Summer's arrived and the Fourth of July's around the corner, so let's fire up the grill and get some burgers going.
Before you reach for the ground beef, though, hold on a minute.
That fresh bun slathered with condiments will work well with other forms of meat, including lamb and turkey. And when done right, a veggie burger can pack enough protein and fat to satiate those carnivores' cravings.
We're thinking of the hearty veggie burgers served at such local spots as Sunflower Drive In, Capitol Garage and Tower Cafe. The Plum Cafe (formerly known as Sugar Plum Vegan) crafts a chunky vegan burger made of rice and sunflower seeds with a house-made Thousand Island-style dressing, plus a side of rosemary garlic potatoes.
"It's our No. 1-selling item," said owner Ron Russell. "The burger itself has a lot of flavor, but when you add the tempeh bacon, avocado and sauce, it really gets your taste buds dancing."
For longtime locals, one of the city's signature veggie burgers came from Greta's Cafe. This midtown spot at 19th and Capitol is today home to a Chipotle, but was once a haven for Sacramento bohemian types and known for one epic veggie burger. Greta's was also the first restaurant to employ Mike Thiemann, who now is executive chef of Ella Dining Room & Bar.
As an homage to Greta's, Thiemann recently added a veggie burger to Ella's menu using the recipe he learned at Greta's. (Check the recipe on Page D2 to learn how to make this classic Sacramento burger yourself).
The patty is formed with a mixture of nuts, spices and carrots, and is cooked over high heat to create proper caramelization. Add some aged cheddar cheese and condiments Thiemann likes a 50-50 mix of mayonnaise and the Asian chili paste sambal and you've got a filling burger that's on the healthier side, too.
"It's your standard kind of hippie burger," said Thiemann. "It has a surprisingly rich flavor for a nut burger and is great with ketchup. My favorite part is the caramelization that happens. It makes this nice crust that's almost like a falafel."
To build the fullest crust on this patty, Thiemann recommends cooking it in a pan so more surface area gets caramelized. If you want to give the grill a shot, make the patties ahead of time and chill, which will enhance binding.
Either way, one advantage of cooking veggie burgers is the ability to taste test the patties before they're added to the grill or stove. Try that with raw meat and well, it won't be pretty.
"The home cook can eventually create their home recipe with this," said Thiemann. "It's undoubtedly a rich burger, and you'll get satisfaction from it."
If you're still craving meat, but want to opt for something a little healthier, turkey burgers remain a top choice. For Andrea Thompson of Sacramento, who was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked as a recipe tester for Williams-Sonoma, turkey burgers are a beloved dish in her household.
"It's probably the biggest hit in the house," said Thompson. "For our health, I feel better about feeding us turkey than beef. I'm not opposed to beef, but I always try and have turkey in the freezer."
With a 20-ounce package of ground turkey, Thompson likes to add a filler of breadcrumbs to add softness, a trick sometimes used by burger chains. By the end of her recipe, she has five perfectly formed turkey burger patties.
"I take the end of a loaf of bread, tear it up and put it in the blender to make three-quarters of a cup of fresh bread crumbs," said Thompson. "I add that right into the turkey, squeeze a clove of garlic into the bowl and add a half-teaspoon of kosher salt. I take a lemon and zest about half of it, add pepper and mix it all up."
Turkey burgers have a tendency to stick to the grill more than beef, so either oil the grill well or give the patties themselves a spray of olive oil. That'll give them the best chance of staying in one piece when flipped. Also, pay close attention to doneness with turkey burgers and aim for an internal temperature of 165 to 170 degrees.
"You can use a thermo-meter to slide sideways through the patty," said Thompson. "It needs to be well done. It's poultry and you could get salmonella in a worst-case scenario, and with ground turkey you have to be even more careful."
Finally, let's consider some lovely lamb burgers. They're a top seller at the Chef's Table in Rocklin, says owner and chef David Hill, who is offering a lamb burger on a fresh Grateful Bread bun. He likes to add Greek flavors to complement the lamb's earthy flavors, including a dollop of tzatziki sauce or feta cheese with a mint-pesto spread.
"Ground lamb is lean, so you want to add something that mimics a fatty content," said Hill. "When you add cheese and stuff, that will enhance that lack of fat. (Ground) lamb also cooks faster than beef, so if I go five minutes per side with a beef burger, I'll go 31/2 minutes per side with lamb."
Hill sometimes mixes Italian sausage or chorizo into his ground lamb. Or, if it's football season, Hill might combine all three for one whopper of a patty.
"I'm a big Steelers fan, so it's called the 'Roethlisburger,' " said Hill.
But before you fire up the grill or stove to whip together some burgers, whether they're lamb or any other kind, Hill offers a final tip.
"When you make the patties, let them chill for at least an hour," said Hill. "Contrary to all the theories, if you let them sit and reach room temperature, I think the fat warms up too much. I've had much more success going straight from the fridge to the grill."