The Greek Eating Project: Greek Hamburgers on the Grill (Pan)

As all of you know, Sara decided to divert her energy for two weeks into the Very Vegan Valentine’s Day Project, so I was drafted to work on the Greek Eating Project while she’s away. Now, as I think Sara mentioned, this isn’t entirely accurate—I’ve actually been the “chef to be named later” from the beginning—but this will be my first attempt at writing the project report. Fair warning: if you liked Sara’s reports, this probably will not be an improvement.

The first thing I want to say is that I am most emphatically not a chef. I’m not a bad cook at all, and I can improvise a bit when the need arises, but I’m mostly a follow-the-recipes kind of guy. Now, I do feel that for the last few years I’ve begun to really understand different cooking techniques (and maybe even a few baking ones), but that puts mean in the same relationship to an actual chef that, say, a kid building a bridge with her erector set has to an engineer—she may be on the right track, but she’s got a few more things to learn before she can claim that title.

So, with that out of the way, on to this week’s meal: Greek Hamburgers on the Grill (Pan). Granted, probably not the best choice, being mid-winter and all, but I had two main criteria last week: I needed something easy and I wanted to make something Sara wasn’t likely to ever make herself. I dismissed the the vegan, vegetarian, and chicken dishes immediately, since Sara was favoring those types of dishes for herself it wasn’t clear what the results of the Very Vegan Valentine’s Day Project would be (you’ll have to read Sara’ posts on that project to find out!), so that left the beef and lamb dishes to choose from. Since, generally speaking, hamburgers pretty much involve three steps prior to cooking—chop one or two ingredients, mix all ingredients together, and shape into patties—these seemed a perfect first dish. And I do have a nice grill pan, so all I really lost was a bit of the flavor from the grill, which in some ways was better—it gave me a chance to see what the hamburger tasted like without the added flavors from wood or charcoal smoke.

One of Sara’s traditions is to include what is or isn’t organic and where she purchased it at, and it’s a good tradition, so I’ll continue it in my fill-in role.

Here’s a list of the organic ingredients I purchased and the store I got them at:

  • Eggs (Costco)
  • Lemon juice (Whole Foods)
  • Parsley (Whole Foods)

Here’s a list of the non-organic ingredients I purchased and the store I got them at:

  • Ground beef (Beef Mart)
  • Bread crumbs (Town and Country)
  • Olive oil (Costco)
  • Sea salt (Town and Country)
  • Pepper (Molly Bea’s)
  • Oregano (Molly Bea’s)

I want to note is that all of the ingredients are available organically from Whole Foods, although I’m not sure how easy it would be to get organic dried spices and fresh parsley locally. I’m not saying you can’t, but I haven’t really looked so I can’t say that you can either.

As I’ve already mentioned, the prep work for this dish isn’t that hard—you just chop up some parsley, measure everything else, mix it all together, and shape it into patties. The real secret is in the combination and proportions of the ingredients, which I won’t reveal here (also per good Sarathlete blogging tradition), except to say I cut the recipe in half without cutting the number of eggs in half, and I think it still turned out darn tasty.

I do want to say a couple of things about preparing this dish, though. First, don’t skip the lemon juice! What? You weren’t even considering that? It never crossed your mind once? Well, for some of you that may be true, but I’m betting at least a few of you would thought about doing just that, because I did. Yes, I almost decided to omit the lemon juice. After all, this is supposed to be a hamburger, and who puts lemon juice in a hamburger. All I’m going to say is resist the temptation and leave the lemon juice in.

Second, I strongly recommend eating this burger plain on a bun the first time you try it. I’m not saying you can’t add other things on burgers two and later, but for the first one just try it plain (OK, you can put a little mayo on the bun if you must, especially if you go with a slightly fattier grind of beef than I did, but that’s it—and definitely avoid ketchup). The lemon juice in particular gives this hamburger a slightly light and surprisingly refreshing taste, and before you decide what flavors to add, you should know what you’re adding those flavors to.

Third, I was rather surprised by the texture of this burger, which I can only describe as creamy. Yes, it was moist, but I wouldn’t call it “juicy”. To be fair, this was probably primarily a result of the grind of beef I chose to go with, ground sirloin (at a guess in the roughly 93% lean range), so there wasn’t a lot of fat to contribute to the moisture or texture. The lemon juice kept it from getting dry, but the juice largely gets absorbed into the bread crumbs, dried oregano, and even a bit into the meat itself, so instead of producing that juiciness that comes from fattier meat, you get a burger that has a texture closer to a moist, velvety cake.

So would I do anything differently if I made this dish again? Yes, one thing. Instead of going with all ground sirloin, I would try either a ground round (for a little more fat) or, even better, a 50/50 blend of ground sirloin (for the flavor) and ground chuck (for the fat). I should probably point out this isn’t necessarily a change to the recipe, since it simply calls for “very lean ground beef”, but isn’t any more specific than that, so who’s to say Anna didn’t intend for “very lean” to be 85% lean instead of 93%? After all, I’ve had a burger that was 60/40% lean, so by that standard, 85% is pretty darn lean indeed! Of course, the choice of how much fat you like in your burger is purely personal, and I want to stress that for those of you who prefer lower-fat dishes, the all 93% lean ground sirloin burger was pretty darned tasty (or did I say that already?)! The flavors are wonderful, and the burger is plenty moist with a nice, smooth texture.

One last thought, a bit of a drink pairing note: I tried this both a red Shiraz and a Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat beer. Both worked very well with it, although I think a red with a little less body would pair slightly better than the Shiraz did. If, however, you make these in the summer on a charcoal or wood grill, or go with a slightly fattier cut (or mix of cuts) of beef, the Shiraz may be the better choice. I guess I’ll have to try one or both of those combinations and drop an update to let you know the results!

And now, a word from my Very Vegan Valentine:

Pete made paprika fries as a side dish with the burgers. They were 100% vegan and really awesome, and I imagine they would go great with the burgers!

I’ve been making those fries occasionally for years, so I forgot to mention them, but my Very Vegan Valentine is right: they are and do!

Until next week…opa!

Guest blogger and sort-of cook


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