Lamb 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…
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.
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.
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) http://www.dimasharif.com/2011/08/jordanian-mansaf-more-than-just-food-it.html
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
©Copyright 2014 Linda Monach