If you find lamb too rich and maybe too strong for your taste, give these spiced burgers a try. The lamb burgers here are lightened and brightened by the addition of cilantro and mint to the patty mix, and if you want to lighten it even further, you can add some lime juice to it. To get it all just right, serve the burgers with the cooling herb salad and tart-sweet tamarind vinaigrette.
Tamarind paste is the brownish-reddish pulp in the pod-shaped fruit of the tamarind tree: you can buy tamarind pods at Asian and Latin American markets and scrape out your own paste, but you can find jars or cans of prepared tamarind paste there, too. Tamarind has a pleasant sweet-sour taste and is very commonly used in cooking throughout Southeast Asia, India, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Even if you’ve never used tamarind yourself, you’ve probably had a taste of it somewhere along the line, as it is used commercially to flavor candies, jams, chutneys, and soft drinks.
Oyster sauce is a Chinese condiment, used as a dip and in stir-fries and marinades. The best brands come from Hong Kong, but you may find domestic brands right in your local supermarket. Once opened, the container should be refrigerated. If you can’t find oyster sauce but have some hoisin sauce, use that instead. It’s different but nice.
These brightly flavored spiced lamb burgers are best cooked over a charcoal or wood fire, but they can be seared instead in a cast-iron pan, or cooked under an oven broiler. Maxine, one of my testers, set off her smoke alarm broiling her burgers in the oven, though, so you might want to start up the grill.—Cindy Pawlcyn
For the tamarind vinaigrette
4 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
6 tablespoons olive oil
For the spiced lamb burgers
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 serrano or jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves
1/2 sweet onion, minced
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime (optional)
1 pound ground lamb
For the Vietnamese herb salad
2 scallions, white and light green parts only, cut into 1 1/2-inch julienne
2 Thai or serrano chiles, seeded and julienned
1/2 bunch basil, any kind, small leaves only
1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves only
1/4 bunch mint, small leaves only
1/2 bunch chives, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 bunch ancho cress or watercress, leaves only
1. To make the vinaigrette, combine the sugar and water in a small saute pan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tamarind and soy sauce, and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil. Reserve until needed.
2. To make the spiced lamb burgers, first combine the garlic, oyster sauce, chile, mint, cilantro, onion, and lime juice, if desired, in a large bowl and mix well. Then mix in the ground lamb meat, making sure everything is well combined. Divide the mixture into 6 equal parts, or 12 if you want to make mini patties.
3. Moisten your hands with water before forming the patties, as this makes it easier. Shape the patties with the palm of your hand more than your fingers, and make them flat but not too thin: 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick is ideal, otherwise the burgers will overcook before they caramelize nicely. Regular patties should be 2 to 3 inches in diameter, minis about 1 1/2 inches.
4. When you’re ready to serve, cook the lamb burgers to the desired doneness, about 1 1/2 minutes per side for rare, 2 minutes for medium.
5. Combine all the ingredients for the salad and toss it with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat. Serve the dish with the salad piled alongside or on top of the lamb patties and an extra drizzle of the vinaigrette over all.
Recipe © 2006 by Cindy Pawlcyn. All rights reserved.