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
Spiced Lamb Burgers with Vietnamese Salad
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 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Testers’ Reviews
These juicy, flavorful little lamb burgers were a big hit. We loved them with the salad (made with only one small chile) and tasty, though too sweet, vinaigrette. Perhaps, the sweetness of the vinaigrette would have been a better match if I had used the optional lime juice in the patties. The combination of flavors, a little minty, a little spicy, was just right for the lamb. I think these would also be great in a slightly larger size on a soft bun, with maybe a dollop of goat cheese on them. We will definitely be making these again.
I am not a huge fan of lamb, but these burgers had many flavors that I do like in them, which made me want to try them. I am glad that I did. They were incredible! The richness of the lamb flavor definitely came through but it melded very well with all the other flavor components. Although I thought the burgers were great on their own, the herb salad with the tamarind vinaigrette made them even better. The spicy and cool elements of the salad were nicely balanced by the sweetness of the vinaigrette and both added to the burgers without being a distraction.
This is the kind of food I love to serve and eat, visually stunning with a myriad of flavors playing off one another. I am always looking for new ways to use lamb. Not only is this novel, but it’s easy to do. I can see a beginning cook wowing her (or his!) friends and family with these burgers. Procuring the ingredients is the most time consuming of tasks. They would be perfect as the star of an alfresco summer party or a dose of welcome pizzazz during the gray and cold of winter. Brava Cindy, you’ve done it again.
Originally published May 06, 2006