The Ultimate Burger

With the Lekka Burger, Dirt Candy’s Amanda Cohen has created the next-level veggie patty, surpassing Impossible and Beyond Burgers in both taste and nutritional content.
Lekka Burger satisfies comfort food cravings with nutritious ingredients.

By Ray Rogers

For the past 11 years that she’s helmed her East Village vegetarian paradise, Dirt Candy, the James Beard-nominated chef Amanda Cohen has had one goal in mind: “Getting people to eat more vegetables.”

Cohen explains, “I live in a world of vegetables, and that’s what I always wanted to focus on.” Easier said than done, apparently, even when her inspired creations have included such legendary dishes as the sublime smoked cauliflower with waffles and addictive Korean fried broccoli. So when South African hospitality scion and philanthropist Andrea Kerzner approached her about creating a new vegan burger joint in Manhattan, with plans for expansion to other markets, the answer was an immediate and emphatic “Yes!”

Cohen sees it as a gateway food to bring people into the plant-based fold: “When it comes to comfort food, what’s more iconic than the hamburger?” she notes. “Every chef’s dream is to have a fast-casual place. I am no different than every other chef.”

She discovered the formulation that would become the Lekka (Afrikaans slang for “awesome” and “delicious”) burger while working with a Chinese food historian and testing ancient recipes. A top-secret technique, that, she allows, includes “a couple of different flours, beans, and mushrooms” and a combo of “sauteing, smoking and baking” creates a burger that’s not overly processed (like the lab-created options out there), decidedly not mushy and holds up on the grill for a wonderfully charred flavor. (They are now shipping nationwide for at-home grilling, via Free of gluten, soy, GMOs and chemicals, and made fresh every day, “our burgers are really, truly whole food,” she says. “I’m not going to split a bean into molecules and atoms and just pull out the protein.”

Kerzner, Cohen’s business partner in the venture, which launched late last year with a space in Tribeca that pays homage to the American diner, notes that the health benefits are significant, compared to the competition: “A Beyond Burger is about 260 calories per patty, and ours is 160. If you start comparing ingredients, fiber and sodium, we’re way ahead of them.”

Not to mention the personal and planetary benefits over a beef patty. Lekka clocks in at roughly less than half the fat of USDA grass-fed beef (6.8 grams compared to about 15 grams) and zero cholesterol (compared to 88 mg).

“Thirty-one percent of our carbon footprint depends on the cattle and dairy industry,” notes Kerzner, citing a United Nations report that inspired Lekka’s birth. “My background has been in the nonprofit world, and working with children in poverty. Growing up in the hospitality field, I thought about what I could do to have some kind of impact on climate change. So my idea was to make a vegan burger that’s as delicious a burger as any meat-eating person would want.”

Mission accomplished—with a side of crinkle-cut fries and an oat-milk shake.