Laotian burger recipe

BH&T Laos burgerSpicy, Sour, Salty Pork Burger with Fresh Herbs
Laos is one of those countries about which travel writers love to write.  I read so many beautiful articles about Laos and Laotian food, that I was tempted to hop on a plane and take a trip.  Then my husband reminded me that traveling half way around the world with an 8 year old with Autism and a 4 year old that is…well…4, might not be fun.  On top of that, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are few and far between in that part of the world, so our oldest would probably starve.  But I digress.  Needless to say, we’re staying put.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

So, about Laos.  Laos is a landlocked Southeast Asian country that borders Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma and China.  Unlike its neighbors’, Laotian food hasn’t really caught on.  According to Zagat, New York City got its first Laotian restaurant in 2013 (although if you do a Yelp search, there are several Laotian/Thai restaurants).  At any rate, you certainly aren’t seeing any jeow bong, laap phet or khao niaw stands opening up in your local mall food court.  Part of this is because Laos was, until 1986, a one party communist state.  Since then, the government has been gradually decentralizing and encouraging privatization.  For the most part this has worked well and Laos has enjoyed fairly steady growth in their economy.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Unfortunately, that growth is off of a very low base, so much of the country is still pretty primitive in terms of infrastructure.  Also unfortunate is that as the country opened up, someone, or probably some ones, brought MSG to Laos.  “Modern” Laotian food is chock full of MSG.  Luckily, you don’t have to search too hard for “old fashioned” food minus the MSG.  Travel/Food writers have done this for us – there’s a particularly good article written by Emily Kaiser for Food and Wine that really brings the countryside to life and inspired many of the flavors I used to create this recipe.

By McKay Savage from London, UK via Wikimedia Commons

By McKay Savage from London, UK via Wikimedia Commons

So let’s get to it – what the heck does Laotian food taste like?  Much like Thai food, the food in Laos is about balance – balance of salty, sour, spicy, umami (earthy) and bitter.  Unlike some of their neighbors, sweet is not as important and doesn’t show up in savory cooking very much (or at least not in quantities that are noticeable).   According to a couple of the sources I discovered, the food of Laos often leans into the bitter and sour categories more than many other cuisines.  Since these are taste sensations that we don’t exploit much in the US, I thought we’d try them out and see how they suit.  The coconut lime sauce that I created is this odd combination of bitter, umami and salty, and on it’s own is overpowering (it could be the heavy use of fish sauce driving this), but, when you combine it with the fresh herbs and the spicy jeow bong sauce, then balance with some starchy stick rice and the light sweetness of pork…well, we were in heaven.

Sticky rice is critical for making this dish, and you may have to go to an Asian market to find it.  Don’t believe anything you read about making sticky rice with sushi rice or jasmine rice – you can’t create sticky rice with anything but sticky rice!

BH&T Laos glutinous riceAlso known as glutinous rice, it is a different creature entirely from the rice that we eat regularly.  Unlike sushi rice, you don’t add anything to glutinous rice to make it sticky, it’s sticky because it has more gluten in it than other kinds of rice.  You also prepare it by steaming rather than cooking in water.  When made correctly, you should be able to grab a handful and form it into a ball, then dip that ball in sauce and enjoy (that’s how they do it in Laos)!

One side note, Laotians don’t typically use chopsticks, they traditionally eat with their hands, using spoons for soup.  I just thought that was an interesting point of trivial knowledge and could find no elegant way to weave it into the story :)

Laotian food is not for the feint at heart when it comes to spice/heat.  Like Thai food, Laotian cuisine involves those scary hot Thai peppers, and lots of them.  Yes, you can use a milder pepper if you are not spice tolerant, but the flavors will change depending on the pepper.  I used a combination of peppers I could find locally – I was lucky enough to find fresh Thai peppers and combined those with Serrano and jalapeño.  If you can’t find fresh peppers, you can usually find dry Thai chilies, just start with a few and add more to taste – it’s easy to blow out your taste buds with this hot little suckers!

I find this burger difficult to describe because it is very different than food I’m used to eating.  The umami earthiness of the pork and the coconut lime sauce is at the center of the taste.  But the salty sourness of lime and fish sauce combination pulls your taste buds in a totally different direction.  Add the bitterness of the dandelion leaves and the fresh zing of herbs and this burger takes you to the brink of “oh man, that’s just too much going on”…but only to the brink.  You are saved from falling over the edge by the simple clean flavor of the sticky rice.  My husband (not for the first time, he’s a bit fickle in this respect) declared it “the best burger yet”.  And I even ate the burger I made for the picture the next day (plus made an extra one that Paul heated up and ate left-over and still declared amazing).  I would say that if you’ve been reading these recipes for a while, but haven’t made one, this is a great one to try – it really epitomizes what I’m trying to do here.  It’s as exotic as it gets, but still a burger, and man, I love burgers!

If you like this burger, I have no idea what other recipes you’ll like.  This one kind of stands alone.  Bhutan is another spicy hot burger, so you could try that or you could check out Bahrain for another burger that celebrates herbs in all their glory.  Neither one is really very similar to this one, but they are both excellent and memorable (IMHO).

Laos Burger
1 pound ground pork
Sticky rice (recipe below)
2 cups chopped dandelion greens (or other bitter greens)
Coconut Lime Sauce (recipe below)
Jeow Bong Sauce (recipe below)
Fresh Herbs (recipe below)

Separate ground pork into four portions.  Form patties and fry until cooked through.  Form four balls from the sticky rice then flatten into discs.  To serve, place the sticky rice discs on each plate, then layer a generous portion of bitter greens (I used dandelion, but you could use beet, collard or chard).  Top the greens with a generous scoop of Coconut Lime Sauce, add the cooked patties, a tablespoon (or more if you like it hot) of Jeow Bong Sauce.  Finish it off with Fresh Herbs.

Note – I didn’t season the pork because the Coconut Lime Sauce is quite salty, you really don’t need to directly season the meat.

Sticky Rice
2 cups glutinous rice

Place the rice in a glass bowl and completely cover with cold water.  Soak the rice for at least 10 hours.  Drain the water off the rice, place rice in cheese cloth then steam the rice for 20 minutes.  Let the rice cool to luke warm before using.

BH&T Laos sticky rice

Coconut Lime Sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
Juice of 3 limes
5” of lemon grass grated
12 ounces coconut milk
½ teaspoon dry Thai basil
¼ cup glutinous rice

Combine first 5 ingredients in a small saucepan.  In a dry pan, toast the rice over medium heat until just beginning to color.  Grind the rice into a find powder.  Cook the sauce over medium heat for 5 minutes then whisk in 2 Tablespoons of the rice powder.  Cook until thick.

Jeow Bong Sauce
13 fresh Thai chilies chopped
2 Serrano chilies chopped
2 Tablespoons chopped jalapenos
4 large garlic cloves sliced
2 large shallots chopped
Vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon ground galangal
1“ piece of fresh ginger chopped

Toast the chilies in a non-stick pan over medium heat until just beginning to color.  Fry the garlic and shallots in a small amount of oil until soft and lightly browned.

Put all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until it forms a paste.  Return the mixture to the dry pan and cook over medium low until it’s a rich brown color.

BH&T Laos Jeow bong sauce

Fresh Herbs
½ cup fresh dill
½ cup fresh mint
¼ cup fresh cilantro
¼ cup fresh watercress

Chop all of the herbs and toss them together.  You can adjust the herbs if you have strong preferences for a particular herb.

BH&T Laos fresh herbs


©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach



Posted in asian recipes, burger recipes, pork burgers, south asian recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kyrgyzstani burger recipe

BH&T Kyrgyzstani burgerBeef Burger with Pickled Vegetables, Sour Cream and Homemade Rolls

And now we’re back to a land where horsemeat is common on the dinner plate! Again let me reassure you that: A-I’m not going to make a burger out of horse meat (pretty sure it would be really difficult to find a legitimate source in Boston), and B-the horses used for food in Kyrgyzstan are raised, much the same we raise cattle here. Nobody is shooting My Little Pony in the street, so let’s back up. We’re here in the Kyrgyz Republic, or Kyrgyzstan.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

The Kyrgyz Republic is located in Central Asia bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China. It is a former Soviet republic. It is mountainous and beautiful, poor and troubled.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

By Vitaliknyc (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

By Vitaliknyc (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Kyrgyz history goes back to around 200 B.C., and it travels from Mongolia through Northern and Central Asia. The Kyrgyz fought Russian control with one particularly nasty revolt resulting in the death of 1/6 of the Kyrgyz population in 1916. Once the Soviet Union dissolved, Kyrgyzstan entered a period of government corruption, mismanagement and ethnic conflict.

What they do have in the Kyrgyz Republic is a rich tradition hospitality and a love of food. The food of Kyrgyzstan is not fancy; it’s based on meat and dairy. And one thing I love is that they love good bread, all different kinds of bread. Because of the poor growing conditions and the lack of infrastructure (like a reliable power grid), they often pickle vegetables and use soured milk products rather than more perishable ones. It was easy to develop a burger recipe around these traditions.

This was the perfect opportunity to grind my own meat. I’ve been hearing a lot about using short ribs in a burger so I grabbed some boneless short ribs and a little bit of sirloin and mixed them with garlic to make a basic but flavor filled patty. By grinding the garlic in with the meat, you get the taste of garlic through each bite. I combined this flavorful patty with a home made roll stuffed with grilled onions. This tradition of stuffed breads is one of my favorites; it brings flavor to every bite and is worth the effort of making your own bread (this from a woman who hates baking!).

Pickling the vegetable is easy – I tried using different vinegars, white wine and cider, but I’m not sure it made a huge difference, so use what you have. It would only be noticeable if you used a super flavorful vinegar like sherry vinegar or balsamic – just use a wine or cider vinegar and you’ll be happy with the results. Lastly I used some labne. Labne, in terms of flavor and texture, is a cross between a cream cheese and sour cream or yogurt. If you can’t find it, I’ve also used quark and Vermont Creamery makes a Fromage Blanc that has a similar flavor. If none of those were available, I’d go with sour cream. I think yogurt is just a little sharp and overpowering for such a simple burger.

The result of all of this is a beef and garlic lover’s burger. Make sure you don’t skimp on salt and enjoy the pure taste of beef. If this sounds good to you, you should also try the Argentina burger – it is another celebration of meat with a different flavor accent. Enjoy.

Kyrgyz Burger
2/3 pound sirloin tips
1 pound boneless beef short ribs (excess fat trimmed)
3 cloves garlic
Kosher salt
4 Kyrgyz rolls (recipe below) (you can substitute ciabatta)
6-8 Tablespoons Labne
Pickled red pepper (recipe below)
Pickled carrots (recipe below)

Cut the meat into 1-2 inch cubes and place in freezer for 30 minutes. Smash the garlic cloves and add to the meat. Grind the meat along with the garlic on the smallest setting and form 4 patties. Generously salt and pepper each patty. Fry the patties in a cast iron skillet to desired temperature (depending on the fat content of your meat blend, you may want to add a little oil to the pan, my ribs had enough fat that I didn’t need to add more).

To assemble the burgers, slice each roll in half and spread a liberal amount of labne on each. Add pickled red pepper slices, the cooked patties then the pickled carrots. Top with the other half of the roll.

Kyrgyz Rolls
1 cup tepid water
1½ Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons yeast
3 cups flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1 onion, halved and sliced thin
Vegetable oil

Combine the water, sugar and yeast and let sit until it begins to foam. In a separate bowl, combine flour and salt. Pour the yeast mixture into the flour mixture and mix until it forms a dough ball (you can add more flour if it’s too sticky or more water if it’s too dry). Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Place the dough in an oiled glass bowl and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting, fry the onions in a cast iron pan with vegetable oil until the onions are golden. Portion the dough into balls then flatten each roll and put a scoop of cooked onions on each disc. Fold the dough over the onions and make into a ball again. Then flatten the roll to about ¼-½ inch thick.

BH&T Kyrgyzstan bread1

Heat ¼ inch of vegetable oil in cast iron skillet until shimmering. Place the dough discs into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, then flip it over and fry the other side until it’s a nice toasty brown. Place on paper towel until ready to use

BH&T Kyrgyzstan bread2

BH&T Kyrgyzstan bread4

BH&T Kyrgyzstan bread5

Pickled Red Peppers
1 red pepper sliced thin
Cider vinegar

Placed the sliced red pepper in a glass jar then cover with vinegar. Cover and let sit for at least an hour before using.

Pickled Carrots
1 carrot sliced thin (use a mandoline)
White wine vinegar
½ teaspoon whole pepper corns

Place carrots in a glass jar then add vinegar to cover and peppercorns. Stir or shake to make sure each carrot slice gets coated. Cover and let sit for at least an hour before using.

BH&T Kyrgyzstan pickled carrots

Note: both pickle recipes will make more than you need. I suggest you use the left over in a nice cole slaw. I try not to make recipes that use half of a vegetable, so you can, of course, just use half a carrot and half a red pepper and make less.

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach

Posted in burger recipes | 2 Comments

Kuwaiti burger recipe

BH&T Kuwait Burger RecipeSpiced Lamb Burger with Tomato Sauce, Grilled Onions & Labne
Our next stop on this culinary journey is Kuwait.  Kuwait is located in the Middle East bordering Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf.  The culinary traditions of Kuwait are rich with flavor inspirations and it was easy to develop an amazing burger recipe to represent this country.  What’s proven more difficult has been developing a story to tell you, finding something compelling and novel to talk about has been the challenge here.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

It isn’t that Kuwait doesn’t have an interesting history, it does – we could go back all the way to when this land was part of Mesopotamia.  We could talk about the Dilmun civilization, the Babylonians, the Portuguese or even the British – but you can read all of that on Wikipedia, and frankly it reminds me of the uninspired history classes of my youth.

By Mikael Lindmark (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

By Mikael Lindmark (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I could talk to you the fact that Kuwait is more supportive of women’s rights than many Middle Eastern countries and has greater GDP per capita than Germany or Japan (and France, Netherlands and UK), but these facts are a bit dry and don’t really tell the whole story.  There’s also the problem of almost half the population (mostly Bedouins) not having full “citizen” status, but this gets really complicated by the influx of displaced people from around the region all wanting to claim citizen rights and at the end of the day, it’s a bit of a muddy mess.

I suppose that if I were a more talented writer, I could bring this story to life and mesmerize you with the details from 6500 B.C. to modern day, but I’m not.  Beside which, I have a cold, my youngest daughter has a cold, and I’m way to tired to put forth that kind of effort.  So let’s find some lower hanging fruit.  Let’s talk about the food – ummm, the food.

Kuwait is well known for hospitality and generosity and the food is what we would call comfort food.  Rich sauces and stews, lots of spices (not hot spices, but deep and sensuous spices like cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and sumac).  Fruits and nuts with dessert spices combine with onions and garlic and the marriage is lovely.

Machboos is a traditional rice dish made with this kind of balance of sweet and savory and I’ve created my simplistic version for this burger.  There’s also a dish call Duqoos that is based on a richly seasoned tomato sauce – makes a great substitute for ketchup.  Add some labne (a Middle Eastern cheese that is closer to yogurt than what we think of cheese in the States) and grilled onions and you have a messy but delicious treat.

Kuwait has a big burger culture.  Kuwait City has an enormous number of burger restaurants; they even have a place called the Diner that serves a ramen burger.  What they don’t have is a quintessentially Kuwaiti burger.  They enjoy burgers from International chains like Smashburger and Shake Shack.  What most of these restaurants in Kuwait City have in common is a variety of toppings and choices. So that’s what we have here, a burger with lots of toppings, lots of flavor, lots of mess.  It looks like an American burger, but has the distinctive taste of great Middle Eastern food; I’m getting hungry again just writing about it!

If you like this burger, you’ll probably like the Columbian or the Australian burger – each has lots of toppings that marry together to make extraordinary taste, both would probably sell well in Kuwait City.

Kuwait Burger Recipe
1lb ground lamb
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Kuwaiti Spice Mixture (recipe below)
4 hamburger buns
Seasoned Rice (recipe below)
Labne (or Greek yogurt)
Tomato Sauce (recipe below)
Grilled Onions (recipe below)
Spiced Mayonnaise (recipe below)

Combine lamb, salt and spice mixture.  Make 4 patties and grilled until cooked to desired temperature.  To serve, start with the bottom of the bun; layer on some watercress and a scoop of Seasoned Rice.  Add a Tablespoon or so of labne then place the cooked patty.  Now add a scoop of tomato sauce and some grilled onions.  Spread Spiced Mayonnaise on the top bun and finish it off.

Kuwaiti Spice Mixture
2 dried limes (crushed)
1 cinnamon stick (crushed)
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
8 whole cardamom pods

Heat spices in a dry pan over medium heat until fragrant (about 3 minutes).  Let cool slightly then grind in a coffee or spice grinder.

Seasoned Rice
1 cinnamon stick
6 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
1½ cups Basmati rice
3 cups lamb stock (can substitute beef stock)
Pinch saffron
1 medium onion diced
Olive oil
1/8 cup golden raisins
1/8 cup pistachios

Tie the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves in cheese cloth.  Cook the rice with the spices in cheese cloth in the lamb broth.  While this is cooking crush the saffron in 2 Tablespoons of hot water and dissolve the saffron.  In a medium sauté pan, heat the olive oil and cook the onions for about 10 minutes over medium heat.  Add the other ingredients including the saffron and the cooked rice (discard the spices in cheese cloth) and cook 5 minutes.  Adjust salt to taste.

BH&T Kuwait Seasoned Rice

Tomato Sauce
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic minced
2 large tomatoes diced
2 Tablespoons tomato paste

Heat oil in a medium saucepan and add garlic.  Cook until softened over a low heat.  Add the other ingredients and cook for about 15 minutes over medium heat.

BH&T Kuwait Tomato Sauce

Grilled Onions
Olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced

In a medium non-stick skillet, heat the oil until shimmering.  Add the onion and stir to coat.  Turn the heat down to medium and stir regularly so that the onions don’t burn.

Spiced Mayonnaise
½ cup mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon Kuwaiti Spice Mixture
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Kosher salt (to taste)

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach


Posted in lamb burgers, middle eastern recipes | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kiribati burger recipe

BH&T Kiribati burger recipeCurried Fish Cakes with Papaya & Sweet Potato Curry Sauce
The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is an unusual place.  It consists of 33 islands, 32 of which are atolls (an atoll is a ring shaped coral reef) about 4,000 km southwest of Hawaii.  Twenty-one of the islands are inhabited and the total land mass is 811 square kilometers.  Home to over one hundred thousand people, Kiribati is a country in crisis.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Several problems plague the islands, first there is the problem of climate change – between unusually bad storms and rising ocean levels, there are many on Kiribati who believe their country will quite literally disappear in the next 30-60 years.  While many argue the details of the timeline, it is clear that climate change is adversely affecting this group of islands.



The largest island is Tarawa Island; it is home to fifty one thousand people on only 35 kilometers of coral.  The inhabitable land is about 10 square kilometers.  The resulting population density of about 5,200 people per square kilometer is about equal to the population density of London.  In the commercial sector, the population density is estimated to be about three times that of Tokyo.  Rising ocean levels are affecting the water lens in Tarawa – this is a shallow underground bubble that collects rainwater and is the primary fresh water source for the Island.  In addition to the rising ocean levels, the overcrowding has led to people living in restricted areas, too close to the water supply.  Contamination of water supply is a huge problem, and several smaller islands have completely lost access to fresh water.

The result of all of this is that the current President has called for “migration with dignity” – basically a plea to other countries to open their doors to the people of Kiribati and allow them to flee the sinking ship (my words, not his).  So, for now life on the islands is a bit precarious, but how’s the food?

Here’s the thing, when you live on a coral reef, not much grows.  But you do get lots of fish – so fish was a no brainer in designing a burger to represent Kiribati cuisine.  I was looking for a white fish and tried both mahi mahi and cod.  The mahi mahi was better; it melded with the flavors of the curry and gave a little bit of a meatier texture to the fish cake.  Curries are popular in Kiribati – probably because they are so versatile and work with whatever food you can find and, when much of your food is imported, you can’t always be certain what’s on the boat.

Breadfruit, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and papaya are staples in the Kiribati diet and I longed to try breadfruit for this recipe.  Unfortunately, Boston in winter is not the place to find breadfruit – there is a Latin grocery store nearby that I’ve heard sometimes carries breadfruit, but they were fresh out when I visited.  So I stuck with rice and a nice sweet potato (batatas) and papaya curry.  I topped the burger with some lovely tomatoes and pumpkin seeds.

The resulting burger was like a warm winter squash soup with a sweet fish cake – overall sweet flavors with a hint of acid from the tomatoes and a little crunch from the pepitas.  I’m not the biggest fan of fishcakes, but this project is starting to turn me around – this dish is homey and yummy and surprisingly perfect for a cold winter’s day in Boston.  I have no idea if it would be familiar to a Kiribati native, but my family loved it.

If you like this burger, try my Fiji burger – it is lighter and more tropical fish cake, less surprising than Kiribati, but equally delicious.

Kiribati Burger Recipe
¾ pound mahi mahi
Coconut oil
Kosher salt
1 cup Batata Mash (recipe below)
1 teaspoon Curry Sauce (recipe below)
1 egg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Peanut oil
2 cups cooked rice
Curry Sauce (recipe below)
2 tomatoes sliced
Unsweetened coconut flakes

Salt and pepper the mahi mahi and cook in coconut oil until fish is just cooked through.  Let the fish cool and flake it then combine with Batata Mash, Curry Sauce, egg and salt.  Mix together until well combine (be gentle with the fish though so you don’t lose the texture).

Form four patties and place on wax paper.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes (this helps set the fish cake).  Heat about ¼ inch of peanut oil in a non-stick pan until shimmering, then fry the fish cakes until brown on both sides and heated through.

To serve, scoop ½ cup of rice on each plate then add a generous scoop of Curry Sauce on each.  Add the cooked fish patties then top with slices of tomato, pepitas and a sprinkling of coconut.

Batata Mash
2 Batatas diced
2 Tablespoon of butter
2 Tablespoons unsweetened coconut

Boil the batatas until soft.  Drain and mash the batatas with the butter and coconut.

Curry Sauce
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
1 small onion chopped
1 clove of garlic crushed
½ fresh papaya chopped
14 ounce can of hearts of palm drained and chopped
4 teaspoons curry powder
13.5 ounce coconut milk
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon honey

Heat the coconut oil in a medium sauté pan until melted.  Add onions and garlic and cook over med/low until onions are soft (about 10 minutes).  Add papaya, hearts of palm and curry powder.  Cover, turn up to medium and cook 10 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients, try it and adjust to your taste.  Cook about 10 minutes.  Pulse in a blender until smooth.  Adjust to taste.

BH&T Kiribati curry sauce

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach

Posted in australian and oceania recipes, burger recipes, fish burgers | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kenyan burger recipe

BH&T Kenyan burger recipeDouble Cheese Burger with Curried Sauce & Masala Fries
My lovely husband commented that the last couple of blog posts haven’t shared much about the countries themselves, they’ve been primarily food focused. Since he’s a pointy-headed geography and history buff, I took this as a criticism and will do my best to make up for my past failings with a discussion of Kenya.

Kenya is an Eastern African country located along the Indian Ocean and bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Southern Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. It is home to 44 million people making it the 32nd most populous country in the world. It has been Eastern Africa’s largest economy for a long time, but that standing has been less certain in the last 30 years as the country has been rocked by government corruption and damaged by low investment in infrastructure.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Kenya was part of the British Empire starting in the late 1800’s. Jomo Kenyatta led the movement toward independence. In 1963 Kenya became independent and Jomo Kenyatta became her first president. When he died in 1978, Daniel Moi took over through a constitutional succession and real elections weren’t held until 1992. Elections that were fraught with violence and fraud in 1992 and 1997 kept Moi in power. Kenya finally had peaceful elections in 2002 and a new party came in to power on an ant-corruption platform (I’ll skip all the party details, feel free to read up on CIA World Fact book if you’re interested). This didn’t last long, 3 years later the party splintered, allegations of vote rigging in the 2007 election led to violence that left 1,500 people dead. Finally the UN stepped in and helped build a new governing system with a new constitution overwhelmingly approved in 2010 by Kenyans.

By Daryona (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

By Daryona (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The first Presidential elections under the new constitution were held in 2013 and Uhuru Kenyatta won. If you’re paying attention, the name should be familiar, he’s the son of Jomo Kenyatta, the first President. Kenyatta is now tasked with bringing Kenya around, eradicating corruption and building up the infrastructure to support Kenya’s large population. With current unemployment around 40%, this is no small task. The good news is that oil was recently discovered in Kenya, so if that can be developed, that should make a positive impact on the overall situation.

By Mkimemia at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia), from Wikimedia Commons

By Mkimemia at en.wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia), from Wikimedia Commons

You can’t really talk about Kenya without talking about safaris. Kenya is a top tourist destination for viewing incredible wildlife. It’s on my personal bucket list and also made National Geographic’s list of top 30 Suggested Family Trips. There are tons of websites if you want to learn more about the natural wonders of Kenya, here’s a link to Kenya Wildlife Service

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

The food of Kenya is influenced by the diverse population. No one ethnic group makes up more than 22% of the total population and CIA World Fact book lists 5 different groups with more than 10% of the population. And, of course, there’s the British influence. Not only did the Brits bring their own food traditions, they also furthered the spread of other influences from within the Empire, most importantly food and flavors from the Indian subcontinent. Indian flavors are everywhere in Kenya and curries and samosas are particularly popular.

As I was researching the flavors of Kenya I found lots of vegetable stews and diverse starches along with many Indian sounding curries and spices. I was looking forward to creating a burger with some stewed greens and garam masala, it was sounding pretty good, then I happen to come across several references to Burger Hut in Nairobi. According to the reports Burger Hut makes the best burger in Kenya, and the pictures look delicious. It is yet another riff on the Big Mac, the big difference here is a little bit of curry flavor to spice up the basic pink sauce. The other important element here is Masala Fries – they’re awesome! Who would have thought that tossing some fries in butter, tomato paste, lemon juice and spices would make for such a yummy dish. The fries are messy, but worth it.

So at the end of the day we got a double cheeseburger with a curried sauce and a fried egg on top – stupendous! You’ll need about twelve napkins, but that’s half the fun. The key here is curry, that makes it distinct, but it you like this, you’ll probably love the Australian burger (fried egg and pickled beets) and the Columbian burger (pink sauce and pineapple sauce with potato chips on top). Enjoy!

Kenyan Burger
1¼ ground beef
½ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Olive Oil
Cheddar cheese
Leaf lettuce
Sliced tomatoes
4 soft hamburger buns, unsliced
Curried Pink Sauce (recipe below)
4 fried eggs
Masala Fries (recipe below)

Combine the meat, onion powder salt and pepper. Form eight thin patties. Heat olive oil in s non-stick skillet. Fry patties – add cheese after you turn them over and cover to melt the cheese. In the meantime, slice the buns into three pieces. If you can’t find unsliced buns (I couldn’t), just cut a thin slice off the thickest half. Lightly oil a non-stick skillet and grill the buns (grill both sides of the middle slice) until just lightly browned.

To serve, start with the bottom bun, add lettuce, tomato, one grilled patty, the middle slice of bun, a scoop of Curried Pink Sauce then the next patty, the fried egg and another scoop of the sauce. Top with the final bun and enjoy with a side of Masala Fries.

Curried Pink Sauce
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup ketchup
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
Kosher salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

BH&T Kenya Curried Pink Sauce

Masala Fries
2 Tablespoons butter
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 teaspoon paprika
¼ teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Cooked French fries (I used a 24 oz bag of frozen fries and just baked them to save on calories)

In a small sauce pan and melt butter, add the other ingredients (except the fries) and cook for about 2 minutes until fragrant. Toss the fries in the sauce and serve immediately.

BH&T Kenya Masala Fries

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach

Posted in african recipes, beef burgers, what's it made of? | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kazakhstani burger recipe

BH&T Kazakhstan burger recipeLamb and Marinated Beef Burger on Fried Noodle Cake

I have a good sense of humor, I think…  Would you really know if you didn’t have a good sense of humor, perhaps we all think we have it, but really we don’t?  Regardless, I like to laugh and have been known make others laugh.  Despite this, I do not like humor that puts people in uncomfortable situations then mocks them.  So I really disliked the movie Borat.  Don’t start defending it, the movie is just rude.  Some of the people mocked are bigots, but many are just trying to be polite.  And the portrayal of Kazakhstanis as backward  and unsophisticated peasant people managed to insult an entire country – pissed them off too.  I’m just glad Sasha Baron Cohen isn’t from the US, he’s British, so blame England :)

So I really wanted to write a nice summary of Kazakhstan.  I wanted to show the sophisticated, civilized side to this country and to make up a little for Borat.  Let’s give it a try.  Kazakhstan is a Central Asian country bordering Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.  It is the largest of the former Soviet republics (other than Russia of course).

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Kazakstanis have large mineral and oil reserves and a big agricultural sector.  That being said, the global economic crisis hit Kazakhstan pretty hard and the country is just started turning around over the last three years.  The government is investing to improve infrastructure including roads and electrical grids, and as you can see below, there’s plenty of Kazakhstanis living a modern lifestyle.



Food traditions are incredibly important in Kazakhstan (like in so many places).  Now some of these might sound odd, but don’t go all Borat on me, give it a chance.  If you were invited to a special dinner in Kazakhstan, you might find that you are served a roasted goat’s head – don’t panic!  The head will be placed in front of you as the guest, but you aren’t expected to eat the whole thing.  The honored guest should take a small slice off the head then pass it on to the elder of the table.

The elder will then serve the goat.  He’ll serve pieces of the goat to each person at the table.  The interesting part is that he’ll served particular parts of the head depending on what each person needs – the children usually get a piece of the ears as they need to listen better, it goes on from there.  I can’t remember the meaning behind each part, but each has a specific importance.  You won’t have to eat a lot; the main dish will be something else.

What it will likely be is horsemeat, yes, horse.  Now don’t get all worked up, they raise horses just like we raise cattle.  The horses for eating are plump and don’t look anything like horses raised for riding.  I’ve read that the meat tastes pretty much like meat, nothing gross, a little like a sweeter version of beef.  I did not use horse, don’t worry.  I combined lamb and beef that was marinated in sour milk – the flavor was lovely – who knows if it was anything like horse, it was tasty.  Meat and sour milk are a popular combination in Kazakhstan and letting the beef marinate in the milk gave it a softer and juicier texture.

One of the popular dishes is called Besparmak – it’s horsemeat stewed in sour milk and served over noodles.  Since I had the meat and sour milk covered, I thought it would be fun to make a noodle cake for the starch.  The problem is that wide noodles don’t hold together in a nice pretty circle, but since they taste like yummy fried noodles, you’ll find you don’t care.  Add some caramelized onion and some pickled beets and carrots and the flavor is better than the sum of its parts.  The balance of the acidic vegetables and the meaty patty is perfect with the crispy noodle cakes.  This was one where I longed for seconds!  Paul and I both ate this burger again the next day when I did the picture version.  It has a rich and succulent flavor, sure to please even your pickiest eaters.  And hopefully this burger will give you a new view on Kazakhstan – a land of hospitality and lots of yummy meat.

If you like this burger, try the Estonia Burger, it’s another meat filled burger with tangy over tones.

Kazakhstan Burger
1 cup milk
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pound sirloin cut into chunks
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ pound ground lamb
¼ cup minced onions
Oil for cooking (olive or peanut is fine)
4 Noodle Cakes (recipe below)
Sautéed Onions (recipe below)
Carrot and Beet Salad (recipe below – make ahead about 3 hours)
6 Tablespoons Sour Cream

Combine the milk and lemon juice.  Place the beef in a glass bowl and add the sour milk mixture.  Cover and refrigerate for 1-3 hours.  Drain the beef and grind on the finest setting.  Add salt, lamb and onions and mix it with your hands to completely combine.  Try not to over work it though.  Form 4 patties.  Grill in a non-stick pan to desired temperature.

To serve, place a noodle cake on each plate, add Sautéed Onions, cooked patties then top with the Carrot and Beet Salad and 1½ Tablespoons of sour cream.

Noodle Cakes
7 ounces pappardelle cooked and drained (not rinsed)
4 Tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Peanut oil

Combine the noodles, butter, salt and pepper while noodles are still hot.   Portion the noodles into 4 portions.  Do your best to form 4 circles out of the noodles.  Place the circles on wax paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes (you can skip the refrigeration part if you want, it just helps hold the noodle cake together better).  Heat 1/8 inch of peanut oil in a heavy frying pan.  When oil is hot but not smoking, add the cakes and fry each side until it is crispy and golden.

BH&T Kazakhstan Noodle Cake

Sautéed Onions
1 large onion
4 Tablespoons butter

Cut the onion in half then slice it into thin slices (about ¼ inch).  Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat until melted then, when the foam subsides, add the onions.  Cover and turn the heat to low.  Cook for 20 minutes until soft.

Beet and Carrot Salad
2 carrots grated
1 large beet grated
1 Tablespoon pickling spice (wrapped in cheesecloth)
2/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar

Add all ingredients into a glass bowl.  Cover and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

BH&T Kazakhstan Beet&Carrot Salad

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach

Posted in beef burgers, lamb burgers | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Jordanian burger recipe

BH&T Jordanian burger recipeLamb burger with Za’atar seasoning, warm garlic yoghurt sauce and ful medames
Creating a Jordanian burger has taken a ridiculous amount of time.  Luckily it was totally worth it and the warm garlic yoghurt sauce is a revelation.  Big claim, I know, but I would eat this sauce on anything (ok, not anything, ice cream would be gross, but you get the idea), and die happy reeking of garlic.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, why did it take so long you ask?  Well, let’s begin at the beginning…

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Jordan is a Middle Eastern country bordering Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Israel.  It is a land rich in history and food traditions.  Like so many of the Middle Eastern countries we’ve explored, food is a critical part of hospitality and hospitality plays a major role in the culture of the Jordanian people.  Jordanians will say that if you don’t gain weight during a visit to their country, they haven’t done their jobs – sounds like holidays with my mom :)  They are especially fond of sweets and you can apparently get all sorts of pastries dripping in sweet syrups at street stands in the cities.  I keep imagining the smell you get at a carnival near the elephant ear stand, fried dough and sugar, it really brings us together.

By DuiMDog (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

By DuiMDog (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Sweets however, do not help me build a burger recipe – a sweet, sugary pastry is not my idea of an accompaniment to meat (I know that several crazy American restaurants have used doughnuts to form burger buns, but much like the burger between two grilled cheese sandwiches, I find the idea disgusting and insane in light of the heart disease and obesity issues we have in this country, not to mention the people all over the world who don’t have enough while we overindulge in so many calories it’s killing us, don’t get me started…).  So I had to move on from all the luscious sweets and into the savory to find inspiration.

Amman City Scape - By David Bjorgen (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Amman City Scape – By David Bjorgen (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Which led me to the Bedouins.  Bedouins comprise around 35% of the Jordanian population.  The word Bedouin translates to “inhabitants of the desert” and refers to nomadic tribe across the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa.  There are Bedouin tribes in Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Morocco, Sudan, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya.  Many Bedouin have become only semi-nomadic and have settled homes that they return to for part of the year, but many still travel as a way of life.  It’s difficult to get a good headcount when dealing with nomadic people, but one estimate I saw was that there are 4million Bedouin in the Middle East and Africa today.

Although ethnically Arabic, the Bedouin are considered different, in fact some Arabs think of the Bedouin as the “ideal Arab” because they live a traditional life and herd animals, have strong honor codes and rich oral poetic traditions.  The tribal life has led to strong cultures within and across tribes and Bedouin are generally considered more Bedouin than Jordanian, Israeli, Saudi, etc….  When I mentioned that I was working on my Jordanian burger recipe to an Israeli friend of mine, she made one of those dismissive non-verbal sounds that so many cultures excel at that indicated she had no interest.  When I told her I was basing off Bedouin foods, she said, “oh, well that’s different, that’s not Jordanian.”

Luckily for me, it isn’t really different in this case because the national dish of Jordan, the dish that everyone says you must try when you visit, is a Bedouin dish called mansaf.  Mansaf has moved in from the deserts and is made everywhere in the country.  After tasting it, I understand why.  I’m lucky enough to live near a city with abundant culinary opportunities, including take-out mansaf!  Since mansaf is made with dehydrated, fermented yogurt (called jameed), and jameed is tough to find in Boston, I decided I should try the dish from a local restaurant and see what it tasted like before I attempted to use it as inspiration.  So we ordered mansaf and lots of other goodies and gorged on yummy Middle Eastern food – a great way to get inspiration in my book.  Mansaf is goat or lamb (sometimes chicken) cooked slowly in a yogurt sauce with onions and garlic.  It is traditionally served on saffron rice that is layered over pita bread with the yogurt sauce on the side for dipping.  It is eaten with your hand (right hand only please), and is messy, very messy.  We loved the mansaf from our local spot – it was tangy and more flavorful than I imagined.  It was served with a garlicky yogurt sauce to which I instantly became addicted.

But I wasn’t satisfied, I really wanted to find jameed and make the traditional sauce to taste it myself, so I searched for an Arabic grocery store, and searched, and searched…  We have a lot of Indian, Armenian, Chinese and Latin stores, but not so many Arabic stores.  I checked 3 Armenian stores, no luck – well that’s not totally true, I did find Jordanian za’atar at one and they carried something they call jameed, but it was a liquid soup started rather than a dry powder, so I don’t think it translates.  I bought some anyway and tried it – very sour with an odd processed taste, I didn’t like it.   A friend who lives next to an Arabic grocery store in the South End was kind enough to stop by one day and found me the elusive jameed (thank you Deepan).

So I was able to try to make mansaf myself.  I’ve got to say, the fermented, dehydrated yogurt must be an acquired taste.  The yeasty, fermented flavor was overpowering to me and I didn’t love it.  Perhaps I just didn’t do it right, and my jameed was a powder not a hard ball, so let’s just blame those factors and assume that the real mansaf is more like the restaurant version.  Luckily, I’m looking for inspiration, not authentic traditional recipes – inspiration is easier :)

So, after a couple months of research and trial and error, it was time to knuckle down and figure out how the flavors we experienced could come together in a burger.  Ground lamb for the patty was obvious, rice and pita was an easy base.  I added za’atar seasoning to the lamb – za’atar is a seasoning blend typical to this part of the world, but varies somewhat from country to country and home to home.  The basics are sesame seeds and thyme, which sounds simple until you read more and discover that the thyme used here isn’t the same as the French thyme that I typically use, it’s closer to oregano than to the European or American versions of thyme.  Sumac is also added to most blends to give a little citrus tang.  I bought a blend from an American company (Penzey’s, my favorite spice company), and two blends from the Armenian store.  One blend was actually made in Jordan.  We tasted all three (just blended them with olive oil and dipped bread into the spice mix), and we liked the Jordanian blend the best, so that’s what we went with, but all of the choices were tasty.  You could also make your own, but I would use oregano rather than thyme.

I realized I could easily make a yogurt sauce with onion and garlic, you wouldn’t get the meat flavoring that you get when you cook the meat in the sauce, but that’s ok.  But the sauce is pretty runny and I wanted something to give the dish more body.  So I added ful medames – this is a popular Middle Eastern dish made with fava beans.  It’s a mash of fava beans, garlic and spices with a little lemon for balance.  My last step was olive oil.  Jordanians are very proud of their locally produced olive oil and many say it has a distinctive taste.  Alas, I don’t know if this is true.  While searching for jameed, I searched Jordanian olive oil.   No luck, the closest I could find was Lebanese olive oil, and lots of Italian options.  So I purchased the Lebanese oil and it tasted, to my palate, exactly like the Italian olive oil I cook with every day.  So I used it, but I don’t recommend you search it out.  If you can find Jordanian olive oil, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how it compares, otherwise, just use Italian EVOO.

So, at the end of the day, we got a burger with that sweet and herby lamb patty, covered in rich ful medames and coated with the slightly sour, extremely garlicky, totally awesome yogurt sauce, and life was good.  I’ll admit, I ate the photo version the next day (I don’t usually indulge in two burgers in one week), and I dipped bread in the yogurt sauce and finished it off after everyone went to bed the next night.  I have since made chicken in the yogurt sauce and it works really well – tart and savory and the yogurt gives a nice tender texture to the chicken.  This recipe has become a part of the way we eat; I hope you love it as much as we do.  I can’t cook for you, so sharing my recipes is my version of hospitality – enjoy!

If you like this burger you should check out my Bahrainian burger, it’s a little bit lighter yet still has great Middle Eastern flavors.   Also, if you want to know more about mansaf, here’s a link to a great article about mansaf (this is not the recipe I tried, so perhaps hers would be better)

Jordanian Burger
1 pound ground lamb
2 Tablespoons yoghurt (preferably full fat, Middle Eastern yoghurt)
2 Tablespoons za’atar (available online or at specialty markets)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large pita (see note)
Ful medames (recipe below)
Yellow rice (recipe below)
Garlic-yoghurt sauce (recipe below)
Sliced almonds

Note:  Do not buy the typical pita that we use in the US to make sandwiches, it is thick and dry and tastes like cardboard.  Find a good Middle Eastern bakery and get real flatbread – thin, light, soft.  If it doesn’t look like this, don’t buy it, skip the pita and just serve with rice.

note how soft this pita is

note how soft this pita is

note how thin and light

note how thin and light

Combine the lamb, yoghurt and za’atar.  Don’t use the low/no fat versions that are so popular these days, find a full fat yoghurt.  Middle Eastern yoghurt is creamy and luscious; it’s perfect for this dish.  Let the meat sit for and hour in the refrigerator for an hour to infuse the meat with the flavors.  Form four patties.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron pan.  Cook the lamb patties to your desired temperature.

To serve:  cut the pita into quarters and place one quarter on each plate.  Scoop some ful medames and some rice on each piece.  Place a patty on each then spoon some yoghurt sauce on and top with sliced almonds.  Be generous with the yoghurt sauce, it’s awesome.

Ful Medames
16 ounce can of fava beans
2 cloves of garlic, mashed
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Juice of one lemon
½ teaspoon ground sumac
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
1 tomato chopped

Drain and rinse the fava beans then place in a glass bowl.  Mash the beans then add all the other ingredients.  Set aside until ready to use.  I prefer this room temperature, but if it’s going to be more than an hour, you’ll want to refrigerate it.

BH&T Jordan ful medames

Yellow Rice
1 cup medium grain rice
1¾ cup water
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
Pinch of kosher salt

Rinse the rice and drain, then place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes.

BH&T Jordan Rice

Yoghurt Sauce
2 Tablespoons ghee
1 small onion minced
2 cloves garlic minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup Middle Eastern yoghurt

Melt the ghee in a medium sauté pan; add the onions, garlic and salt.  Sauté over medium/low heat until soft (you don’t want to brown the onions, so watch the temperature).  Add the yoghurt and stir until warm.  Taste and salt more if needed.

BH&T Jordan Yogurt Sauce

©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach

Posted in lamb burgers, middle eastern recipes | 4 Comments

Japanese burger recipe

BH&T Japanese burger recipeTuna Tartare with Pickled Vegetables, Wasabi and Sushi Rice
Every country has its challenges and wonders and Japan is no different.  The challenge was trying to find something to say about Japan that you don’t already know.  The wonder is the sheer weirdness of the food.  Let’s begin with the challenge.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

Japan is comprised of over 3,600 islands and is, of course, located off the Northeast coast of Asia.  Between the early 1600’s and the mid 1800’s, the policy of the Japanese government was essentially isolationist.  Because of this policy, the Japanese culture flourished, but uniquely flourished.  It’s hard to completely grasp because I’ve grown up in the U.S. which of course is chock full of international influences and always has been, but it explains a lot about the complexity and difficulty of truly understanding the Japanese.  Imagine a group of people living on an island (ok, technically a bunch of islands) and not interacting with any other people for 200 years.  The art, literature, music, and, of course, the food of Japan have all been affected by this long period of introspection.

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

courtesy of CIA World Factbook

And on to the wonder, for our purposes, this introspection equates to weird food.  Ok don’t get all worked up, I don’t mean weird “bad”, I mean weird as in unique, unusual, with very few easy comparisons to Western food, or even other Asian cuisines.   I happen to think it’s weird/spectacular, but I am still a novice.  For my burger I’ve focused on the basics and tried to keep the flavors clean and approachable.  Since clean and focused flavors are a hallmark of Japanese cuisine, it feels like we’re off to a good start.

Seafood is central to Japanese cuisine.  Yes, I know there will be a whole group of you who are screaming for wagyu beef, but let’s face it guys, wagyu beef is not in every kitchen and is not a core food of the average family in Japan – it’s a specialty, and a ridiculously expensive one at that.  So I’m sticking with fish, and because I can, I’m sticking with raw fish.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never prepared raw fish, I always just buy mine at restaurants.  So how to get good fish that will work?  Well first, I picked tuna, because it’s one of the most popular raw fishes in these parts, so it’s easy to find.  So I went to Whole Foods and purchased some tuna sashimi, so “sushi grade” tuna and an ahi tuna steak.  First off, “sushi grade” isn’t a real FDA term, it’s a term that retailers use to indicate fish that’s been frozen in such a way to kill off all parasites.  So if you go to buy “sushi grade” – you’ll be buying frozen fish.  I bought frozen yellowtail because they didn’t have frozen ahi and I’ve liked yellowtail when I’ve had sushi before, so I thought we’d give it a whirl.

Paul and I did a taste test and the sashimi was bland and flavorless, the frozen yellowtail was fishy and unpleasant and the ahi steak was perfect.  So we went with the ahi.  I kept it simple with light seasoning, chopped it up and formed a patty – and no, I didn’t cook it.  I don’t like the taste of cooked tuna at all, so we’re sticking with tartar.

There are very few meals in Japan that don’t include pickled vegetables, so we had to include some pickled veg.  Radishes are extremely popular – we tried both Japanese radish and the reddish-pink radishes that are common here.  I found the Japanese radish tasted ok, but smelled a little sulphury – the smell bugged me so much, I threw it in the trash and stuck with the red-pink version – happily the color was nice too, so that was a good bonus.  Added to that some turnip and some sesame seeds and it was a perfect topping.

Horseradish is a classic flavor that pairs perfectly with fish, so I made some wasabi (they sell powdered wasabi at my local grocery store).  I really wanted to make a wasabi mayonnaise – cause I love mayonnaise – but my research indicated that mayo is not authentic to traditional Japanese cuisine but rather a fusion from European cuisines – so I kept it simple and pure.

As for the starch, I don’t think you can really talk about Japanese food without rice coming into the conversation.  And sushi rice is awesome with fish.  You use short grained rice labeled “sushi rice”, rinse it and cook it then add rice vinegar and sugar – it gives it a slightly sour and sweet flavor that perfectly balances the sweetness of the tuna and the sharp flavor of the pickled vegetables.

So, if you’ve eaten Japanese food, I hope this burger will remind you of some of your favorite experiences.   If you’re like me and have only had Japanese food in restaurants, try this, it’s easy and will give you new confidence to try new things.  And, if you haven’t tried Japanese food, don’t be afraid – the flavors are subtle and lovely, try it – make one burger and serve it as an appetizer, just be bold and try something new, worst case, you can always pepper-crust and sear the rest of the tuna, or you can order a pizza :)

If you like this burger, I have no idea what other burgers you might enjoy, but here’s another fish option with totally different flavors.  Try Guinea Bissau and a spicy tilapia burger with cashew rice, it’s delicious and exotic and despite that, nothing like the Japanese burger :)

Japan Burger
1 pound ahi tuna
3 teaspoons soy sauce
3 small scallions sliced thin
1 teaspoon prepared wasabi (make it a little watery as it’s easier to use)
Pickled vegetables (recipe below)
Sushi Rice (recipe below)

Chop the tuna into small pieces.  Add soy and scallions to the tuna and toss to mix.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Place a scoop of sushi rice on the plate then drizzle some wasabi on the rice – the amount depends on how much you like wasabi.  We found ¼ teaspoon to be about right, but you can play with it.  Form the chopped tuna into patties and place on top of the rice.  Add a spoonful of each of the pickled vegetables and sprinkle white and black sesame seeds on top.

Pickled Vegetables
3 turnips sliced thin (use a mandoline)
1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
6 radishes sliced thin (use a mandoline)
½ cup seasoned rice vinegar

Put each of the vegetables in a separate glass bowl (otherwise the pink of the radishes will bleed through to the turnips).  Add vinegar to each bowl and toss the vegetables to coat.  Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.  Drain to use.

Sushi Rice
1 cup sushi rice – rinsed
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon sugar

Place rice and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer covered for 15 minutes, then let it stand for 15 minutes covered.  In a small microwavable bowl combine the rice vinegar and sugar and heat for 30 seconds on high in microwave.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Place the rice in a large glass bowl and add the vinegar/sugar mixture.  Stir to coat the rice.  Let the rice cool to room temperature before using – do not refrigerate the rice, ever, it’s a big no-no in Japanese cooking to refrigerate rice.

©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach

Posted in asian recipes, fish burgers | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Jamaican burger

BH&T Jamaica Burger Recipe Jerk Chicken Burger – of course!
I trust you all had a lovely summer and enjoyed your holiday.  In honor of holiday/vacation/time off, we are off to Jamaica today.  I don’t know about you, but some time in the islands sounds like just the thing.  Jamaica is an island in the Caribbean.  It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1494 then later settled by the Spanish.  This was unfortunate for the native Taino people who were gradually killed off (a combination of violence and disease).


Today there are almost 3 million people living in Jamaica.  Over 90% of the population is of African descent (the Spanish and later the English brought Africans over as slaves starting in the 16th century.  Slavery was abolished in 1834 and full independence was achieved in 1962.  Over time, the economy of Jamaica had become highly dependent on services, many of which are fed by the tourism industry (no wonder given the natural beauty of the island).  Unfortunately the global economic downturn hits countries like this particularly hard, and Jamaica is no exception.  In an attempt to bail out ailing sectors of the economy, the government has gone deeply into debt (debt to GDP ratio of 130%).  Combine that with high crime rates and unemployment running around 14% and things are not so sunny in Jamaica these days.

By Op. Deo at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

By Op. Deo at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons

By Adam L. Clevenger, via Wikimedia Commons

By Adam L. Clevenger, via Wikimedia Commons

Before we jump in to the food, I wanted to talk a little about the Rastafari religion in Jamaica, mainly because I found it really interesting and hope you will too.  Rastafari developed in Jamaica in the 1930s after Haile Selassie I was crowned King of Ethiopia.  Its followers believe that Haile Selassie is God.

Haile Selassie I - By G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

Haile Selassie I – By G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, via Wikimedia Commons

God will, according the Rastafari theology return to Africa those blacks who are living in exile due to colonization and slave trade.  There are about 1 million followers of the Rastafari religion worldwide.  Rastafarians follow many of the teachings of the Old Testament; it is a Christian based religion.  There are many dietary restrictions that are followed to varying degrees.  Most Rastafarians don’t drink alcohol and many don’t eat meat.  There is an emphasis on clean and natural foods and some followers even avoid using cooking implements made out of metal and any canned or preserved foods.  The whole dreadlock thing is because the religion forbids cutting your hair.  Overall Rastafari is an interesting religion with a strong belief in black empowerment and in living in harmony with the natural world.  So don’t stop at Bob Marley, read up on the movement, it is pretty cool and very interesting.

Great dreads!

Great dreads!

Enough of this, let’s move on to the food, there is much to celebrate in the food culture of Jamaica.  While it has been influenced by the many people who have lived on the islands, today it is one of the most influential and exported cuisines in the Caribbean.  The original native Taino cooked on a wooden grate over a slow flame, the wood that they used was wood from the allspice tree.  Jamaicans now call this cooking method “jerk”.  The word “jerk” also refers to a spice blend that varies from one Jamaican to the next, but always includes allspice and Scotch bonnet peppers.   Although Jamaican cuisine has many rich traditions, jerk is, by far, the most iconic flavor from Jamaica and I couldn’t resist making it the basis for my burger recipe.  So yes, I made a jerk chicken burger, and it is spicy and packed with the flavor of the islands.

I also tried making bammy, “tried” being the operative word.  Bammy is a traditional Jamaican dish that involves straining grated yucca then grilling it in a patty form.  The recipes that I found were pretty basic, so that’s what I tried to emulate.  And, it tasted like cardboard and had the texture of glue.  So I abandoned that Idea and went with a basic beans and rice for the starchy base.  Then, because we’re in the islands, I had to add some fresh tropical fruits and veggies to lighten things up.

BH&T Jamaica Bammy

The final result is classic spice flavor complimented by heat that ties it all together and stays with you.  You get the tangy, piney flavor of allspice loud and clear and the salsa balances with a sweet and zesty tropical top-note.  The rice and beans tame the whole dish a bit and keep the spice and heat from overpowering the palate.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this and be transported to the islands.  If you like this, I have lots of other Caribbean burgers you’ll probably enjoy too – check out the ………

Jamaica burger
1¼ pound boneless skinless chicken breast
2 Tablespoons ground allspice
2 cloves of garlic crushed
1 habenero or Scotch bonnet pepper sliced
2 scallions chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon ground ginger
Juice of 1 lime
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon peanut oil
2 cups beans and rice (recipe below)
2 cups papaya salsa (recipe below)

Cut the chicken into chunks (about 1 inch cube) and place in a glass bowl.  Put all of the spices and herbs along with the lime juice and salt into a spice grinder and grind into a paste.  Add the paste to the chicken and coat the chicken with the paste.  Let it sit in the fridge for about an hour.  Using the fine setting on a meat grinder, grind the chicken along with the spice paste.  Form four patties from the mixture.

Heat the oil in a cast iron skillet.  Grill the patties until the chicken is cooked through.  To serve, place about half a cup of the rice and beans mixture on each plate, add the cooked patties then top with the papaya salsa.

Beans and rice
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups water
1 can small red beans

Place all ingredients in a pot and bring to boil.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer.  Cook for 15 minutes or until all liquid has been absorbed.

BH&T Jamaica Rice & Beans

Papaya Salsa
1 chayote sliced thin
½ papaya sliced
1 jalapeno seeded and diced
1 Vidalia onion sliced
3 Tablespoons coconut oil
Juice of 1 lime

Heat the oil in a medium skillet and grill the vegetables, fruit and peppers until just soft.  Remove the fruit and vegetables from the heat and chop.  Add lime juice to taste.  Use the salsa at room temperature or cold on the burgers.

BH&T Jamaica Papaya Salsa

©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach

Posted in caribbean recipes, chicken burgers | Leave a comment

Where’s the beef?

Ok folks, this entry is a bit of a departure, actually it’s a total departure from my usual writing.  For those of you who have been enjoying my blog and my recipes, you may have noticed that I’ve slowed down dramatically this year.  If it’s any consolation, I have strong feelings of guilt and disappointment that this has happened :)

So I felt I owed you all an explanation.  In January of this year, my husband/soulmate/love of my life was diagnosed with brain cancer.  They operated on him about two weeks later and were able to remove about half of the tumor (they do the operation with him awake – yikes!).  Since then he’s been taking chemo every month for the last 6 months, 6 more to go.  Unfortunately brain cancer isn’t really curable (yet), fortunately he has the best kind of tumor, slow growing, good genetic markers, lots of research being done etc…

MRI axial

We are so grateful that we live near Boston and have the good folks at Dana Farber taking care of him.  We’re hopeful that these same people will find a cure, or at least better treatments in time to keep him going.  Paul is doing well and except for some reduced function in his left arm and some exhaustion from the chemo, he’s managing to keep his spirits up and is working and doing everything he used to do.  We expect he’ll be pretty stable for the next 5-10 years, after that, well, we try not to focus too much on after that.

So that’s my way of saying I’ve been distracted this year, and had some of the creative energy drained out of me.  But I haven’t given up.  I love to cook and Paul loves to eat, so this cookbook is going to happen (even if it takes a while longer), and the blog will continue.  I have already made a delicious Jamaican burger and the Japan burger was one of my favorites.  Now I just have to find some quality time to write them down for you.  And I will.

So please stick with me, keep trying all the burgers – I know there’s still a bunch you haven’t tried yet – and stay tuned.
Warm wishes to you all,

Posted in the back story | 14 Comments