Burger Breakout

America's favorite grilled sandwiches escape from the ordinary

June 30, 1999|By Janet Hazen | Janet Hazen,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Some folks -- most likely staunch meat and potato eaters -- say you can't mess with a burger. That usually means it has to be made solely from ground beef. Then there are the garnish enforcers who regard anything other than a lettuce leaf and one slice of tomato as sacrilege.

Oh, come on -- lighten up.

As far as I'm concerned, any kind of ground meat formed into a patty can be a hamburger. Take, for example, the Grilled Lamb-Chicken Burgers With Feta Cheese: It's made from ground lamb and chicken, fresh herbs and capers, and is stuffed -- not topped -- with a slice of feta cheese.

Slap that puppy on the grill and then slip it into whole-wheat pita bread lined with a few spinach leaves and roasted bell peppers. Now, I call that a burger!

If you too are bored with the same old ground beef burgers and predictable garnishes, maybe it's time to expand your burger consciousness. Hamburgers don't have to be made entirely from ground beef; think chicken, turkey, lamb or pork, or a combination of two meats.

Consider adding fresh or dried herbs, ground spices, moistening ingredients like sun-dried tomato paste or pesto; Chinese hot chili paste or plum sauce, or roasted pureed Mexican mild or hot chilies. Various cheeses can add a new twist to an old standby.

And who says a hamburger has to be served between those terrible, white, doughy commercial rolls of yesteryear? There are all kinds of wonderful breads to wrap around your burgers nowadays.

While summer usually means grilling burgers on the outdoor barbecue, not all hamburgers have to be cooked in this way. Some burgers lend themselves to pan-frying on top of the stove. The Mexican Turkey Burgers are successfully cooked this way.

Italy, Greece, Mexico and China aren't exactly known for their hamburgers, but because I wanted to create unique flavor profiles, I used ingredients and cooking styles from each area to develop these four new burgers for your Fourth of July repertoire.

Grilled Chinese Chicken-Water Chestnut Burgers with Hoisin Glaze

Makes 8 burgers

2 pounds ground chicken

1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped

1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro

2 green onions, minced

1 rounded tablespoon five-spice powder (see note)

3/4 cup finely ground bread crumbs

1 cup hoisin sauce (see note)

In large bowl, place chicken, water chestnuts, cilantro, green onions, five-spice powder, bread crumbs and 1/4 cup hoisin sauce. Using your fingers, mix until just combined. Form into 8 patties of equal size. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours.

Prepare charcoal grill. When coals are medium-hot (covered with medium layer of gray ash), place burgers on grill. Brush top with some hoisin sauce. Cook 6 to 7 minutes until bottom side is golden brown. Flip and brush top with remaining hoisin sauce. Cook until centers are opaque, 6 to 7 minutes longer, depending on intensity of fire. Remove from grill and serve. Serve these distinctive burgers on sesame seed rolls accompanied by a salad of julienne snow peas, asparagus and red bell peppers.

Note: Most grocery stores carry five-spice powder and bottled hoisin sauce; if not, try an Asian market.

Grilled Lamb-Chicken Burgers with eta Cheese

Makes 6 burgers

1 pound ground chicken

3/4 pound ground lamb

1/4 cup finely ground bread crumbs

grated zest from 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup capers

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano

6 ounces feta cheese, cut into 6 equal slices

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

In large bowl, place chicken, lamb, bread crumbs, lemon zest, capers, garlic, rosemary and oregano. Using your fingers, mix until just combined. Form into 6 patties of equal size. Press 1 piece cheese into center of each patty. Coat each burger on all sides with olive oil.

Prepare charcoal grill. When coals are medium-hot (covered with medium layer of gray ash), place burgers on grill and cook 9 to 11 minutes on each side, depending on intensity of fire or until meat is cooked through. Remove from grill and serve immediately. These zesty herb-scented burgers are good tucked into whole wheat pita bread lined with a few spinach leaves and some roasted red bell peppers.

Pan-Fried Mexican Turkey Burgers with Monterey Jack

Makes 7 burgers

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 (7-ounce) cans diced green chilis

1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

3/4 cup masa harina (see note)

1/2 cup oil

7 slices Monterey Jack cheese

In large bowl, place turkey, chilis, cilantro, coriander and cumin seeds. Using your fingers, mix until just combined. Form into 7 patties of equal size. Cover and refrigerate 2 hours or up to 8 hours.

Pour masa harina into shallow bowl. Coat patties on all sides.

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