Beyond the Basic Burger

The American backyard in the isn’t complete without summer burgers on the grill. Spice up the basic burger with these unique recipes and tips.

| June/July 2001

  • Summer Burgers
    Nothing says summer like a burger right off the grill.
    Photo courtesy STOCKMARKET PHOTO

  • Summer Burgers

As sure an emblem of summer as cutoff jeans and watermelon stands, nothing beats the sizzle of burgers on the grill as evidence that we've returned full circle to the season of sun and insects, toil and revelry. This summer, try out one of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' Tex-Mex Turkey Burgers, Burgers Marrakech, Lentil Burgers or Venison Chorizo Burgers for a new twist on an old favorite.

Though we may associate the basic burger with American backyards and diners, it probably originated in 14th-century Germany. The Hamburg steak — low-grade, shredded beef with regional spices — made its American debut in the kitchens of German immigrants in the 1880's. Thought some sources trace the patty's origin to the 1885 county fair in Seymour, Wisconsin, it is common belief that burger met bun at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. The popularity of the sandwich prompted the opening of the world's first chain of hamburger restaurants, White Castle, in 1924.

In recent years, many of us have shied away from the all-beef patty, and with good reason: Following the results of a 12-year study, the British Medical Journal concluded that cancer deaths were 40% less common among vegetarians than among meat eaters. There is also the quality of commercially processed meat to consider. Livestock are exposed to a myriad of pesticides and antibiotics, and ground hamburger is more likely to harbor E. coli bacteria than other cuts of beef. The cattle industry also leaves a heavy footprint on the land: Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage worldwide is used to grow food for people — the rest is reserved to grow livestock feed.

Fortunately, there are tasty alternatives for the health- and environment-conscious consumer who wants to enjoy more than potato salad at the next barbecue. You can reduce fat content by using leaner meats and increase fiber by adding grains and veggies to the mix. If you've sworn off meat altogether, consider veggie burgers — they aren't quite the sawdust composites they used to be. Due to their low fat content, veggie burgers don't always hold up well on the grill, so we recommend wrapping them loosely in foil poked through with a few holes so the smoke can penetrate. Spike veggie burgers with salsa and a slice of cheese and you'll never miss the beef.

Tex-Mex Turkey Burgers

(Makes 4-5 small burgers)

1 pound ground turkey (dark meat)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon minced serrano or jalapeno pepper (or 1/2 teaspoon chipotle puree; see "chipotle mayonnaise")
1/3 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons guajillo or ancho chili powder* or regular chili powder
1/2 teaspoon each: cumin seeds and ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon cornmeal

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