spicy lamb burgers with vietnamese greens

I'm really not too fond of making "burgers" or "patties" of any type, but these are a clear exception!  They are absolutely, divinely delicious, and I always end up forgetting until I re-make and eat them.  With the ingredients inside the actual burgers, and the vietnamese herbs, dipped in a tangy tamarind vinaigrette - you can't go wrong.  The combination of flavors is superb! It's got a bit of all those wonderful tastes - a bit sweet, a tad salty, a slight tangy sourness, and of course umami (side note: what a fun word to say) - there's even a little kick to them.  Furthermore, I absolutely love Vietnamese flavors for the freshness they bring to any dish.  Beyond being delicious, the burgers are super easy to make! You can make everything ahead of time as well, so they literally cook up in a flash.  They are a definite crowd pleaser, even for those who say they don't like the flavor of lamb.  The recipe is from Cindy Pawlcyn's Big Small Plates - a great book with a variety of dishes from around the world.

Tamarind Vinaigrette
4 T brown sugar
3 T water
2 T tamarind paste or concentrate
1 T soy sauce
6 T olive oil 

In a saucepan, combine the water and brown sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.  When it has all dissolved, add in the tamarind paste and the soy sauce - whisk to combine.   Finally, remove the mixture from heat and whisk in the olive oil until fully emulsified.  Let the vinaigrette cool, and save for later - refrigerate it if you're prepping it ahead.  If it's properly emulsified, the vinaigrette shouldn't separate - if it does before you use it, just whisk it back up, or give it a good shake in a covered jar.

Tamarind concentrate - quasi-readily available these days. I swear this is the secret to some cuisines because it has a flavor you can't mimic with anything else - sweet, sour and savory.
And it makes for a killer vinaigrette!
Lamb Burgers
1 lb ground lamb
5 cloves garlic, finely minced
1.5 T oyster sauce (if you really can't find this, you can omit it - you can get it at any Asian market, and most grocery stores have it in the "International Aisle")
1/2 Serrano or jalapeno, seeded and finely minced
2 T chopped fresh mint leaves
1.5 T minced cilantro leaves
1/2 sweet onion, finely minced
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lime

Combine all of the ingredients but the lamb in a large mixing bowl - and toss around/mix until combined.  Next, crumble in the lamb meat and mix this until well combined. I suggest rolling up your sleeves and diving right in with your hands - it's a lot easier to handle and really get the ingredients combined.  A spoon or spatula is a pain in the behind! Just be sure not to touch your eyes until you've REALLY washed your hands - not because of the lamb, but in case you have some capsaicin on your fingertips from the chile. Not comfortable.  Divide the mixture into whatever size patties you want.  I like to make smaller ones, but a regular sized patty is absolutely fine - just make sure they are about 1/2 to 1 inch thick.  Place these into the fridge until you are ready to cook.

Vietnamese Herb Salad
2 scallions, white and light green parts, cut into matchstick julienne
2 Serrano chilies, seeded and julienned
1/2 bunch basil, small leaves only.  If you have big-leafed basil, you can just roughly chop it
1/4 bunch cilantro leaves
1/4 bunch mint leaves
1/2 bunch chives cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 bunch watercress leaves

For the salad simply combine all the greenery, and toss with a tiny amount of the vinaigrette right before serving.  You don't want to overdress this salad (or any salad for that matter) because it completely masks the taste of the greens.

When you're ready to serve, either preheat your grill or a saute pan over medium-high heat.  If you're grilling, toss them on and let them cook for a couple minutes each side - it depends on the size of your patty.  For smaller ones, it'll only take about a 1.5 to 2 minutes per side for medium-rare.  I highly recommend grilling these if it's not too cold outside! You really achieve a nice char on the outside.  You could broil them as well, but be careful that they don't burn. When you're ready to plate, serve with a bit of the herb salad, a patty or two, and some extra vinaigrette.  Serve with more vinaigrette on the side - everyone will be asking for it anyway!

Yum! I am actually salivating thinking about these right now.  The patties come out nice and juicy on the inside, but with a nice crisp on the outside.  As stated before, the savory elements of this dish are really brightened up by the herbs both inside the patty and in the accompanying salad.  It has the perfect amount of heat from the chilies as well - no one component overpowers the others.  You will have what looks to be a lot of vinaigrette but have no fear! Everyone will love it, and probably ask for more for their lamb - and also ask why you didn't make four batches of this dish altogether!


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