If you've checked the forecast for this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you're doing the same little happy dance that I am because it looks like grilling season has finally arrived.
The former sailor in me is frantically shouting warnings not to tempt the weather gods with my brazen acceptance of a positive weather forecast. However, I'm a lifelong North Dakota optimist, so I'm throwing caution to the wind and planning a weekend menu centered entirely around grilled foods, including these Grilled Southwest Turkey Burgers.
Have you ever had a turkey burger and thought that you were eating shredded cardboard or those Styrofoam packing peanuts? This was my first experience with a turkey burger several years ago at a chain restaurant, and very nearly my last.
Thankfully, a good friend of mine who also happens to be a nutritionist encouraged me to give this super-lean protein another chance.
After convincing me that I'd probably been served a turkey burger straight from a freezer box, she went on to extol the virtues of replacing red meat (on occasion) with ground turkey, like less saturated fat and cholesterol. I replied by saying that, while I appreciate these health benefits, I need my food experiences to taste like actual food, thank you very much.
Rolling her eyes, she challenged me to come up with a turkey burger that was not just nutritious, but also flavorful and even - dare I say it? - delicious. I accepted her challenge and am happy to say that I enjoy eating crow a whole lot more than shredded cardboard, because my family has enjoyed the benefits of adding turkey to our diets.
For these burgers, I use ground turkey that is at least 93 percent lean, which has about a third of the fat content of extra-lean ground beef. One 4- to 5-ounce turkey burger provides nearly half of the daily protein required for an 1,800-calorie diet and is packed with B-complex vitamins and nutrients that boost immunity, lower cholesterol levels and enhance blood circulation and heart health.
Because of its low fat content, ground turkey has a tendency to be dry and tasteless, so my recipe counters this by mixing the meat with one egg, which acts as a binding agent, and adding vegetables like bell pepper and onion for flavor and moisture. A host of spices and herbs are also added to create the Southwestern flavor of these turkey burgers, including garlic, jalapeno, cilantro, Tabasco, chili powder and cumin.
I top the burgers with a spicy Southwestern sauce made with low-fat or regular sour cream, fresh lime or lemon juice and a small host of spicy ingredients. For even more heat, I found a terrific cheddar cheese at Costco in Fargo called Tickler Vintage Aged Cheddar with Chilis and Peppers, but your favorite pepper jack or cheddar will also suffice.
The result is a wonderfully moist and flavorful burger that even the most ardent carnivore can enjoy. And hopefully, all skeptics and superstitions aside, we'll be enjoying these Southwest Turkey Burgers this weekend.
Have a happy and safe Memorial Day!
Southwest Turkey Burgers
Makes: 6 patties (approx. 5 ounces each)
1.3 pounds extra-lean (93 percent or higher) ground turkey breast (average weight of one package)
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or parsley, finely chopped
½ bell pepper, finely chopped
½ jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (add more for extra heat)
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne hot sauce like Tabasco (add more for extra heat)
2 teaspoons Lawry seasoned salt or any grill seasoning blend
Olive or vegetable oil, to brush on burgers and grill
Grilled or raw red onion
Preheat grill to medium-high heat (about 400 degrees F).
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, except for the oil, and use your hands to mix until well combined, about 2 minutes. The mixture will be soft and sticky, so place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to firm up before forming patties.
Divide mixture into 6 equal mounds, and then shape into patties. Place patties on a baking sheet lined with wax paper and brush or drizzle tops with olive oil until lightly coated. Discard wax paper once burgers are on the grill.
Place patties on hot grill and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side, until an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F is achieved. For best results, use a meat thermometer for accuracy. To prevent the meat from sticking to the grill, let the patties cook for at least 3 minutes per side before lifting.
Place sliced cheese over the patties in the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking. Once the required temperature has been reached, remove burgers and transfer to a plate or baking sheet lined with wax paper; cover with aluminum foil to retain heat.
Scrape any remaining turkey from the grill. Slice buns in half and place them on the grill, cut side down, and grill until lightly toasted. Remove and spread Southwest sauce on the inside of the bun's top. Place a burger on the bottom half of each bun, then top with lettuce, onion and pickles. Cover with top bun, serve and enjoy.
Spicy Southwest Sauce:
1/3 cup low-fat or regular sour cream
1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne hot sauce like Tabasco (add more for extra heat)
1 tablespoon ketchup
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and stir vigorously to combine. For best flavor, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. May be made up to 4 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to serve.
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"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello's in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 13-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello//thelostitalian.areavoices.com.