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My wife has recently decided not to eat meat, so we have been substituting black beans for ground beef in some of our favorite dishes. This has worked fine so far, but I am not sure about making this substitution in cheeseburger pie. The recipe calls for browned beef with sauteed pepper and onions, tomato sauce, breadcrumbs, and some spices to be baked in a pie shell with a cheese topping. Simple and delicious.

So far, we have simply done a pound-for-pound replacement of ground beef with beans. But I worry that mashed beans (as we have done in the past for meatball substitutes) will yield a pie that is too dry and dense while un-mashed beans will not be cohesive enough to be served as a pie (like a pie shell filled with bean salad). Should I mash some beans while leaving others whole? Any other suggestions for a vegetarian cheeseburger pie?

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    Are you open to meat alternatives such as Beyond Meat or Impossible Burger? I find the latter to be a great substitute for ground beef whereas the former is a little too smoky and "fake meat" tasting.
    – coblr
    Nov 8, 2022 at 22:25

3 Answers 3

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I often use beans instead of meat, and I think you'd get away with it, but your concerns are certainly valid - it might come out a little dry. It partly depends on the proportions, especially of the tomato sauce.

I can offer a few suggestions to tweak your basic recipe:

  • Mash the beans (some or all - I'd go for all, knowing that some will be merely broken when others are no longer recognisable as beans) with some suitable liquid. That could be more sauce, for example, but something including both water and oil is best.
  • Increase the amount of onion, softening (some of) it slowly for longer with the lid on, incorporating the resulting tasty liquid into the beans. Even better is to make caramelised onions - I make big batches in the slow cooker and freeze them.
  • Mix a little grated cheese in with the beans - not necessarily a tasty cheese, but one that melts nicely. This will have a slight binding effect if serving hot, much more if you're planning on allowing it to cool.

The first two suggestions allow you to adjust the feel of the filling, the last less so as the cheese would melt when you bake the pie - but I do only mean a little cheese.

Some more ideas, adapting further from your original:

  • When making bean burgers, I start from dried beans, and slow-cook roughly chopped onion (plus garlic and chillies) in with the beans. When I drain the beans I reserve the cooking water, and add some back as I roughly puree the beans in a food processor. That could be a viable option here too.
  • When I make a bean chilli, it has sweet potato, pumpkin, or squash in it. Adding some diced, roasted veg of that sort would be good for the texture. I suggest quite finely diced, and not a huge amount.
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    +1 This sounds like great advice. We will make it tomorrow, and I will let you know how it goes.
    – Plutoro
    Nov 7, 2022 at 17:10
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    As you suggested, I used more onion and added finely chopped sweet potato. I did not mash too much to retain some texture. Then I added a couple tablespoons of water, a tablespoon of vegetable oil and about a quarter cup of fontina. The result was pretty good. The taste was excellent. While warm, it was a bit softer than the meat version, but when it cooled, it held its shape quite well. Thanks for the help.
    – Plutoro
    Nov 9, 2022 at 16:32
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Beans make for a good pie, but not one that tastes or feels much like beef. From your question, particularly the last line, it sounds as if you might actually be looking to imitate the flavor and texture of a cheeseburger pie, so you might try something other than beans:

  • There are sophisticated meat substitutes made by companies such as Beyond and Impossible that are a much closer match to ground beef in flavor and texture, and can be prepared in much the same way.

  • Diced mushrooms can have a texture not so dissimilar to ground beef, and they have an umami flavor that is reminiscent of it (or so I am told), more so than beans. You could try frying them a little first, then stewing them.

  • Textured vegetable protein and seitan can be used to produce a meaty texture, although their flavor can be bland.

Any of these could be used in combination with beans as well, of course.

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    Our experience so far is that beans are not equivalent to ground beef, but substitutions result in a dish that is just as good but in a different way. We will definitely try Beyond or Impossible sometime though.
    – Plutoro
    Nov 8, 2022 at 13:42
  • @Plutoro that's a good way of thinking of it - inherently but differently good beats fake meat for me
    – Chris H
    Nov 9, 2022 at 10:06
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    +1 for mushrooms (fresh would also work here added with the onion and pepper, finely chopped)
    – Chris H
    Nov 9, 2022 at 10:07
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Use green lentils and minced sauteed mushrooms. Add an umami element such as Vegan Worchest, T paste, MSG, Parm or Kombu powder to replace the missing savory from the meat.

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