Spicy Lamb Burgers


For those of you that live in D.C. you all remember the epic snow storm of 2012, lovingly known as Snowmageddon.  As a Boston girl I poo pooed the weather reports for weeks as I had seen the chicken little sky is falling routine time and time again in Washington only to end up with an inch of slush.  I was wrong.  It was an epic storm that will shape the lives of Washingtonians for decades (for those Bostonian readers this is ala the Blizzard of ’76).  Patrick and I hadn’t been dating long, so it was a tough proposition to be snowed in with someone for two weeks – especially after a couple of days when he realized we had run out of food!  Thankfully many Capitol Hill restaurants remained open through the whole ordeal, sending plows to their employee’s houses just so they could make it in, and welcoming snow-covered customers who piled wet mittens and scarfs on their floors.  Our savior was Cava Mezze on Barracks Row.  Now a local chain, back then it was a pretty small family run operation with several standout dishes.  Their happy hour deal on spicy lamb sliders and greek wine was all that stood between us and starvation (and probably a quick break up!).  Years later it is still my favorite thing on their menu and whenever I eat one I am taken back the memories of that crazy winter.

There are lots of lamb burger recipes out there so I played around with a bunch until I found something pretty close to the version at Cava’s.  Previously I used chopped fresh chili peppers to give it some heat but then realized foolishly that since one of their staple dishes is fresh harrissa paste served with pita, that the spice in the burger was likely coming from that same hot chili pepper paste mixed in with the ground lamb.  There are lots of recipes for harissa online but I usually buy mine in tubes or small cans at mediterranean markets.  Also Whole Foods started carrying Cava’s version which is outstanding.  If you cannot find it, any kind of pepper paste would work or a chopped jalapeno would work in a pinch.

Also I found that my other attempts using egg and other binders left a burger that resulted in a big mess on the grill.  These patties hold together much better though fair warning, lamb is a “softer” meat so can lead to less than instagram worthy burgers.  One tip is to form the burgers and then let them chill for at least an hour in the fridge before grilling them  This helps them hold together better.  Also a good trick for burgers with mix ins like this one – if you aren’t going to eat all 4 right away still go ahead and make the whole recipe.  Once you have formed the burgers take the patties you are not going to use and put them on a plate or baking sheet.  Place in the freezer for 2 hours – the patty will harden and then you can throw it into a freezer bag for up to 6 months.  When you want to make the burgers again just defrost over night on a plate and you will have a premixed, preformed burger all ready for the grill.  I serve mine on toasted english muffins, a terrific vessel for all burgers, along with my yogurt sauce, arugula and red onion.  These burgers would be great for a family BBQ, a nice alternative to the standard fare, or as we often do for a quick weeknight dinner paired with a large greek salad.  These would be a great addition to your 4th of July menu (as will Friday’s recipe).

Spicy Lamb Burgers 

  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion – 1/2 chopped and 1/2 sliced to top the burgers
  • 3 cloves of garlic – 2 minced for the burgers and 1 minced for the yogurt sauce
  • 5 tablespoons chopped mint, divided – 2 tablespoons for the burgers and 3 for the yogurt sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons harissa (more if you like it spicier)
  • 5 to 6 ounces non-fat greek yogurt
  • 4 english muffins or hamburger buns
  • arugula or lettuce for topping

In a small pan heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook the chopped onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic until softened, about 5 minutes.  Let the mixture cool.  In a large bowl add lamb, chopped mint, the cooled onion and garlic mixture, harissa paste and salt and pepper.  Mix with your hands until just combined (don’t over work the meat or it will become tough).  Divide the meat into 4 and form patties.  If you have time chill for 1 hour in the fridge to make a firmer patty.

Heat grill on high and grill for 8-10 minutes.  Meanwhile mix the remaining garlic clove with the remaining 3 tablespoons of chopped mint, yogurt and salt and pepper to make the yogurt sauce.  Toast the english muffins while you let the burgers rest.


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