My bachelor habits are unusual. I typically don’t, when I’m making dinner just for my lonesome, go for what’s quick and easy. In fact, I use the rare occasions when I’m dining solo to catch up on cooking and consuming foods N. is not fond of. So when he was out of town last week visiting his parents, I took advantage of the evening alone to rendezvous with one of his major food rivals: lamb.
Most of the time (at least lately) I try to shy away from cute titles – I want to make sure you know what you’re getting – but this one was too clever not to use. This is a riff on a dish my sister made for us for Christmas (hi, R!), a version of spanikopita with crumbles of ground lamb and gooey shreds of mozzarella mixed in. Since my first thought upon tasting it was “more,” and then “more, more,” I thought a burger might be the answer. More of everything!
The delightful thing about spanikopita, to me, is the burst of briny saltiness from the hunks of cheese that muddle reluctantly into softness amid the spinach. I love the dill, and I love the earthy hit of nutmeg. Lately I’ve been adding lemon zest to the mix as well, for sour brightness to contrast the salty tang of the cheese.
All this, then, would have to go into my lamb burger. I’m not a big fan of massive additions to burgers. They seem, too often, fussy and unnecessary. That’s what toppings are for. But here, I think the incorporation works incredibly well for several reasons. First, lamb has a bit of a gamey flavor. Some of us like that, but for those who don’t, the additions of extra ingredients mean it’s a mild gaminess, not overwhelming. Second, it’s very easy for ground lamb to dry out. Here, where I’ve incorporated not just cheese but a sodden handful of sautéed fresh spinach, producing a dry product becomes a challenge. Third, but no less important, the addition of these extra ingredients bulks up the burgers, making the lamb – not nearly as cheap as everyday ground beef – stretch a bit further. This isn’t like a crab cake stretch, though, where your product is so drenched in seasoned bread crumbs you forget what kind of meat is supposed to be in there. All of these flavors dance well with the lamb, enhancing rather than masking it.
Because you’re cooking with a heady amount of cheese in the mix, these burgers will get crusty and deeply bronzed as the cheese seeps down onto the hot pan to toast. Don’t be alarmed. Settled on a bun with some fresh spinach leaves, to contrast the cooked tumble in the burger itself, this is nearly perfect. Slathered with some Greek yogurt whipped with lemon juice and fresh raw garlic, it turns into lamb burger nirvana.
Just because this isn’t, perhaps, a typical bachelor meal, what with the longish ingredient list and the time taken to prepare it from scratch, doesn’t mean I treated it as fancy. There’s no need for ceremony here; it’s too good. Hasty bites. No napkin. Straight over the sink. I don’t mind telling you, just between us, that I didn’t even bother with a plate.
⅓ pound ground lamb
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 green onions, finely sliced
2 teaspoons finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup shredded or cubed mozzarella
½ cup fresh spinach leaves, plus more, to serve
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible
Salt and pepper to taste (I suggest ¼ teaspoon salt and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the ½ cup spinach leaves and sauté gently until they are wilted: 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
- In a medium bowl, combine the lamb, garlic, onions, dill, lemon zest, and cheeses. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. The best way to do this is to get in there and use your hands, gently kneading with your fingertips to mix thoroughly.
- When the spinach is cool, transfer it to a cutting board and chop finely. Don’t squeeze it out – we want that wetness to keep the burgers moist.
- Add the chopped spinach to the lamb mixture and mix again to integrate it.
- Divide the mixture in two and form patties of your desired diameter. Mine were probably 3 inches around. Keep in mind that the thicker your patties are, the longer they will take to cook.
- In the same skillet you used for the spinach, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium high heat. When it shimmers, add the lamb burgers, clamp on a lid, and turn the heat down to medium.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes undisturbed, then cautiously lift with a spatula to check the bottom. When they are deeply bronzed and have a dark crust from the melting and toasting cheese, flip, recover, and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until your desired doneness is reached.
- Remove from heat, transfer to a bun of your choice dressed with condiments to your liking (I recommend the Greek yogurt spread below), top with fresh spinach, and serve.
Greek yogurt spread
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, chopped fine and pasted with salt
- Combine ingredients in a small bowl, mix with a fork, spoon, or small whisk.