We'll kick off the season like we always do: With burgers. These bronzed beauties and Memorial Day weekend go together like ketchup and mustard.
The downside? This easy-to-cook, relatively inexpensive, unpretentious meal now often shows up dressed with expensive, indulgent and super-fattening ingredients. We're talking Gorgonzola and other rich cheeses, bacon inside and out, creamy sauces, even fried egg toppings.
For health's sake, let's dial it back a bit. And for the sanity of the home cook. I need this entree on my weekly menu — especially now when my hungry and weight-conscious young adults arrive from college for the summer.
So in addition to our favorite beef chuck burgers, turkey burgers and veggie burgers will be on the menu. Lean turkey appeals when seasoned in a way that allows the flavor of the meat to shine. I like to add fresh herbs and a surprise such as kalamata olives. Proper cooking will yield juicy results.
"Burgers" made from vegetables only need a spray of olive oil for flavor and to promote tenderness when cooking. A generous sprinkle of a hearty grill rub (such as Weber Gourmet Burger Seasoning or McCormick's Grill Mates Montreal Steak Seasoning) will give a burger profile. Then, just as the vegetables come off the grill, a light coating of balsamic vinegar adds brightness and complexity.
For condiments, let's take a hint from those fancy burger-slinging joints and make our own. Stir herbs into mayo, spicy mustard into barbecue sauce and fresh horseradish into ketchup. Or, make a fast veggie pickle from fresh citrus juice, salt and a modicum of time. Now there's a fine kickoff to a summer of grilling.
Tips for great burgers
1. Buy wisely: Fresh, coarsely ground meat tastes best, so skip the meat case and go to a butcher who knows the pedigree of the meat being sold. For ground turkey, use a combination of breast and dark meat for best flavor and texture. Look for all natural meats and turkey without seasonings or additives.
2. Season the meat before shaping into burgers — that way it will taste great through and through — not just on the exterior.
3. Chill seasoned burgers up to 1 hour before cooking to let the seasonings mellow.
4. Thoroughly preheat the coals or gas grill.
5. Cook on natural, hardwood charcoal for optimal flavor; use a gas grill for speed (adding a packet of soaked wood chips to the grill will boost smoke and flavor). Indoors, heat a nonstick ridged grill pan until very hot; add the burgers and sear one side. Flip and finish in a 400 degree oven for even cooking with less stove top splatter.
6. Test meat and poultry burgers for doneness by pressing on the center of the burger — it should barely yield indicating medium-rare to medium doneness. Do not pierce the meat or press on it during cooking or juices will escape. Veggies on the other hand, require the tip of a sharp knife to test for tenderness.
7. Add cheese during the last minute of cooking; any earlier will just mean the cheese melts off. Don't over-cheese or you'll overpower the meat. Mild cheeses on mild poultry burgers — stronger cheeses such as blues, smoked and goat cheeses with bison, lamb and beef burgers.
8. Choose complementary breads — mild-tasting turkey burgers taste great on crispy toasted, whole grain breads. Heartier beef burgers are delicious on less complex breads.
9. Control the condiments — let the flavor of the meat and bread shine through.
Grilled turkey burgers with kalamata olives, herbs