Tzatziki Lamb Burgers: Getting it Just Right

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Tzatziki Lamb Burgers

Tzatziki Lamb Burgers. I’ve been on a lamb kick. It’s probably related to Spring Fever – even though until today, it’s been more like summer lately in Los Angeles.

This burger was inspired by the lamb leftover from a de-boning exercise gone terribly wrong and a fun weekend in Palm Springs that included group training on grinding your own burgers.

Which is interesting, because I didn’t think I needed to learn anything new about grinding meat. I’ve always used the blade attachment on the food processor and I’ve never been disappointed. I’m not a gadget guy. So I typically resist owning appliances or specialty tools that do one thing and one thing only. This weekend in the desert we used a grinding attachment on a stand-mixer that none of us had used enough to really understand its finer points. Which proved to be no big deal, because the meat grinder is great tool that’s easy to use. The results were beautiful. In fact perfect.

When I say “meat grinder” do you think about your Grandma’s big, hand-cranked piece of steel – the one Grandpa had to clamp to the kitchen counter? Do you simply refuse to screw that thing onto your gorgeous granite counter top. Well don’t worry, today’s stand-mixer attachments don’t even touch the counter, so you won’t need Grandpa. Besides, there’s always the food processor. I know you’re not afraid of the food processor. It does nearly as good a job as the grinder attachment – not perfect – but it’s close. Meaning I’m not quite ready to conquer my single-subject appliance phobia.

Tzatziki Lamb Burgers

Which brings me to Tzatziki Lamb Burgers. Sometimes I get creative when I’m deciding what to make for this blog – other times I turn to the classics for inspiration. When faced with freshly ground leftover lamb, I’m traditional enough to think “burger” and creative enough to think “Greek”. When I think Greek, my mind turns to the handheld gyros I’m old enough to incorrectly pronounce as “jiii-ROWs”.

Once I’d chosen a gyros (YEE-ros) approach to this burger I went to Google for inspiration. There are plenty of lamb burgers featuring tzatziki. I found nit-picky issues with a lot of them.

That’s because we cooks like to get clever. Once we have a theme we love to run with. Which means I saw a lot of Grecian influence lamb burgers with superfluous ingredients. Too many cucumbers. Too many herbs and spices. Too much opa! One version even featured bulgur – enough bulgur to seem vulgar to me (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

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When I eat good quality meat I want to taste the meat. Which isn’t to say the meat should be unseasoned. Especially lamb. Lamb has a rich quality that lends itself to all sorts of big flavors. Whereas I might chose salt and pepper only to season a very good beef burger, I don’t mind getting a bit bolder when it comes to lamb burgers. Mint is a natural with lamb. It’s got an assertive flavor that’s strong enough to balance lamb’s tendency towards gaminess. However as I said, I tend to prefer my burgers simply seasoned. Big handfuls of fresh mint would change the texture of the meat too much for my tastes. So I chose dried mint. Dried herbs have a stronger, more condensed flavor than their fresh counterparts. I can get the punch and balance I’m looking for without filling up on chlorophyll. Not so with the fresh rosemary I added. I find the dried form of the herb too powerful for this burger. See what I mean about nit-picking?

Tzatziki is a different matter. It may be a thematic no-brainer, but its flavors are appropriate to this burger. In fact tzatziki is the first word in this recipe’s title. That’s because the cool, clean swipe of yogurt and cucumber is the best part of these Tzatziki Lamb Burgers. I’ve included a simple version of tzatziki in this recipe. Feel free to use your own recipe, or get as creative as you like.

Speaking of creative, I have to bring up the bun. The bun is not the place to get creative.

When it comes to a burger I like a soft bun. Greek-style Tzatziki Lamb Burgers seem to cry out for a pita container. Most of the recipes I came across chose this direction. I think a pita is fun idea, but perhaps too thematic. A pita lacks the absorbancy a good burger requires. The juices should run, and the bun should soak them up. Proportion is also important. The right ratio is about 50-50 burger to bun in every single bite. A pita could never accomplish this, it’s far too single-subject. GREG

Tzatziki Lamb Burgers

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Tzatziki Lamb Burgers

Ingredients

  • 1 pound freshly ground lamb
  • 2 tablespoon crushed, dried mint leaves
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled, minced and divided in half)
  • salt and pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 1 pound English cucumber
  • 1 ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 soft burger buns (split)
  • 3 lettuce leaves (sized to fit buns)
  • 3 slice tomato (large enough to fit buns)
  • 3 tablespoon crumbled feta

Directions

Make the patties: In a large bowl combine lamb, dried mint, fresh rosemary, half of the minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, gently mix the ingredients together; do not over mix. Divide the mixture into 3 equal portions and form each portion into a 3/4-inch thick patty (about ⅓ lb each). Make a small indentation in the center of each patty. This will ensure that the meat maintains it’s form as it plumps in cooking. Wrap the burgers in plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours prior to cooking so that the flavors meld.

Make the tzatziki sauce: Peel, halve lengthwise, and seed cucumber, then coarsely grate into a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Press lightly on the cucumber to drain as much of the liquid out as you can. Discard liquid.

Combine drained cucumber, yogurt, olive oil, dill, remaining minced garlic, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grill the burgers: Bring the burgers to room temperature, season with salt and pepper, then heat a grill pan over medium-high heat (I don’t recommend charcoal grilling because the smokiness will obscure the aromatics of this burger).

Oil the hot pan and place the burgers onto it, cook until desired doneness; about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.

While the burgers are cooking place the buns cut side down onto a large heated skillet or griddle, rotating as needed, until lightly browned. Remove from heat and place a lettuce leaf, a tomato slice and 1 tablespoon of feta onto the bun bottom. Top with cooked burger and tzatziki sauce to taste. Cover with the top bun and serve warm.

Tzatziki Lamb Burgers

 

 

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