Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

Little burgers made with meat with or without tofu, canned tuna, or even beans are a perennial bento standby - they remain rather juicy even when cold, and are quite economical too. Plus, they are great make-ahead items, to stash for a few days in the refrigerator or for about a month in the freezer.


This version is a variation on the basic Japanese style hamburger. Japanese style hamburgers are often made with a 50/50 mixture of ground pork and beef, but you can use 100% beef as I’ve done here. Some chopped up bean sprouts are added for extra texture, as well as to lower the overall fat/calorie count. You can make a big ‘half-pound’ size burger with this mixture but it will have less calories than an all-meat burger. Adding bean sprouts also makes the burgers more economical. In Japan, meat is expensive while bean sprouts are cheap, so bean sprouts help to keep the household budget trim as well as your waistline!

Here’s one split in the middle, so you can see the bean sprouts. Granted, they do look a bit weird, but trust me, these burgers taste great hot or cold.


I would suggest making a batch of the hamburger mixture, having big ones for dinner and reserving a few little ones for bento the next day or later. You can freeze these burgers either before or after cooking. I prefer to cook them and freeze them, so they can just be reheated/defrosted and are ready to go.

Recipe: Japanese style beef burgers with bean sprouts (moyashi baagaa)

Makes about 24-30 small-to-mini sized burgers. Or you can divide the mixture into two and use half to form 2 big burgers for dinner, and the rest into mini burgers.

  • 700g / about 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef or a 50/50 mix of ground pork and beef
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) panko or dried breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 Tbsp. milk or water
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 large handfuls of bean sprouts, with the ‘bean’ part removed, roughly chopped
  • oil for cooking
  • ketchup and/or Worcestershire sauce and/or ‘Bulldog’ sauce (optional)

Sauté the onion in a little oil until transparent.

Moisten the breadcrumbs with the milk or water (you can also use fresh breadcrumbs, in which case you don’t need to ooisten them. Use a bit more than the 1/2 cup called for in that case.)

In a bowl mix the meat, onion, breadcrumbs, egg, salt and pepper together with your hands until a bit sticky. Add the bean sprouts, and mix in well.

Form into patties. Follow the directions for basic hambaagu for cooking and optionally saucing the burgers.

If you are going to freeze the cooked burgers, cook them without sauce, and allow them to cool down. Put on a single layer on a plate or tray and freeze, then pack into freezer-safe bags or containers. They’ll keep for a month. To use, defrost in the microwave (or overnight in the fridge), then heat up over low-medium heat in a non-dry stick frying pan; when heated through, you can add the sauce as per the hambaagu instructions if you like. For bento-use burgers it’s best to cook the sauce down until sticky, so it doesn’t leak out of your box during transit. You can of course optionally pack a separate bottle of sauce along.

I find it’s best to heat the burgers through in a pan rather than heating them up in a microwave for the best texture. If you’re in a hurry though, just let rock-hard frozen burgers partially defrost (in the fridge or microwave), and pack them cold in your box; they will have defrosted by lunchtime - and yes, unless you leave your box in a hot room and you follow basic bento safety tips, they should be fine.

American style all-meat burgers for bento?

Whenever I put up a burger - or in Japanese-English, “baagu” recipe, someone invariably pipes up that they aren’t ‘burgers’. This is quite true: they aren’t American style beef burgers. If you watched the Top Chef All Stars season that aired a few months ago, you may have noticed that Fabio, who is from Italy, utterly screwed up what the (American) judges’ idea of what a ‘burger’ should be, and thus got eliminated. Instead of making pure beef batties with a salty crust, which is what they expected, he made sort of meatballs, or what used to be called hamburger steak (this only seems to live on in American food culture as the frozen dinner standby, the Salisbury steak). This style of ‘burger’ is what prevails in Japan, where often the American style all-meat hamburger is called ‘hambaagaa’ to differentiate itself from the ‘hambaagu’. American style all-meat burgers do not do well in bentos, as anyone who’s eaten a cold Big Mac can attest to. The meat gets sort of grey and sad and dry with congealed grease, the juices having run out to the bun, making the bread soggy and really sad. With the Japanese ‘hambaagu’ style of burger, even cold ones are perky and tasty, especially with a little sauce on them.

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Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

Ah, no wonder my husband doesn't like "hamburgers" but does like "hamburg" (and I think "hamburg" tastes better), and no wonder I always thought my mom's hamburgers tasted better (she mixed things into the meat first, unorthodox as that is). Thanks for solving the mystery. :)

http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
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Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

P. S. These look delicious ... I want to eat them right off the screen.

http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

Lovely-I'll be trying these next week!

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

When we make Salisbury steak or meatloaf, rather than sauteing the onions until clear try a can of condensed french onion soup, and strain out the onions and use those. The soup can be added to moisten if needed. Packs a little more flavor.

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

We call these meatloaf patties in my house! Meatloaf recipes basically use breadcrumbs, eggs, onions, and different spices for flavor packed into a loaf pan. My mom started making them into patties making sure the patties had a nice crust all over and that's the only way I eat meatloaf now. I love them! I recently made them for my boyfriend (he's Chinese and doesn't have much experience with American food) and I had to hide my portion from him. I make them hamburger sized to either eat on their own or put them on a bun. I've never made them with bean sprouts, but it sounds interesting!

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

Thanks for saving me - I have always a hard time on Fridays to find out what I want on the weekends! They look lovely and I have tofu @ home and I will try some varitation. Thanks for going on!

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

Huh, I never knew that Americans didn't put onion and things into their burgers. They taste much better with a bit of onion and parsley! This recipe looks great, think I'll make a couple of these and a couple of your green pea burgers to take on the plane with me. :) gluten free plane meals are never good, and if I swap bread crumbs for rice crumbs nobody will know the difference. :D


Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

I made these today, and I was just floored with how they turned out. Extremely moist & delicious, and goodness were they filling! I made some "regular" size and some for my bento that I froze, but I'm thinking I'll only need 1/2 a regular size one for a normal meal next time. I tried to eat like it was a normal hamburger, and that was just way more filling than I expected (which is great!).

I definitely recommend everyone make these if their diet allows meat-- 10/10. Everyone just adored them!

Re: Lower-calorie, lower-cost, beef and bean sprout burgers

I'm making small patties for bento lunches - yum! But, what do you mean by "partially defrost" them before putting them in the day's bento box? How long do you leave them in the fridge or microwave to just partially instead of fully defrost?

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