Crave: Build a better burger

photo by: Lori Dunn/Mother Earth News

Some historians claim that hamburgers come from Germany. Others suggest the ancient Egyptians enjoyed beef patties. There’s also the story about the Mongols packing beef to travel and unwittingly inventing hamburgers because the meat was squashed from being packed so tightly beneath their riding gear. Several 19th-century Americans lay claim to the invention of the modern burger–one Tulsan even says he was the first to serve the round meat patty on a bun. But, according to John T. Edge’s book “Hamburgers & Fries,” “The history of proletarian dishes like hamburgers is rarely explained by a linear progression of events.” So perhaps many nations have a part in the history of the hamburger.

One thing is for certain–wherever the roots of the burger–Americans have been making the beef patties known as “hamburgers” their own for generations. Today, this includes a variety of options for ground meat, like turkey, and sometimes even vegetable products, such as soy, lentils, beans or mushrooms. Also, the best-built, tastiest burgers now often reflect the many cultures that make up the United States. Think Greek burgers, pizza burgers and Mexican burgers.

Because grilling or frying a burger is such a simple process, each part of the exercise is important–starting with selection of ingredients.

You can buy ground beef or turkey at most grocery stores, or you can grind it at home with a food processer–a time-consuming yet rewarding process. Ground beef at the grocers usually comes from one of three cuts: chuck, round or sirloin. Chuck is fattier than the others and so gives the most flavor. According to Bobby Flay, author of “Burgers, Fries and Shakes,” when checking for chuck, burger-lovers should look for 80 percent lean, 20 percent fat. Ground beef from round or sirloin tends to be leaner and so doesn’t offer the richest flavor. Fat equals flavor.

For even leaner burger meat, look for “ground turkey meat,” which is the ground muscle of the turkey without skin included. But “ground turkey” is ground whole muscle (no giblets) with attached fat and skin, and offers better flavor. Flay also recommends choosing the higher-fat ground turkey, marked 85 percent to 95 percent fat, for the best taste.

As far as cooking hamburgers, some people prefer a grill, others fry them in a cast-iron skillet or a nonstick pan on the stove. Countless types of charcoal, high-tech grills, special burger-making equipment and interesting hamburger spices are flooding the market. Whatever your preference on meat, cut, grill, skillet or charcoal, today’s burgers are a testament to the many cultures and tastes reflected in the patchwork of our American culture.

Greek Style Burgers

This burger was handed down to my friend Kristie Cross and is based on a recipe found in The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook. You can substitute beef for the turkey and get a juicier burger. Chicken can also be used for variation. “Either way, it’s delicious, and the Olive-Tomato Relish really adds flavor to it,” Kristie says.



1 egg white

1⁄3 cup fine dry wheat bread crumbs

1 tablespoon milk

1 envelope (0.7 ounce) Italian salad dressing mix, divided

1 pound uncooked ground turkey, chicken or beef

4 pita bread rounds, toasted, or 4 hamburger buns, split and toasted

1⁄2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Olive-Tomato Relish:

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup finely chopped tomato

1⁄4 cup finely chopped cucumber

1⁄4 cup finely chopped pitted kalamata or ripe olives


1. Beat egg white with whisk; stir in bread crumbs, milk and half of dry salad dressing mix. Add meat; mix well. (Reserve remaining half of dry salad dressing mix for Olive-Tomato Relish.)

2. Shape turkey mixture into four 3⁄4-inch-thick patties. Place patties on grill rack (or in pan) directly over medium heat; grill for 14 to 18 minutes, or until meat is done, turning once halfway through grilling or cooking.

3. Serve the burgers on pita bread rounds with Olive-Tomato Relish (optional) and feta cheese. Yields 4 servings.

4. For Olive-Tomato Relish: Stir together white wine vinegar, olive oil and remaining dry salad dressing mix. Stir in tomato, cucumber and olives. Yields about 1 1⁄3 cups.

Cacciatore Burgers on a Portobello Bun (or not)

My neighbor gave me this recipe, which is based on a Rachael Ray recipe. My neighbor prefers this burger with ground turkey and portobello mushrooms used as a bun, which is imaginative and delicious – but ground beef and hamburger buns work deliciously, as well.



1 1⁄3 pound ground beef or turkey

Salt and pepper

6 crimini mushrooms (baby portobellos), stems removed and finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1⁄2 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, smashed away from skin and finely chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1⁄2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Romano

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Portobello ‘Buns’:

4 large portobello mushroom caps, stems removed

Olive oil

Salt and black pepper

2 cups arugula leaves coarsely chopped, divided

1⁄2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Sliced red onion

Sliced fresh tomatoes


1. Heat oven to 450°F (for the mushrooms). Over medium-high heat, heat large nonstick skillet or fire up grill.

2. Combine meat, salt, pepper, mushrooms, bell pepper, onion, garlic, tomato paste, Worcestershire, crushed red pepper flakes, cheese and parsley.

3. Form meat into 4 large patties, 1-inch thick; score top. Drizzle extra-virgin olive oil on top, then fry or grill 5 or 6 minutes on each side.

4. For “buns”: Place portobello caps on small baking sheet, gill side up, and drizzle with olive oil. Roast caps 12 minutes. Remove from oven and season with salt and pepper. Turn oven off.

5. Top each cap with about 1⁄2 cup arugula and a burger. Cap burger with mozzarella and place back in still-warm oven. Melt cheese 1 minute. Transfer burgers on “bun” bottoms to plates. Top with onions and tomatoes and serve.

Vegetarian Portobello Burgers

Portobello mushrooms are an efficient and tasty way to please everybody in the family or at a party. Vegetarians can eat this mushroom as a burger, and meat-eaters love the mushroom on their meat patties. My friend Jennifer adapted this recipe from “Cook This, Not That! Kitchen Survival Guide.”


Red Pepper Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

Portobello caps

Olive oil

Balsamic vinegar

Italian seasoning, to taste

Salt and pepper

Mozzarella cheese slices

Red onion slices, optional

Hamburger buns, toasted

Mixed greens


1. Prepare Red Pepper Mayonnaise; set aside for flavors to blend.

2. Over medium-high heat, heat large nonstick skillet or fire up grill.

3. Rub portobello caps with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Grill 2 to 3 minutes, then flip. Immediately add cheese and grill until cheese melts. Grill some red onion slices to add to burger.

4. Each burger should have a bun, a handful of mixed greens, grilled onions, portobello and Red Pepper Mayonnaise.

Red Pepper Mayonnaise:

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1⁄2 cup mayonnaise

1⁄4 cup chopped roasted red peppers

1 clove garlic, crushed

Mix all ingredients well.


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