Harissa flavored burger with hummus and Israeli salad
As we make our culinary tour around the world, creating burgers for each country as we go, the most difficult stops (at least for me) are those countries that have had a variety of people traveling in and out. Luckily for us they are also some of the most rewarding. Israel is a Middle Eastern country which shares land borders with Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt and enjoys a long coast along the Mediterranean Sea.
The land used to be part of the British Empire then after World War II the UN created a Jewish state and Britain gave up rule of the land that now makes up Israel. We could spend a lot of time talking about the history of the land before British rule and after the State of Israel was established, but it would just get folks riled up, so let’s skip right to the food.
Without going into the long history, let’s just say that a lot of people have live in and traveled through Israel and they have all brought wonderful flavors and foods with them. The food of Israel is the food of the Middle East. There is hummus, falafel, baba ganoush, gyros, tabouleh, all the good stuff. The challenge with Israel wasn’t finding something good; it was deciding which good thing to use to make the perfect burger. I have several friends who grew up in Israel, but they weren’t much help – asking an Israeli about food is like asking a Frenchman about wine, you get a lot of great conversation, but not a lot of straight answers.
We all agreed that we should follow the Jewish dietary laws of kashrus or “keep it Kosher”. I do not have a kosher kitchen, so I can’t be truly kosher, but beyond that I’ve followed the rules. No mixing of meat and dairy so no cheese on our burger ☹. No shellfish, so no lobster sauce. And of course the obvious, no pork, so no bacon burger. The most difficult of these laws (for me anyway) was the loss of cheese…I really like cheese. But we’ve had plenty of cheese less burgers, so I got over it pretty quickly.
The meat could have been anything from lamb to chicken, but my Israeli friends all voted for beef, so who am I to argue? Now the question of how to flavor the meat was the hard part – again because of the embarrassment of riches. Too many choices, so little time. I considered herbs, I considered berbere, I read dozens of recipes and finally I decided on harissa. Harissa is a spice paste from Tunisia; it’s made of various chilies and can vary in heat depending on the chilies you use. I’m fortunate enough that my local Whole Foods carries two brands of harissa, so I bought both and chose the less spicy option for the burger. It added a lovely smokiness to the meat and complimented the lightness of the other ingredients perfectly.
I felt obligated to use pita bread because it is such a common staple of the Israeli diet, but I still think it’s an inferior substrate for a burger. Pita just tends to fall apart too easily for my tastes, but other than that it’s ok. I cut off the sides because I find them to dry and bready, this of course eliminates the “pocket” effect completely, but it works find if you just think of it as a really thin bread.
Of course I had to make my own hummus. I like a particularly garlicky hummus with a strong taste of lemon, but if you want to change the recipe to your tastes, that’s fine. Or, if you want to buy your favorite hummus, I don’t judge – I’ve been know to pick up a pint of Tribe of Two Sheiks myself from time to time.
So far we’ve brought flavors from all around the region to this burger, and, like all of the people coming in and going out of this land, we have a symphony of Middle Eastern flavors, but still nothing quintessentially Israeli, so of course, I had to add Israeli salad to the burger. If you travel to Israel you will undoubtedly encounter a simple and refreshing side dish of tomatoes and cucumber tossed in olive oil and lemon juice. There may be some green or red peppers in the salad too and these days some people are adding herbs, but the basic is tomato and cucumber, olive oil and lemon.
The Israeli salad has the perfect blend of flavors for a burger, but it is extremely messy, it made me wish I hadn’t cut the edges off the pita ☺. All in all, this burger was a marvelously light creation. Somehow the brightness of the hummus, the zestiness of the salad, and yes, the lightness of the pita all worked to transform this beef burger into something lighter and fresher than we expected. It paired perfectly with a California Pinot Noir, but would be equally good with a Sauvignon Blanc.
Except for some exacting knife cuts in the salad, this is a super easy burger to make. I hope you try it and enjoy. I think you’ll love it and, if you do, please try some of the other wonderful burgers from the Middle East like Bahrain, Egypt and Iraq.
1 pound ground beef (20% fat)
1½ Tablespoons harissa
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 large pita rounds cut in half
Hummus (recipe below)
Israeli Salad (recipe below)
In a medium bowl, combine the beef and the harissa, mix through evenly. Form into four patties. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Cook the patties to desired temperature (this burger is best at medium or medium rare). To serve spread some hummus (be generous) on the inside of each pita. Place a burger patty on top of the hummus then add a generous scoop of Israeli Salad.
1 15 ounce can chickpeas drained (reserve liquid)
3 large cloves of garlic chopped
¼ cup+ olive oil
3 Tablespoons tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup liquid from chickpeas
Combine all ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth. Add olive oil and or chickpea liquid as needed to get a consistency you like. Taste and add lemon or salt as needed.
1 English cucumber
3 small tomatoes
½ red pepper
Fresh lemon juice
Dice the vegetables into small pieces of equal size (try for ¼ inch, but don’t kill yourself over it). You want approximately equal parts of tomato and cucumber. Toss the vegetables in olive oil and lemon juice (equal parts). Use just enough to coat the veggies, but not so much that you end up with soup. Keep the salad at room temperature until your ready to use it. Toss the vegetables and use a slotted spoon to serve.
©Copyright 2013 Linda Monach