The Global Burger: Syria
Syrian burger (cooked rare) with mint sauce, cheese and tomatoes.
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
I love a good burger. While I always enjoy the regular patty on a bun with cheese, lettuce, tomato and ketchup (as long as it's cooked at least medium-rare), sometimes I like to put a twist or two on tradition. In this series of posts, I'm globalizing the burger by revamping it according to other countries' cuisines.
For the past few months, the majority of the news coming out of Syria hasn't been exactly pleasant. I was fortunate enough to visit the country twice before the recent rash of violence, and in addition to being permanently charmed by the colorful markets of Damascus, the breathtaking architecture of Aleppo and the sincere friendliness of the people, I was also quite smitten with the food. I couldn't get enough of kibbeh, kebabs and halawet al-jeben, and back home in Houston have tried whenever possible to replicate certain dishes or just generally cook in the style of Syrian cuisine. So, I dedicate this segment of "The Global Burger" to Syria, which won my heart and my stomach, and, I very much hope, finds peace sooner than later.
- 1 (or 2) ground lamb patties mixed with bulgur wheat
- 1 large piece of Syrian bread, halved
- 1 piece of Karoun Syrian cheese
- 2 tablespoons of yogurt and mint sauce*
- Tomato slices to garnish
*Yogurt and Mint Sauce (laban-ee-yee lil koosa)
- 2 cups yogurt
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Dash of salt
- 1 glove garlic
- 1 teaspoon dried mint
Make the yogurt sauce. Stir yogurt well; mix cornstarch with water to make paste. Add to yogurt and cook on low heat, stirring until mixture boils. Crush garlic clove and add to sauce. Stir in salt and mint. Cook on low heat for 5 minutes, then cool.
Mix ground lamb with 1-2 tablespoons of bulgur wheat. Form thin lamb patties and season with salt and pepper and (if you're feeling adventurous) cumin; cook to your liking on grill or stove top.
Slice one large piece of Syrian bread in half to form two thin circular discs. Place one or two slices of cheese on bottom disc; place patty on top. Spread yogurt and mint sauce on top of patty, then garnish to your liking with tomatoes. Top with second piece of Syrian bread.
Home-cooked feast in Damascus, Syria.
Photo by Joanna O'Leary
"Syrianizing" the classic American burger was easy in some ways. Lamb (far more popular than beef) patties would serve as the base and Syrian bread would replace the traditional buns. Assembling some of the other ingredients for the burger was a bit of a scavenger hunt, albeit one made much easier by Phoenicia Specialty Foods. I made a yogurt mint sauce using a modified recipe (see above) from this terrific cookbook. And even though cheese is not heavily featured in Syrian cuisine, I couldn't resist adding a slice of Karoun cheese after randomly spotting it at Phoenicia. Note: Phoenicia was out of Karoun cheese when it came time for the photo shoot, so what's pictured is actually a less authentic though equally tasty variety of Egyptian cheese called Romi.
Combining mint and yogurt and cheese was a risky venture, but, I'm happy to report, did not produce a disgusting product. The saltiness of cheese actually complemented the pungent mint, and garlic rounded out both elements for an intriguing bouquet of flavors. Overall, the Syrian burger was a softer sort of sandwich than your standard American burger, with the creamy sauce, spongy cheese and doughy Syrian bread. (I didn't toast my bread because I don't toast my buns, but do so if you're inclined.) The addition of bulgur wheat to the ground lamb added a pleasant graininess to the otherwise smooth, tender patties and made for a more filling burger.
If I did another rendition of this burger, I would swap out the yogurt and mint sauce for dried apricot paste (a Syrian specialty) for a sweeter sandwich. And who knows? Maybe in a few years I'll return to Damascus to open my own burger joint.
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