While I enjoy it all year round, the fresh, meaty taste of lamb just says “springtime” to me. I like it all kinds of ways – simply-grilled chops, smoky-braised shanks, garlicky-and-rosemary-crusted leg – but my guilty pleasure has always been lamb-burgers, especially when the rich flavor is enhanced with punchy bits of kalamata olive and feta and paired with a great red.
These burgers draw from classic flavors of southern France and the Mediterranean – get dressed up with a bit of a play on a “Greek salad” as a garnish – and pair perfectly with the spicy, dark-fruit and lavender notes of a wine like the 2012 Longtable “The Gathering”.
We'll serve these for weekend lunch on the deck with a simple salad and some favorite store-bought chips or for dinner on the vineyard table on one of those glorious first warm evenings late in May and we'll trade the chips for crispy-smashed-and-roasted "new" potatoes (recipe in a future post) which we'll dip in a little of the extra aioli.
Lamb Burgers with Olives, Feta and Mint
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 8-10 minutes (4-5 minutes per side)
Serves: 4 – 6 depending on appetite
Doubles or multiplies: very well
1.5 pounds ground lamb
3-4 oz feta crumbled (sheep’s-milk feta, if possible)
10-12 pitted kalamata olives, chopped to roughly ¼ inch
1.5 Tablespoons fresh mint leaves, coarsely minced (about 5 large mint leaves)
1-2 large garlic cloves, peeled, and minced
fresh-ground black pepper
Brioche or other burger rolls (4-6), split
Basic or Garlic Aioli (recipe follows)
Fresh “heirloom” or beefsteak tomato slices, 1 per burger
2 small cucumbers, very thinly sliced, (with skin if Persian cucumbers are available, peeled if using other varieties)
Quick-pickled sweet-peppers-and-onions (recipe follows)
1) In a large bowl, gently mix lamb, olives, mint, garlic and black pepper together until combined but not “mushed”. A little air-space in between the burger ingredients leaves room for liquids to “hang out” during and after cooking, making for a much juicier bite.
[NOTE: when seasoning with black pepper, I like to think about how much pepper I might add at the table if something had been served to me “unseasoned”. This usually amounts to 1-2 full “twists” of the pepper-mill per serving as a starting point.]
2) Cover bowl and set aside for up to 20 minutes or place in refrigerator until 20 minutes before cooking.
3) Make aioli and “quick pickle” and refrigerate until ready to use.
4) 20 minutes before serving, divide the meat mixture into 4 or 6 equal portions, shape into round balls and then into roughly ¾-inch-thick“patties” using firm-but-gentle pressure. Do not “overwork” the meat.
5) Cook the burgers for 4-5 minutes per side, turning only once. 4 minutes should get you moist, pink, “medium-rare”; 5 minutes should result in cooked-through-but pink “medium.” If using a grill, brush the grate with canola or grapeseed oil before setting the burgers over the heat. Cook over medium high and NOT high heat (the slightly lower temp lets you get a nice sear and finish on the outside of the burger while still getting the inside to medium-rare or medium.)
6) When cooked on both sides, set burgers on a plate or platter to “rest” for 3-5 minutes
7) While burgers are resting, toast rolls for 1-2 minutes on a “light” setting
8) Spread aioli on rolls and garnish each burger with lettuce, tomato, sliced cucumber and the quick-pickle.
9) Serve immediately with 2012 Longtable “The Gathering” or other full-bodied red wine.
Basic Aioli or Garlic Aioli
Total time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2 cups
(May be made 1-3 days ahead and stored refrigerated in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid)
1 very fresh egg yolk
2 t lemon juice
1 t water
½ t salt
(for “Garlic” aioli, ½ t very finely minced garlic)
a little finely-ground white pepper if desired
1 cup neutral oil like canola, vegetable or safflower (or, for a stronger taste, use a mild olive oil or a combine equal parts of olive and neutral oil).
1) In a clean 12-cup mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolk, salt, lemon juice and water.
2) Place the oil in a measuring cup or pitcher with a narrow spout or a large squeeze bottle, (This will make it easier to add your oil in a thin/steady stream while whisking – the key to making a successful aioli.)
3) Add a few drops – less than ½ teaspoon – of the oil to the egg mixture and whisk thoroughly to begin the emulsion
4) While whisking vigorously and continuously, add the remaining oil in a very thin, steady stream… proper technique should result in the mixture looking “creamy” the entire time and “thickening” as you proceed.
5) Continue whisking and adding oil in a stream until all the oil is incorporated and a rich, dense aioli is formed.
6) Season to taste with a bit of finely ground white pepper or a touch of additional salt. Garlic may be added now if desired or it may be included in step 1 if you choose
NOTE: If you add too much oil at once or stop steadily whisking, the mixture may separate or “break” – this is not ideal, but also not a disaster. If the aioli “breaks”, you can fix it by placing a teaspoon of water in a second, large, clean bowl and slowly but steadily whisking in a thin stream of the broken mixture.
Quick-Pickled Peppers & Onions
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced “pole to pole”
1 sweet bell pepper – yellow, orange or red, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons white sugar
2 Tablespoons water
fresh-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Place sliced peppers and onion in a glass bowl just large enough to fit. In a small non-reactive saucepan, gently heat water, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar, stirring with a wooden spoon until the sugar and salt just dissolve. Immediately pour over peppers and onion slices, toss gently to coat, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes (may be refrigerated at this point and kept for up to 3 days.)