The dedicated carnivore may regard the term vegetarian sausage as an oxymoron. But homemade vegetarian sausages like this black bean and smoked corn variety will be a revelation to devoted meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Sir Andrew Aguecheek: “I am a great eater of beef,
and I believe that does harm to my wit.”
Sir Toby Belch’s reply: “No question.”
— William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Sir Andrew was apparently ahead of his time. Today, many people have decided, for health or ethical or other reasons, to cut back on their consumption of meat. Just consider the Meatless Monday movement, as well as Vegan Before Six and other initiatives that have resonated with Americans.
The dedicated carnivore may regard the term vegetarian sausage as an oxymoron. But sausage is more than just a foodstuff, it’s a state of mind — what else offers the devourer a portable meal-in-one with beloved flavor combinations and unparalleled chew factor? Those qualities remain no matter the actual ingredients inside the casing. Besides, the same herbs and spices that go into traditional sausages can also be used with the whole grains, beans and legumes, and fresh vegetables that are the mainstays of meat-free sausage.
What’s more, homemade vegetarian sausages will be far superior to the processed varieties — with their lengthy list of unrecognizable ingredients — found in the freezer case at supermarkets. They’ll be a revelation to devoted meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Same Formula, Different Foundation
When making any type of sausage, you are essentially following the same method: foundation (traditionally meat) plus seasonings and other add-ins (for flavor and texture), with binders and thickeners as needed or desired.
Foundation ingredients. Cooked beans or legumes; cooked barley, rice, or other grains; and tofu or tempeh. These foundation ingredients are usually grated, mashed, or ground and replace the ground meat in a sausage. Nuts are sometimes added, and are a good source of protein — and flavor.
Vegetables and fruits. Fresh carrots, beets, mushrooms, celery, onion, squash, and apples, dried apricots, dates, and so on. They are usually minced, chopped, or grated, and sometimes sautéed before they are added to the sausage mixture.
Moistening and binding ingredients. Usually eggs or egg whites act as a binder. Butter, oil, brandy, wine, or reduced cider might be used to moisten the mixture; tomato paste moistens and imparts umami.
Thickeners. Bread crumbs, flour, rolled oats, wheat germ, or other ingredients thicken and bulk up the mixture so it can be shaped. Bread crumbs are probably the most versatile.
Seasonings. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and the whole cast of characters used in traditional meat sausages are used in vegetarian sausages. Please feel free to personalize our recipes to suit your own tastes. As with meat sausages, seasonings provide the greatest opportunity for experimentation.
Casings. Vegetarian casings are more delicate than natural casings, so you’ll need to handle them with care when stuffing, twisting, and cooking. You can also use edible cellulose casings with great results.
Besides casings, there are other ways to give your sausage mixture shape that will hold up during cooking: Employ natural casings in the form of cabbage or chard leaves or other sturdy wrappers such as corn husks or the outer layer of leeks. Parchment paper, plastic wrap, and aluminum foil can be employed as nonedible casings. Or, shape your vegetarian sausages into patties (or logs or balls, as you wish).
Cooking Vegetarian Sausages
Because they are made from precooked or quick-cooking ingredients, vegetarian sausages tend to take little time to reach the desired doneness. Depending on the size, shape, makeup, and casings (if any) of the sausage, panfrying, grilling, and poaching are all viable options. The exception is that you should not poach sausages that are stuffed into vegetarian casings, which will dissolve during cooking. Vegetarian sausages can be refrigerated, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months; you can typically cook them without thawing.
Black Bean and Smoked Corn Sausage
Grilling the sweet corn over a charcoal fire gives the sausage patties a smoky edge. Black beans, fresh cilantro, cumin, and salsa lend more Southwestern flavors. The sausages are terrific in a tortilla, topped with guacamole, queso fresco, and more salsa.
Makes about 6 patties or sausages
- 2 ears corn, husked
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1½ cups cooked black beans, or 1 can (15 ounces), rinsed and drained
- ½ cup dried bread crumbs
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons salsa, plus more for serving
- Guacamole, for serving (optional)
- Heat a charcoal grill to medium-hot. Grill the corn, turning frequently, until the kernels are lightly browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a skillet on top of the grill, then sauté the onion, garlic, and cumin until the onion is transparent, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the grill.
- Using a sharp knife, slice the kernels from the cobs, working over a shallow bowl to capture the corn milk.
- In a food processor, combine the corn and its liquid, onion mixture, beans, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, cilantro, egg, and the 2 tablespoons salsa. Pulse until the ingredients are blended and the mixture holds together.
- With wet hands, form about ½ cup of the mixture into ½-inch-thick patties or 3-inch-long sausage shapes. Place on a baking sheet fitted with a wire rack and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until firm.
- To cook, panfry or grill over medium heat until browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Serve with more salsa and guacamole, if desired.
Black Bean Sausage and Sweet Potato Tacos
These vegetarian tacos are among the best reasons to make Black Bean and Smoked Corn Sausage. Sautéed sweet potato adds even more substance, while the “lime-pickled” cabbage is made quickly by tossing shredded cabbage (and sliced jalapeños, for a kick of heat) with lime juice and cilantro, and then rubbing the mixture to tenderize the vegetables. Try it on all of your favorite Mexican-style dishes.
- 2 cups shredded green cabbage
- 2–3 jalapeño chiles, sliced into thin rings (ribs and seeds removed for less heat)
- ¼ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro, plus whole leaves for serving
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ¼ pound Black Bean and Smoked Corn Sausage
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 8 corn tortillas (6-inch size)
- Sour cream, for serving
- Lime wedges, for serving
- Hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco, for serving
- In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, chiles, lime juice, minced cilantro, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Using your hands, massage the ingredients together to wilt the cabbage and soften the chiles. Set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in large skillet, add the sausage, and cook until browned and cooked through. Remove from the pan and cut into bite-size pieces.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat over medium heat. Add the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add the garlic, chili powder, cumin, cayenne, and remaining 2 teaspoons salt to the pan and cook until fragrant. Add 1 cup water and the sausage, bring to a simmer, and cook until the water has nearly evaporated. Remove from the heat.
- Layer each tortilla with the sweet potato–sausage mixture and then with the pickled cabbage. Top with sour cream and cilantro leaves and serve with lime wedges and hot sauce.