Meatballs and hamburgers are incredibly versatile foods. Meatballs may be shaped to the size of a tennis ball, baked and served on a bed of smooth polenta or pan-fried to crispy little bites and eaten with toothpicks at a cocktail party. Burgers are an icon of American cuisine, whether flipped off of a backyard grill onto a soft, ketchup-coated bun or stuffed with gorgonzola, topped with red onion compote and broiled in a restaurant kitchen. Meatballs can be make of beef, pork, veal or any combination thereof, and ostrich and salmon burgers are not all that rare.
These lamb patties combine the best elements of the meatball and the burger to create a surprisingly flavorful appetizer. Just as convenient a finger food as a cocktail meatball, the flattened shape of a mini-hamburger allows the development of a dark, crusty char as they cook in a skillet. When we made them, they were actually part of a menu of small plates, since Mike and I would rather eschew the "appetizer-entree-dessert" model in favor of tapas-style eating whenever we have the chance.
I had the idea to make lamb patties, then found a recipe for Middle Eastern-spiced meatballs in December's Bon Appetit. Cinnamon adds an essential element of sweetness and warmth that I heightened with Hungarian sweet paprika. I discovered how this type of paprika can add a smoky sweetness to meats when I recently bought a fresh, quality product instead of resorting to the generic red powder that never tasted like much of anything. It may come in handy for adding a little color to deviled eggs, but it is useless as a seasoning. Cumin further underscores the smoky flavor, and mint, parsley and diced red onion add freshness and moisture.
Bon Appetit calls for a sun-dried tomato aioli with their lamb meatballs, but I decided to try a minty yogurt sauce. Unlike the mayonnaise-based aioli, the creamy Greek yogurt is a cooling, tangy counterpoint to the warm spices and juicy meat. You could make a full meal of the patties and sauce by serving them in pita bread with some romaine lettuce. Whatever you do, I think this is a great formula for creating a new dish: start with a classic (or two); change one element, like the choice of meat; add some unexpected spices from another cuisine; and serve in a creative way. How do new dishes evolve in your kitchen?
Spiced Lamb Patties with Minty Yogurt Sauce
Patties adapted from Bon Appetit. Makes about 12 little patties.
3/4 lb. ground lamb
1/2 c. panko (I used whole wheat)
1/4 c. red onion, finely chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsly, chopped
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tblsp. Hungarian sweet paprika
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1-2 tblsp. olive oil
In a large bowl combine lamb, panko, onion, parsley, mint, egg, paprika, cumin cinnamon and salt. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients. Form the lamb mixture into little patties, about 1/2 inch thick. Meanwhile, heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet (I use cast iron. You could also cook these on a grill or under the broiler.) over medium-high heat. Add half the patties, or as many as you can fit allowing 1/2 inch of space between them. Cook until the bottoms of the patties are browned to the degree that you like, about 4 minutes. Flip and finish cooking on the other side, about 3 minutes more. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and cook the remaining patties, adding more oil to the skillet if needed. Serve with the yogurt sauce.
8 oz. Greek yogurt (I used Fage Total 0% fat)
5-6 sundried tomato halves, packed in oil, chopped
3 tblsp. fresh mint, chopped
1/4 tsp. salt
sprinkle of freshly ground pepper
1/2 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil
Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl. Serve with the lamb patties. I like to make this before the patties so that the yogurt is not refrigerator-cold when serving and flavors can mesh.