Weeknight fare, weekend celebration you name the event and a good burger will shine.
We adjust our burgers to the season, seeking big charry grill flavors in the heat of summer and cast-iron crustiness in inclement weather. When we're looking to cut fat, we shift from ground beef chuck and to leaner turkey, salmon, even chicken for the center of the bun. Sweet spices and garlic enhance our lamb patties.
Meatless burger patties have their merits, so we've peppered our burger rotation with them. Friends in the U.K. introduced us to their favorite meatless burger one stuffed with a thick, slab of hot, melty halloumi cheese and sliced ripe tomato.
We couldn't wait to create our own versions. First-up: Hot cheese "burgers" between pretzel buns with dill pickles and brown mustard. The following week we slipped the hot cheese disks onto a toasted whole wheat bun and added sliced cucumber, arugula and a spiced mayonnaise. Definitely keepers.
Halloumi, a goat and sheep's milk cheese made with nonanimal rennet and a touch of mint, hails from Cypress. Semifirm, the milky white cheese bronzes beautifully in a skillet. Warmed, the cheese yields a pleasantly bouncy texture with plenty of eating satisfaction amazing tucked into a toasted bun.
Another option is kasserie the sharp Greek cheese used in the flaming saganaki appetizer.
French fries make a perfect partner for stellar burgers, but finger-size, mild-tasting Japanese shishito peppers are our favorite speedier, more healthful option. After searing and sprinkling them with coarse salt and herbs, we eat them out-of-hand like fries. This bold pepper treat without spicy heat completes our surprising cheese burger dinner.
CHEESE 'BURGERS' WITH SPICY MAYO
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
- 14 to 16 ounces halloumi cheese or bread cheese
- 4 hearty hamburger buns, such as pretzel rolls or whole wheat buns, split
- Olive oil
- Spiced mayonnaise, see recipe
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 large ripe tomato, cut into 4 thick slices
- Thinly sliced seedless cucumbers or dill pickles
- Arugula sprigs or romaine leaves
1. Cut the cheese into 1/2-inch thick slabs slightly larger than the buns. Toast the cut sides of the buns under the broiler, watching carefully to prevent burning.
2. Pat the cheese dry. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot enough to make a drop of water sizzle on contact. Add a very light film of oil; swirl it around to heat. Add the cheese slices in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning once, until golden on both sides, 2 or 3 minutes total. Drain on paper towels.
3. Spread the spiced mayonnaise on the bottoms of the buns. Top with a slice of the tomato. Then top with a slice of fried cheese. Top with cucumber or dill pickle slices and arugula or romaine. Put a little of the remaining mayo on the top of the buns and serve.
Spiced mayonnaise: Mix 1/4 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or green onion tops, 1 teaspoon za'atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend (or your favorite spice rub), and 1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes.
Nutrition information per serving: 328 calories, 15 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 36 mg cholesterol, 33 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 462 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
SAUTEED SHISHITO PEPPERS
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
Shishito peppers can be found at some farmers markets and Asian produce markets. (The peppers are eaten seeds and all.) Very small sweet bell peppers can be substituted; cooking time will be slightly longer. Alternatively, thick slices of poblano chilies or red bell peppers can be sauteed and spiced as directed. I make a double recipe to use leftovers chopped and sprinkled in salads and over soup and scrambled eggs.
- 4 cups (8 ounces) whole shishito peppers, stems intact
- 1 tablespoon safflower oil, sunflower oil or expeller pressed canola oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives or cilantro, or a combo
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- Coarse salt
Turn on the exhaust fan. Heat a large cast-iron skillet (or other heavy-duty skillet) over high heat until hot. Add the oil; swirl to heat it. Add the whole peppers in a single uncrowded layer. Cook, turning often, until peppers are charred and starting to become tender, 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle with herbs, sesame seeds and salt. Toss well. Transfer to a plate; serve right away.
Nutrition information per serving: 47 calories, 4 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 250 mg sodium, 1 g fiber