For the longest time, I refused to eat turkey burgers. I knew ground turkey was better for me than beef, and I finally decided to buy it and use it in sauce a few years back with much success. But because of the leanness of turkey, I never had much luck cooking it outside of a sauce – it got too dry and was quite frankly boring and tasteless.
Then a few months back I was looking through our fridge; we hadn’t really gone shopping that week, so I was working with a limited number of items. We had some ground turkey in the freezer, left over from a small batch of sauce I’d made, some sun-drief tomatoes I’d swiped from the garnish of a dish served at a work reception (what? they’d have gone in the trash otherwise – and as a coworker pointed out, they’re expensive!), some fresh basil (also left over from the sauce I’d made) and a package of Greek olives Hubby had bought (literally) years ago at Big Lots.
It was time for an experiment.
I knew that the flavors of all the ingredients would go well together – and probably make the turkey taste nice. But keeping the meat from turning into a hockey puck? That was a different order all together. I’d already figured out the moisture-retentive properties of panko breadcrumbs mixed into my crabcakes, and I figured, “hey, why not make a meatloaf mixture and then make burgers out of it?”
I’ve since made it with additional ingredients – like cheese layered inside – and in meatloaf form (it came out just as yummy), and it’s one of the best ways I can think of to add flavor to what is otherwise quite a boring meat. Last night, I made nice little burgers and served them with a basic risotto (by the way, the thing about stirring risotto constantly? a myth. mine comes out perfect every time and I only stir it every few minutes) and a Greek salad. They’re thoroughly satisfying, extremely easy, and without the addition of cheese (which is a nice surprise, but definitely not necessary) they’re pretty healthy too.
Mediterranean Turkey Burgers (serves 4)
- 1/2 package of ground turkey meat (I buy the Jennie-O packages on sale, which are 1.25 lbs each – meaning that I use about 2/3 lb of meat)
- 3-5 medium cloves garlic
- a handful of green or black olives (I used about a dozen medium olives, pitted of course)
- a handful of sun-dried tomatoes (full disclosure: I forgot I’d used all the sun-dried ones up and tried to quickly roast some tomato slices in the toaster oven – quickly is not how you do it, and so most of them burned rather than getting all beautiful and roasty – I added the ones that didn’t burn to the mixture but I also added a little bit of tomato paste to get that deep tomato flavor… you should be okay without the paste if you slow-roast tomato slices at a low temp for a long time, or if you just get sun-dried ones)
- a bunch of basil (seriously, I use about as much as is sold as a “bunch” in the store… 3 large stalks, with the stalk part removed… If you grow your own, I’d grab about three large handfuls – sorry I can’t be more precise)
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1/4 red onion or 1 shallot
- parsley, marjerum, or oregano (I love the flavor of basil, but you could easily add or substitute any of these herbs – fresh or dried – for the basil in the recipe, since they’re all Mediterranean flavors. Just remember that dry herbs are far more potent in flavor than fresh – even though they don’t smell it – and use a few pinches to start with!)
- 2-4 oz parmesan, mozzarella, feta, or provolone cheese (to mix in or “hide” inside the patty, or to melt on top)
I love this recipe because it doesn’t involve chopping! Just a food processor. Basically, dump in all your aromatic ingredients (garlic, tomatoes, olives, basil, and optional onions) and turn on the machine. In 30 seconds or so, you’ve got a beautiful, colorful mixture that smells amazing.
Dump the aromatics in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients (I wouldn’t use all 1/2 cup of the panko at once, though – see whether the mixture sticks together with the first 1/4 cup; if it’s too wet, then add more). Mix.
The mixture is nice and chunky – not at all homogenius. That’s the beauty of it.
If you want to make a meatloaf, just shape it and plunk it in a bread pan or the like. You can stick cheese in the middle or not – and you basically just cook it until it’s done (about 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees).
For filled burgers (which is what I did last night), divide the mixture into 8 (approximately) equal parts. Take one portion and flatten in your hand. Seriously, flatten it. Make it flatter than you think you have to. The first time I did this, I made the patty look all nice and pretty – and ended up with a meatball. I’m not sure why, but these things seem to plump up when they cook. So flatten it really well.
I put 1/2 oz mozzarella cheese on the inside of my patty; it’s just enough to give you a nice melty inside, but not enough to make the patty greasy or add too many calories.
Take another portion of the meat mixture and flatten it out as best you can with only one hand (or have a helper flatten it out for you!). You probably could also flatten all the pieces of meat out first and lay them out on parchment paper, and then fill them, but that would be too smart for me… I took the second flattened piece of meat mixture and put it on the top of the cheese-filled portion, sealing the ends as best I could (the cheese, when melting, will always find a way out; just do the best you can). Place on a cookie sheet (or a random toaster oven baking pan lined with foil, a la my lovely photo). You’ll probably want to grease the bottom of the cookie sheet lightly, because these will stick.
Bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden. Now, before I show you last night’s meal, you have to promise not to laugh. I forgot the whole “toaster cooks at a higher temp than the oven” thing and completely overcooked these babies. They were still tasty, but definitely not as tender and juicy as I’ve said they should be… I chalk it up to a weird week in which I still am not feeling quite like myself, my husband trying to be “helpful” by standing in the middle of the kitchen, and me trying to do too many things without prepping them all first. Anyway, you can still see how pretty these are:
I originally wanted to serve these with pita bread from SmittenKitchen (one of my favorite blogs EVAH!), but the recipe took over 2 hours and I didn’t feel like eating after dark… So risotto it was. If you happen to find yourself with extra time, these go really nicely as pita sandwiches with hummus or pesto, or even atop cuscous. You can also cook them on the stovetop in a pan with a little olive oil (they get crispy) or on the barbeque (but I’d leave out the cheese – that’s asking for a mess). They’re a nice quick weeknight meal that has very little manual labor involved. And they’re leftover friendly, warming up great in the microwave!