Lamb burgers with Tzatziki, Roasted Red Peppers and Feta Cheese
Sorry for the delay in getting Greece on “paper”, but life does get away from me sometimes. So let’s talk about Greece – oh, where to start? We were driving up to Plum Island this weekend and my husband was regaling me with the history of Greek civilization, both the classic history and some of the more controversial elements. But frankly, I think there’s so much going on right now that we can fast forward to today and just keep in mind that Greek civilization is really old and there are lots of cool things that we enjoy today because of stuff the Greeks did in the past. You guys know what I mean.
Any way Greece is a BEAUTIFUL country bordered by Albania, Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia and Tukey, and, according to Wikipedia has the 11th longest coastline in the world (which is truly amazing when you consider that it’s only the 97th largest country in the world). That coastline is part of what makes it such a beautiful country and one of my top future vacation destinations (in my dreams).
As of today, Greece is still part of the EU, but I can’t guarantee that this will be true next week. I don’t want to go into the gory details, because frankly I’m not familiar enough with said details to do the whole thing justice. Basically, as far as I can tell, Greece hasn’t been able to manage their economy as well as the rest of the EU would like and they’ve had to borrow a bunch of money, then they couldn’t pay back that money and need to get a bailout – from those same EU countries. They’ve also been forced (in order to get the money and fix the fiscal issues) to institute “austerity measures”. This includes cutting government spending (=firing government employees) during a time when unemployment was 17% (in 2011) and when public sector spending is 40% of the total economy. Fast forward to this year and the general election and the Greek people are so unhappy and desperate (not being able to support your family will do that to you) that they elect fascists and communists (not an exaggeration).
Paul and I were talking about this and we both are amazed that the Germans haven’t taken pause and considered if there might be an historical precedent for a country pushed to the brink and it’s people turning to radical fringe elements to govern. Perhaps they should, perhaps we all should… Odds are it won’t come to that. I do have to admit though that I kind of hope that Greece drops the Euro – it would make my vacation prospects so much more probably. I recognize that this is a totally shallow and potentially terrible thing, but a girl can’t help but dream of the islands…
Ok, enough of that – let’s move on to the food. I have to admit that even though I did my usual research of flavors and foods, I kind of knew what I wanted to do for Greece before I even started. Paul took me for Greek food on our first date and we went back that restaurant (Papagus in Chicago – now closed, so sad) many times, including the night he proposed. We’ve also tried lots of other Greek restaurants both in Chicago and Boston, but this recipe is really dedicated to Papagus and to my husband.
I had to start with lamb. Lamb just goes so well with Greek flavors it didn’t make sense to do anything else (I tried it with beef and it wasn’t as good, and this from a mid-western gal). I also had to make tzatziki, I love tzatziki. This tzatziki varies a bit from the version in the Cyprus burger – it has a little less garlic and more cucumber and a bit of dill. It ends up being a gentler flavor than the Cyprian tzatziki. Perfect for this burger.
The next step was to bring in feta and roasted red peppers. These two flavors are often combined in Greek cuisine. They used to make an appetizer dip at Papagus from roasted red pepper and feta that was truly crave worthy. Rather than add another creamy dip to the burger, I deconstructed and roasted some red pepper and sliced some feta to melt on the burgers – yummy! Then I put the whole thing in a pita. Yes, I used store bought pita. I’ve told you a million times now that I don’t like baking, yet I tried to bake a homemade pita and couldn’t get the air pockets or the texture right. Feel free to lookup a pita recipe and try it yourself (but I highly recommend buying the store stuff as a backup.).
These flavors just work. The feta blends well into the parsely, mint and orgeno in the lamb. The dill adds a wonderfully fresh undertone with lots of garlicky and salty notes. It was super fresh and light tasting, but filling. It reminded me of the beginnings of my marriage, and it made me happy. I hope it makes you happy too.
1 pound ground lamb
½ cup onion diced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley chopped
1 Tablespoon fresh mint chopped
1 thick slice of sourdough bread soaked in milk
Kosher salt and pepper
4-6 sandwich size pita bread
4-6 slices of feta cheese
Roasted red pepper (recipe below)
Tzatziki (recipe below)
In a large bowl, combine lamb, onion, herbs, bread, egg and salt and pepper. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.
Form four large patties or six smaller patties. Grill on a non-stick grill pan until they reach desired temperature. Add the feta cheese about two minutes before the burgers are cooked and cover to soften the cheese (if you’re using a grill pan, I just create a tent of aluminum foil to keep the heat in).
To serve; slice off the end of each piece of pita bread and gently open the pitas. Place the burgers inside and top with roasted red pepper and tzatziki.
Roasted Red Pepper
Coat a whole red pepper with olive oil and place on a cooking sheet in a 475°F oven for 12 minutes or until the skin starts wrinkling. Cool then peel the skin off and slice into strips. Note: don’t use jarred red peppers – they tend to be bitter rather than sweet and are generally totally unsatisfying.
1 cup 2% Greek yogurt
1 cucumber peeled and coarsely grated
2 large cloves of garlic minced
1 Tablespoon fresh dill chopped
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Lightly salt the grated cucumber and let sit for 5-10 minutes then squeeze out excess moisture.
In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, cucumber, garlic and dill. Add salt to taste. Refrigerate for at least two hours before using.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach