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Summertime is burger time. And it’s so easy to throw a few beef patties on the grill. Not much is required in the way of embellishment, yet they have a big happiness return.
What’s the magic ingredient? Fat, of course. Beef burgers are high in fat, which guarantees flavor and juiciness. And because fat enhances flavor, it also makes anything else you put in or on the burger taste better, too.
Heartbreakingly, as you decrease the fat content in a burger, its flavor tends to go bye-bye, too. This is a real problem if you want to dig into a delicious burger and still want the blood to continue sailing through your arteries. The solution? Turkey.
I know. I know. You’ve tried turkey burgers and it was like eating wet cardboard. Hah! But you haven’t tried my turkey burgers...
Let’s start with the basic ingredient — ground turkey. While researching this recipe, I discovered that the labels on ground turkey can be quite confusing. You’d figure that a package labeled “lean” would mean what it says. Weirdly, it turns out that the calories and fat in a 4-ounce portion of “lean” ground turkey can range from 120 calories with 1 percent fat to 160 calories with 12 percent fat (which is as rich as a lean beef burger). As always, it’s best to read labels and not rely on words such as “lean” or “white meat” when looking for healthy choices.
Or, better yet, grind your own turkey. Start by buying a small package of turkey tenderloins, the flap of meat that lies just under the breast. As little as a 1½ pounds of turkey tenderloins can be ground to produce six burgers. Cut the tenderloins into 1-inch cubes and freeze them for 30 minutes. Pop them in a food processor and pulse until they achieve a medium-grind consistency.
Now we come to the crucial part of the recipe, the part I call Turkey Helper. The blandest and driest of white meats, turkey cries out for flavor and moisture. Happily, any number of vegetables can answer this call, including sauteed onions, bell peppers or mushrooms, shredded raw Napa cabbage, or carrots.
But I wanted to give these burgers the Greek treatment, so I moistened them with spinach, garlic, and onions, then seasoned them with crumbled feta and fresh oregano. A staple of Greek cuisine, the goat or sheep milk cheese called feta is so packed with flavor and saltiness that a little goes a long way. And if you’re not a fan of oregano, you can swap in dill or basil instead.
In search of a simpatico sauce, I built one out of pepperoncini. Also known as Tuscan pickled peppers, pepperoncini are the little green hot peppers that have spiced up every Greek salad you’ve ever eaten. They’re briny, too, which is why I added some of their pickling liquid to the yogurt-mayo base.
This creamy sauce comprises the last splash of our Turkey Helper. Nobody in my house cries “Where’s the beef?” when we pull these burgers off the grill.
Greek-Style Turkey Burgers with Pepperoncini Sauce
1½ tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
½ cup finely chopped yellow onion
5 ounces baby spinach
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup low-fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced seeded pepperoncini
1 tablespoon liquid from the pepperoncini jar
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 ounces crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 pound ground turkey
4 whole-wheat hamburger buns
Heat the grill to medium.
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil and the spinach and cook, stirring, until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Chill in the refrigerator until cooled to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine the yogurt, mayonnaise, pepperoncini, pepperoncini liquid, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Once the spinach has cooled, remove it from the refrigerator and add the feta, oregano, ground turkey, ¼ teaspoon salt and ground black pepper. Mix well, then shape into 4 patties, each about ½-inch thick.
Spray the burgers lightly with olive oil cooking spray, then grill over medium heat until just cooked through, about 6 minutes per side. Spread some of the yogurt sauce on the bottom half of each bun, then top with a burger. Spoon the remaining sauce over the burgers and top with the remaining bun halves. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings
Nutrition information per serving: 460 calories; 220 calories from fat (48 percent of total calories); 24 g fat (7 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 110 mg cholesterol; 34 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 29 g protein; 1030 mg sodium.