One of the most memorable meals we had in New Zealand was, unsurprisingly, at the beach. We rented bikes in Hawkes Bay–big clunky cruiser things–and went wine-tasting along the water. It was a postcard-perfect day, with a sharp blue sky, cottony clouds, and incredible jewel-green water. Needing to fill our bellies before a long afternoon of sipping sauvignon blanc in the vineyards, we stopped at a cafe at the end of the road in Te Awanga. It was a sweet-looking place, with red wooden walls and a gabled roof, overlooking a small cove and a rising mass of cliffs in the distance.
This was a place the bike tour company had recommended. It was also one of the few lunch spots around for miles. Based on those points, I think we were all expecting uninspired, overpriced tourist food. But we were pleasantly surprised: everything we ordered was fresh and tasty, with layers of bold and delicate flavor. We locked up our bikes and ate lunch out on the patio, crowding all nine of us onto a single park bench and watching the clouds drift past the sun.
Because several of us were on a quest to eat as much New Zealand lamb as possible, we ordered lamb burgers. They arrived majestically, each piled high with lettuce, carrots, and feta, and sandwiched between two halves of a pumpkin bun. The burgers themselves were juicy and delicious, of course. But the real surprise were those pumpkin buns. They were deeply orange and just the slightest bit sweet, and each was crowned with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds that crackled and snapped with each bite. They were a perfect foil for the gamy lamb, with just enough character to be interesting but not enough to overwhelm. None of us had ever had a burger on a pumpkin bun before, and now we all wondered aloud why not, since it was clearly a brilliant idea.
I came home determined to recreate those buns, and after a bit of trial and error, I think I finally managed it. These are so much tastier and more interesting than your average hamburger bun, with just a hint of sugariness from the pumpkin and a welcome crunch from the pumpkin seeds. Skip the dainty turkey or salmon burgers here; these buns can stand up to any number of meaty, gutsy, spicy fillings. Lamb is a natural, of course, as is beef or any other red meat, or portobello mushrooms, or richly spiced legumes, or anything else that’s savory and strong. (In my next post, I’ll introduce my new favorite sloppy joe recipe, which was absolute perfection with these.)