Keeping things interesting, we’re heading to Estonia now. The Republic of Estonia is located in Eastern Europe between Latvia and Russia and across the Gulf of Finland from, well, Finland of course! It’s a small country with a population a little less than 1.3 million. But Estonians take their history and their culture seriously. Despite having been occupied/ruled by Denmark, Sweden, Russia, USSR and Germany, Estonians have held on to their culture and heritage and even their unusual language. And through it all, they’ve built up a strong economy with an emphasis on modern technology. In fact Skype was created by Estonians – pretty cool.
Before we move on, I highly recommend you do a Google image search on Tallinn – go ahead, I’ll wait…Tallinn is (according to several sources) one of the most intact medieval cities in Europe. The Old Town of Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The original layout of the city is unchanged, many of the houses and major buildings are intact and restored consistent with the original designs from the 13th and 14th centuries. It is beautiful, picturesque, quaint, just pick and adjective. I’m a fan of any group of people who keep their old buildings and maintain them, so I’m now officially an Estonia fan.
So…cool town center, interesting history and funky language – now how about the food? Traditional Estonian cuisine is based on seasonal foods (aren’t most traditional cuisines?). Because their growing season isn’t all that long, Estonians have become fans of pickling as a way to preserve vegetables for the long winter. So far, I was with them – I love pickled stuff. Then I discover that in addition to pickled veggies, they like to eat pickled herring and pickled eel. Now, I’ve never had either, but I’ve smelled pickled herring and that was reason enough to never eat it. I know, there will be comments extolling the virtues of pickled herring, but you can forget about me incorporating it into a recipe. At the end of the day, there won’t be a single recipe in this collection that I can’t honestly say I enjoyed eating. They may not all be burgers that I crave, but they’ll all be burgers I like, and so far many of them are burgers I love. So no pickled fish.
What about meats? A classic favorite in Estonia is blood sausage. I have tried blood sausage (in Cologne on a rather dreadful business trip – imagine hanging out in Germany with a bunch of drunk co-workers while you’re allergic to beer and it’s 90 degrees, not fun), and I’m not a fan. I also don’t have a local source for blood sausage (Americans are a little squeamish about their food, so it isn’t a popular item here). So regrettably, no blood sausage.
There’s also a traditional Estonian dish that involves boiling down pork bones and making a jelled substance out of it – can we just say yuck and move on? I have to admit, I was beginning to despair at this point. So far I had a pretty gross list of possible ingredients. But, never one to give up hope, I kept researching. Luckily Estonians like pork, so do I, they like horseradish sauces, so do I, they like bacon, dark rye bread and hard boiled eggs…wait a minute, hard boiled eggs? That’s right folks, hard-boiled eggs. What a riot, I thought that the eggs were kind of gimmicky, but man they made a really nice counterpoint for the pickles and pickled beets. I also finally conquered my inability to make perfect hard-boiled eggs. I always over cook my eggs and end up with that green-ish color to the egg yolk. This time I put four eggs into cold water, enough to have an extra inch of water above the eggs. I turned on the heat and got it to boiling, then boiled for 6 minutes, let sit in the hot water for 4 minutes, then I immersed the eggs in ice water until they were completely cooled. It worked like a charm.
So the final burger is a bit of a hot mess, lettuce, pickles, pickled beets, onion, Gruyere, egg, bacon and horseradish sauce. It is a pain to eat, very messy, sauce and stuff dripping everywhere. But the flavor is so worth the mess. Somehow all of these ingredients come together in a rich, tangy scrumptious feast. My mother suggested I make my father’s burger without pickles or beets because he generally doesn’t like those things – but that would kind of thwart the whole idea of the project don’t you think? We all ate the burgers as is in the recipe and I wrote down my father’s comment “it isn’t spectacular” that was all he would say. But, he ate the whole burger and didn’t pick off any of the ingredients, so I’m calling it a win! Paul and I loved this burger and my mother did too – I hope you’ll try it out and let me know what you think.
4 slices of bacon
1 pound ground pork
Ground black pepper
¼ cup diced onion
Gruyere cheese sliced
8 slices of dark rye bread
1 clove of garlic sliced in half
1 whole dill pickle sliced into thin rounds
2 hard-boiled eggs sliced
Horseradish Mustard Sauce (recipe below)
Cut the bacon slices in half and cook in a medium pan until crispy. Set aside on paper towels until ready to use. Do not clean the pan.
Form the pork into four patties. Generously salt and pepper each side of the patty. Heat the bacon grease over medium high heat. Press the onions into one side of each patty and place onion side down in the hot bacon grease. Cook until browned then flip over. Cook until pork is almost cooked through then add slices of Gruyere and cover until cheese melts.
While the burgers are cooking, rub the garlic over one side of each piece of bread, then brush that same side with olive oil. In a large dry pan, grill each piece of bread until lightly toasted (you’ll probably have to work in batches unless you have a large grill pan).
To assemble your burger start with a piece of grilled bread, grilled side up. Add a piece of lettuce, slices of dill pickle, pickled beets, the cooked burger, the cooked bacon and a couple slices of hard boiled egg. Put a nice dollop of the Horseradish Mustard Sauce on the grilled slice of the second piece of bread and serve the extra sauce on the side. As I said in the intro, it’s a messy burger – here’s a picture of what you get when you add the sauce – YUMMY!
Horseradish Mustard Sauce
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
2 teaspoons horseradish
1 teaspoon coarse mustard
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.
©Copyright 2012 Linda Monach