Smoky Lamb Burgers with Mint-Chili Pickled Cucumbers
Does anyone else have summer fever? I seriously have been dreaming about barbecues for months, and now that it’s upon us I’m living for summer Sundays, hanging with friends and family and eating simple, flavorful meals that can be done on the grill. The recipe for these smoky lamb burgers came out of wanting to create a kicked-up burger that was no-fuss and would taste delicious with an ice-cold beer…
I have two (not one, but TWO) secret ingredients in this burger that give it that smoky, peppery edge. The first is black cardamom, which you may remember me writing about a few months back. The flavor is a bit lighter than green cardamom – earthier and with a woodsy smokiness. Black cardamom is used throughout North and East African cooking, in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine, and even in Sichuan cooking.
But, don’t worry if you only have the green kind. It works beautifully here as well because there is still the second secret ingredient: pimentón de la Vera. If you’ve never used it before, this dish is a great intro – it’s smoked paprika and is a key ingredient in Spanish cooking. Both of these spices meld together here and bring out what’s best about lamb.
Now, I’m a burger-with-pickles kind of gal, so I had to do a super quick pickle (ready in an hour!) to go with these. Thinly sliced cucumbers get quick-pickled with Thai green chilies, some fresh mint, garlic and thinly sliced shallots. The shallots pickle too, so I use both along with some fresh chopped mint and a nice piece of butter lettuce to top this burger. And these burgers are not for the faint of heart – they are big and bold! Feel free to turn this recipe into sliders or more modestly-sized patties if you so desire. Smoky, earthy, juicy lamb burgers with mint- and chili-pickled cucumbers on a gorgeously toasted bun is the perfect summer bbq food (and I WILL be serving these this weekend…) Enjoy!
6 tbsps butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
4-5 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps ground black cardamom*
1 ½ tsps black pepper
2 tsps cayenne**
2 ½ tsps pimentón / smoked paprika
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 lbs ground lamb
Mint-Chili Pickled Cucumbers:
¾ cup rice vinegar
¾ tsp kosher salt
1 ¼ tsps sugar
2 Thai chilies, halved
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
2 mini seedless cucumbers, sliced thin
handful of mint, roughly torn
For the lamb, in a medium skillet, heat butter over medium heat. Swirl the pan as the foam subsides and continue to heat until butter starts to brown. Don’t let it burn! Immediately, throw in the shallots, garlic and spices and cook stirring continuously to prevent sticking for 2 to 3 minutes until shallots are translucent and cooked through. Remove and let cool briefly.
Place lamb in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add cooled shallot and spice mixture and mix thoroughly. Do not overmix or the meat will get tough. Form mixture into 4 equal patties, keeping the center a bit thinner than the edges. Conversely, you can make this mixture up to a day ahead of time and the flavors will come together even more beautifully.
Heat a grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat and coat with a thin layer of oil or grill on the outdoor grill. Cook for about 4 minutes per side to get to a medium rare and longer for more well-cooked burgers.
For the cucumbers, in a bowl, whisk together vinegar, salt and sugar until dissolved. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat. I like to put the cucumbers in a wider, shallow container to increase the surface area as they are pickling. Let sit at least an hour before serving, but it can also be refrigerated and will keep for a few days.
Serve burgers on a toasted bun topped with the pickled cucumbers and a few of the pickled shallots.
*I use my spice grinder to grind the whole pods of black cardamom, and then I pass it through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the coarse bits. If you only have green cardamom on hand, that works; it’s still delicious.
**Go easier if you like less heat.