Lamb burgers with mint pesto and whipped feta

I’ve already discussed the life-changing burger bun I had in New Zealand. Now let’s talk about what was in it.

I’m not normally much of a burger girl. I’m not anti-burger, by any means–I’ll happily eat one if it’s what’s on offer–but for the most part it’s not high on my list of beloved foods. It takes a really spectacular burger to make me sit up and take notice. And this one did.

I’m basically reconstructing this from memory, but the flavors and sensations made a pretty deep impression. First there was that wonderful pumpkin bun, squishy and sweet and crunchy on top. Then there was the lamb itself, juicy and gamy and just salty enough. And then there were the condiments, smeared just out of sight under the lid: something minty, and something smooth with feta in it. The whole thing was topped off with a cluster of julienned carrot (and a slice of beet, which I immediately removed). Each bite had just the right amount of bready squish, a little carroty crunch, a little salty feta tang, a little grassy mintiness, and a morsel of earthy lamb. God, it was wonderful.

So, for Fourth of July week, what better way to blog than by recreating a burger I had in another British colony? And here it is: a juicy lamb patty, on a bun slathered with mint pesto and whipped feta dip, and topped with shards of carrot. It’s savory and salty and herby and sweet and crunchy, and I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite burger I’ve ever made. The ingredient list looks a little long and complex–you’re basically making two separate condiments from scratch. But because you can make both in the food processor, they come together in minutes, and each can be done several days or even a week ahead. (I normally make pesto by hand, with a knife, but all that lovely texture would be lost here. The machine is fine.)

Burger-cookery is a pretty personal thing, and I definitely have my preferences. For me, a 1/3 pound burger is the perfect size–not too big, not too small. I try not to compact or squeeze the meat too much as I’m shaping it, so that it’ll stay juicy and relatively light. I like to make the burgers just a tad larger than the circumference of the buns I’m using, because they shrink as they cook. And I season the outside of the burgers, rather than the inside, for no other reason than that it means I don’t have to dirty a mixing bowl.

Oh, and a note on the buns. I didn’t have time to make bread from scratch for these photos, so I bought some good-quality buns, and the burgers were just fine. They’ll taste great on pretty much any bun. But please, if you have the time and inclination, I beg you, do try making pumpkin buns for these burgers. They really elevate each other. They belong together. They sing.

lamb mint pesto whipped feta burger

Lamb Burgers with Mint Pesto and Whipped Feta (makes 6 burgers)

Inspired by the Clifton Cafe

Note: You will end up with more pesto and whipped feta than you need for the burgers. Save the leftovers; they’re delicious on their own.

For the mint pesto:

A handful (about 1/3 cup) blanched slivered almonds

2 cups packed mint leaves

A couple large handfuls finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3/4 cup)

1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or enough to moisten and bind the pesto

For the whipped feta: adapted from The Kitchn

8 oz feta cheese, at room temperature

4 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

Zest of 1 lemon

For the burgers:

2 lb ground lamb

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 hamburger buns (preferably these)

1 medium carrot, shredded or julienned (about 1/2 cup)

To make the pesto: Toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat until golden and fragrant. In a food processor, combine almonds, mint, Parmesan, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped and holds together when pressed. (If you have a small processor, doing this in batches is fine.) Transfer to a medium mixing bowl and press into a large mound. Pour olive oil over the pesto. If not using immediately, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2-3 days. You can also transfer the pesto solids to an airtight container, add enough olive oil to cover, and freeze for up to 2 months, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight before use.

To make the whipped feta: If your feta is in brine, drain it and pat it dry. Crumble the feta into the food processor, and pulse until it’s broken up into small pieces. Add cream cheese and let the machine run, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, for 4-5 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and thick. Add lemon zest and pulse to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside until ready to use. You can also cover the mixture tightly and refrigerate for up to a week; bring it back to room temperature before use.

To assemble the burgers: Divide the ground lamb into 6 portions, and shape each portion into a burger patty. Season the burgers generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill or pan-fry the burgers over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side, or until cooked to your desired doneness. (I like medium.) Remove the burgers from the heat and let them rest for a few minutes.

While the burgers rest, stir the mint pesto to incorporate the olive oil. Slice the hamburger buns in half, and spread some mint pesto and whipped feta on each bun. Place a lamb burger on each bun, and pile some carrot on top. Devour.

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