inside?

  8. Vegiegail April 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm #

    Holy moly! That looks AMAZING!

  9. Susan February 27, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    My husband and I LOVE this burger, it’s DELISH!!! 🙂

  10. Anonymous January 20, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    I cannot wait to make this recipe and I know my husband will be ecstatic! I too, love Bobby Flay but stopped watching his shows after becoming vegan. I would LOVE to watch a real throwdown between you two! Why NOT?

  11. Rhea Parsons October 17, 2012 at 4:39 am #

    Nina – that might be. The eggplant burger certainly doesn’t taste like a beef burger but it is savory and rich. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a veg burger that tastes like a meat burger (although I have tasted ones that do taste just like chicken). He needs to be more open-minded about burgers 🙂

    Thanks Bonnie 🙂

    Chef Reginald – thank you so much for the compliment. I’m honored.

  12. Reginald Beck October 17, 2012 at 2:39 am #

    I did not think it could be done but you did it! I am still a meat eater and a chef but this is amazing! I WILL MAKE THIS BURGER AND PUT IT IN MY BREAD CLASSES. I always like an alternative to meat because my students usually are a mix of carnivores and vegetarians. I will also put this in the gluten free section of my website with your name and a link to your site.

  13. Bonnie October 14, 2012 at 4:15 am #

    This burger looks incredible!!!

  14. Nina October 13, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Isn’t the problem, that since he is omnivore, he’s comparing the veggie burgers he tastes to the regular ones? I mean of course he misses the flavor of meat, but a vegan or vegetarian wont do that, when tasting a veggie burger, they’ll compare to all the other – more or less failed – veggie burgers they’ll have tasted through life 🙂 so he just needs to find a really cool recipe that satisfies the non-meat eaters and all will be swell. And he can keep enjoying his favorite meat version.

  15. Rhea Parsons October 13, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks everyone. They really are good. The flavor of the eggplant is so rich and deep. It would even taste great with a tomato sauce topping and more vegan mozz. Then it would taste like eggplant parm in a burger!!!

    Maybe one day Bobby will give in and admit that vegan burgers can be delicious too.

  16. Laura October 13, 2012 at 6:52 am #

    Woah, these look intense. I wouldn’t have guessed they were made from eggplant.

  17. kelly g. October 13, 2012 at 6:10 am #


  18. Annie October 13, 2012 at 5:04 am #

    Ahhhhhhh! Bobby needs to taste that thang! It’s gorgeous! I have no doubt that it tastes amazing. BTW, I love Bobby Flay, too. Way back on the Food Channel’s early days, he did a show called Grillin’ and Chillin’. I thought he was kind of a punk a** then, but he’s really grown on me. A great chef.

  19. GiGi October 13, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    oooh you’re killing me with this crunchburger. If I show this to the husband he’s going to want this for breakfast lunch and dinner everyday!

  20. Lisa is Raw on $10 a Day (or less!) October 13, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    Oh my gosh … these look amazing 🙂


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