Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Pastiche of Exoticized "Other" (Moroccan lamb burgers)

The hamburger, despite owing its name to the city of Hamburg, Germany, is considered a quintessentially American food. So as the mercury spikes and grills flare across the land, I wanted in on the action. A food with such cultural iconography (and such simple ingredients) naturally lends itself to extemporization and I opted to enhance my Americana with a trip to the spice market: Moroccan lamb burgers with gingered carrots, lemon-mint goat cheese, and microgreens. The carrot component is an easy make-ahead, but the rest is ready in minutes, leaving you more time to chill in the shade with a tall glass of iced peppermint tea.

Prepare to chill

My earliest fascination with Morocco was aesthetic: swooning over patterned textiles and carved embellishments of architecture as rendered by my Childcraft encyclopedias and issues of National Geographic. Then there were the spices themselves: always a favorite of mine, even if my youthful self sometimes took them to extremes, proudly presenting pasta dressed with whole cloves or sauces made with half a bottle of garlic powder (neither of these is recommended). This fixation on the culture as little more than the land of silks and spices was childish in its orientalism: reducing an entire country to a pastiche of exoticized "other," but Morocco will always be stereotypically equated with spices in our cultural parlance. Moroccan cuisine was deeply influenced by the spice trade, with northern Africa being a natural stop on Mediterranean voyages between East and West. A cosmopolitan and culinary hub, Morocco collected influences from all its neighbors. 

East meets West
Traditional Moroccan spices include ginger, garlic, cardamom, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, cloves, saffron, peppermint, chilies, paprika, turmeric, and pepper, among others. Ras al hanout (Arabic for "head of the shop," meaning the best a vendor has to offer) is the sovereign Moroccan spice blend and often includes all these. In Morocco, spices can be found arrayed in aromatic, prismatic pyramids at the many stalls crowding open-air markets known as souks. If, like me, you can't up and visit a Moroccan souk, however, store-bought is fine. 

The spice has just begun to flow
While the melange of spices in these burgers isn't overwhelming, it is intense. Every layer is packed with flavor and the aromas will linger in your kitchen for hours. Sweet and earthy carrots sing with sharp ginger, amped by yet more ginger in the burgers themselves. The warmth of cinnamon and nutmeg add balance to the faintly gamey sweetness of grass-fed lamb, brightened with lemon and cool peppermint. Temper these bold flavors with a little simplicity: find soft, whole wheat rolls for a perfect base and use fresh microgreens like baby spinach and clover sprouts for tender vegetal accompaniment. Once you've tried these, you'll be ready to book plane tickets to Morocco in no time.

Two, please
Moroccan lamb burgers, gingered carrots, lemon mint goat cheese, microgreens
For an entree as full-flavored as this, pair with something simple. I recommend a salad of cucumber, cherry tomatoes, and red onion, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and oregano. Serves 4.

For gingered carrots:

4 large carrots, peeled and chopped to math stick
2 tablespoons ginger root, finely minced
6 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated

For lamb patties:

1 pound grass-fed lamb meat, finely ground
1 small sweet onion, minced
3 tablespoons shallots, minced
2 tablespoons ginger root, finely minced
1 teaspoon cumin, ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

For lemon-mint goat cheese:

4 ounces goat cheese, at room temperature
1 lemon, juiced
3 tablespoons fresh peppermint leaves, minced

4 handfuls microgreens (baby lettuces and/or sprouts)

4 whole wheat burger buns, lightly toasted

To prepare the carrots, combine all ingredients in a large glass bowl, stirring to combine. Press another bowl on top, squishing the ingredients down, and weight with the largest can your pantry can provide. Chill for several hours or overnight.

To prepare the lamb burgers, mix all ingredients in a glass bowl until evenly combined. Use your hands to break up the meat into four roughly even globs, then shape these into patties. Allow to rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes, to take he chill off the meat.

Fire up your grill or warm a cast iron skillet to medium-high heat and sear burgers for four minutes on a side each, or until they reach an internal temperature of 160 F. Remove to a foil-tented plate and rest for five minuteSS while you prepare the goat cheese spread.

To make the goat cheese, whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Minty fresh
Assemble the burgers to taste and enjoy!


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