Someone I follow on Instagram made me laugh by finishing a post with an urging to her followers to ‘Stay cool, go slow and say yes to all barbecue invitations’ – all ideal mantras for getting through the summer months in my view.
I adore barbecues, probably because they were such a rare occurrence at home, reserved for only the hottest, most windless days of summer. The little wrought iron grill would be dragged out of the garage, cobwebs dusted off & charcoal set. My father would set to making burgers with a curious device we had which I can only describe as a burger press, which used finicky waxed paper circles that had to be ordered from a catalogue but made excellent, perfect, butcher style burgers. Potato salad would be prepared by my mother; Superquinn baps would be sliced in advance and placed in a straw basket; strawberries would be hulled & sliced for dessert by whichever child was passing through the kitchen; a tray would be set up with cutlery & condiments for bringing out to the garden. After dinner, as the sun dropped behind the house and the flies began to gather, my brothers and I would have a compulsion to burn leaves on the still-hot barbecue. I can still remember the sour, throat-catching, thrilling fragrance that bay leaves would make as they burned; the satisfying crackle as they hit the grill.
I think a lot of people would have similarly intense recollections of barbecues past etched into their minds. It’s the smells, the noises, the powerful flavours, the unfamiliarity of one’s father being in charge of the logistics of preparing the meal, the kitchen chairs looking so strange in the garden.
But although I love a plain, dense cheeseburger or a grill blackened sausage and a portion of sun-warmed pasta salad on a paper plate as much as anyone else, I also have a place in my heart for higher end barbecue hits – you know, skewers, stuffed veg, prawns and so on. The following recipe is for a burger that’s somewhere between fancy and family friendly; like an older cousin who’s suddenly become worldly after being abroad for a few months but will still play swingball with you after dinner if you ask nicely.
BEEF KOFTA BURGERS
With quick pickled onions, lemony houmous yogurt & crumbled feta
For the quick pickled onions
Double or triple the quantities if you want more, they’ll last a good while in the fridge in a jar. Make sure to start these well in advance of beginning the burgers as they will need a little while to macerate to soften the vinegar flavour – 30 minutes is a good minimum, but leave them for longer if you can.
1 red onion, peeled & thinly sliced
250ml white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of salt
2 tablespoons of caster sugar
A sprinkling of whatever hard spices you fancy, ie coriander seed, fennel seed, pink peppercorns, juniper berries etc.
Place the onion slices in a bowl or jar. Bring the vinegar, salt & sugar to the boil in a small saucepan then take off the heat and pour over the onion slices while still hot. Cover & refrigerate for at least half an hour before using – the longer you can leave them the better they will taste.
For the lemony houmous yogurt
3 tablespoons of pre-made houmous
3 tablespoons of thick Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (yellow only, avoid the white pith)
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Stir the ingredients till fully incorporated then cover and refrigerate until required.
For the burgers
450g 5% fat minced beef
Half an onion, peeled & very finely diced
3 tablespoons of tahini
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
Pinch of ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground coriander
Generous pinch of salt & pepper
Mix the ingredients together very gently then divide into four and lightly shape into slightly ovaloid shapes – the less you handle them the juicier they’ll be, but they do need to be quite tightly compacted so they don’t fall apart during cooking. Flatten gently and refrigerate, covered, until required. When your barbecue is ready to grill (ie, the charcoals all have a grey ash coating or the gas grill is preheated) cook the burgers for five minutes on each side for well-done, or until cooked to your liking. If you’re pan frying, heat a pan till very hot with no oil then reduce the heat to medium and add the burgers, moving them slightly initially with a fish slice to prevent them sticking, extractor fan on at full blast. After five minutes, turn them over and cook for another five minutes for well-done; or around four minutes a side for medium well.
(Any extras can be served on the side as accompanying salads)
4 brioche style burger buns, halved
Half a cucumber, sliced
Quick pickled red onions (see above)
Lemony houmous yogurt (see above)
Handful of herb leaves – coriander, dill, mint or flat-leaf parsley work well
Half a block of feta, crumbled
Baby salad leaves
Lightly toast the burger buns on the grill. Spoon a little of the lemony houmous yogurt onto each of the bottom buns. Lay radish slices over each along with some herb leaves. Top with the burgers, then more herbs, radish slices, cucumber slices, a tangle of the quick pickled onions, baby leaves then crumbled feta. Spread a bit more of the lemony houmous yogurt on the underside of the top buns and place on top, pressing down slightly to bind. Serve immediately with a selection of salads.