I’ve wanted to make these for about a year now.
A whole year – which is quite a long time, if you ask me. Sometime ago in 2008 (boy, doesn’t that sound like ages ago?) I wandered into a small Soho restaurant called Salt, a little cold and very hungry. I scanned the small menu and a merguez burger just called to me: it came with a mint-yogurt sauce and a salad inside a pita. It sounded perfect, considering it was a kind of day when you needed something filling and comforting, and especially, if you have a soft spot for merguez, like I do.
I told all my friends about these burgers, dragged them to the restaurant and even co-planned an engagement brunch for my friends there. And every time, without even bothering to sample anything else, I would order the merguez burger. It was and is that good, believe me.
And while I wanted to make them, I was kind of intimidated of what it would take to make this Moroccan specialty. Would it even taste authentic and what steps would it entail? And what if it didn’t taste just like the version I fell in love with? Typically, I’m shy and reserved and fear rejection and never had the guts to ask the chef for the recipe, so I was on my own in making it.
And just as I was ready to finally take the plunge, spring and summer came and put my plans on a seasonal hiatus. I don’t know about you, but I’m not one for heavy lamb when it’s 90 degrees outside. I tend to stick to crunchy, cold things like salads and sweet, fruit-filled things like pies. Lamb in the summer – um, no thank you.
But, finally, winter settled in. Or more like winter barged in with snow and wind and sub-freezing temperatures. No polite knocking on the door or anything – it simply appeared one morning and decided to stay. All this has done wonders for my motivation, as all I want to do is just put on layers and layers of fleece, drink coffee and eat soup. Oh, and also, keep making these merguez burgers. Because these taste exactly the way I had them at Salt, and I’m over the moon with this recipe, courtesy of Melissa Clark. It’s a moment of triumph when you can recreate a meal exactly the way you had it elsewhere. A small, but solid victory, a jubilant “Yesss!!” you squeal to yourself in your kitchen. I love these so much, that it pains me to write about them and not have one for dinner tonight. In fact, I reheated these for dinner and while they were lovely, my heart is so with these merguez burgers that I doubt anything will eclipse them this winter season.
There’s everything in perfect balance here: the spiced, fragrant lamb; the cooling freshness of the minty-cilantro yogurt sauce; the crunch of the lettuce and juice of the tomato; the heat of harissa. It’s really, truly, wonderfully perfect – comforting, filling, warm, and yet quite different from the regular, expected winter fare. Portion control with these might be a challenge, but then again, if these get you through the brutal cold then my job here is done. You can make the portion control resolutions on your own – just don’t come back blaming me.
Adapted from the New York Times, courtesy of Melissa Clark
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 pound ground lamb
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped; more for serving
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Olive oil, for cooking (I used canola)
3 cups of chopped romaine lettuce
1-2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp fresh mint, chopped
a pinch or two of salt
Harissa, for serving (optional)
1. Toast cumin, coriander and fennel seeds over medium-low heat, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Transfer the spices to a spice grinder or a mortar and grind until seeds are finely ground.
2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well together. This process works a lot better if you’re mixing by hand rather than using a spoon. Form the mixture into flat patties roughly the size of your palm. If you have unusually large palms, then use your imagination: your want to fit the patties inside a cut pita. The patties should be roughly 1-inch thick. Chill for up to 5 day, freeze for up to 3 months, or use immediately.
3. While your meat is chilling, mix together lettuce, tomatoes and the onion. Set aside.
4. Stir together the yogurt, cilantro, mint and salt and set that aside as well.
5. When you are ready to cook the burgers, brush patties with oil and grill or broil them until they are completely cooked through. You can also fry them in a bit of oil until they’re browned all over and aren’t pink on the inside.
4. Serve these stuffed inside a pita with a salad, drizzled yogurt sauce and harissa. I found it easier to fit inside a pita with all the accouterments if I sliced the patty lengthwise.
Yield: About 1 pound of sausages.
Those look perfect Olga! My only regret is that i don’t have the ingredients handy to make them right now. I can only imagine how delicious they must be in Pita bread with Harissa and Yogurt sauce. Dang!.. you succeeded at making me hungry!
Stephane – I do owe you a meal. I could always make these at some point! They were REALLY great. Sorry I made you hungry. Well, not really, but sort of sorry. :)
Olga, I’m hopping on the train now! And hoping that you have some left! That is some burger, and I’d love to have one, right about now! Great post as always! :)
Delicious! I love lamb especially when paired with the cooling tzatziki style dressing. I am saving this recipe for the future – hopefully it won’t take me a year to make ;)
Kamran – am sad to report this was my Christmas eve dinner (friends of the Hannukah persuasion were over) and we had no leftovers. I would gladly share them. They were insanely good and very unfussy to make.
wow… just wow. you had me at merguez. these look divine! ever since you’ve been tweeting about them, i’ve been (impatiently) waiting for a recipe. totally worth the wait!
Wow, those look tasty! I keep meaning to try cooking lamb but I’ve never used it before. Burgers sound like a nice first step, and I love yogurt sauces.
What a great way to use ground lamb! Here’s hoping I have some in the freezer.
oh yes I can see why. perfect.
So, so glad I have some ground lamb in the freezer at this very moment! Thanks for sharing this recipe.
That combination of burger and yogurt sauce is delightful. Love it!
You’ve convinced me: these look amazing! Must get lamb on next shopping trip…
Delicious lambburgers with that cilantro/mint yogurt topping! Love the seeds you used- very flavorful!
Definitely worth the year’s wait!
A lamb burger is a thing of beauty. A lamb burger with Moroccan flavors is even better.
I don’t even feel slighted. This one was worth the wait!
Oh wow! I’ve never had Merguez anything and I have all the spices in stock. Absolutely love lamb burgers so these are a great variation.
Katie @ cozydelicious
These look wonderful! There is this awesome tiny restaurant in RI called Crazy Burger that serves something very similar – and it’s awesome! I haven’t been there in years, but I remember that burger! I have always wanted to make a version myself – so these look like just the thing! I’ll have to give them a shot next week. Thank you!
Just made these for dinner – delicious! We didn’t have harissa, and next time I’d like to let the meat sit, seasoned, for more than 5 minutes, before cooking, but Yum. Didn’t take more than 5 minutes longer than burgers (b/c my husband likes to season those) and they were so much tastier – and great with a nice glass of Lirac. Wonderful fast week night dinner!
I remember this recipe! And I had similar sentiments. For months I could not get lamb off the brain. This summer we went crazy over grilled lamb sliders with yogurt tahini sauce. Looking forward to finally trying these burgers!
MJ – thrilled they worked out well for you and yes, aren’t they super easy?
And the leftover yogurt herb sauce is wonderful with beets! I’m a beet freak and always have a few foil-wrapped baked ones around – just diced one into the leftover sauce for lunch and it is fantastic.
MJ – i heart beets. they’re a cornerstone in Russian cooking :)
Oustanding !!! I love a lamb burger.
mmm! I’m not a big burger fan, but I AM a big merguez fan. What a brilliant idea, especially with all the trimmings. Genius. Cheers, Molly
Erika from The Pastry Chef At Home
It’s all about the yogurt mint sauce! I love the photo of your spice grinding in the mortar and pestle!
Sweets at Vicky's
I loveee a god meat patty! Nothing quite as satisfying. :)
Nadia @ for the love of yum
I just returned from a vacation in Morocco last month and this post is making me want to return now! I love the fragrant and aromatic spices used in North African cuisine. Your burgers look amazing! Love how you ground your own spices, the flavors are so much more complex when you do this small step. Gorgeous!
I’m going to ask my daughter about Salt. I’ve been in SoHo a lot (because she lives in NYC) and never ran across this restaurant. The merguez burger looks wonderful and full of middle eastern flavors. Of course, the yogurt mint sauce it the final touch!
Barbara – it’s small and sort of inconspicuous on Macdougal Street.
Love Salt. And love this recipe. I think you’re right: winter barged right in this year. And this might actually bar the door (for a while) to prevent any more cold blasts. Or at least to keep them a little in the offing.
Amy @ Cheerful Cookery
Oh, I do love Moroccan food, and these look outstanding AND I can patty them up the night before so I’m not eating dinner at 9 pm? I’m sold, but then again, I was sold at coriander seeds. I love them and can never find enough uses.
i love lamb burgers, especially topped with a mint yogurt!
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such gorgeous accoutrements- plus, harissa elevates any meat-based dish. paired with your mint-cilantro raita- it must have been absolutely gorgeous. sadly, i am a bit of a carnivore and cannot stay away from meat no matter what time of year- this would be a year-round treat for me. best wishes, shayma
Shayma – i admire your commitment to meat, I turn into a rabbit, come summer.
hmm, looks yummy, can’t wait to have a try
I’ve been looking for a good burger recipe myself and I couldn’t find anything quite light. This recipe is perfect and the burgers look really tasty. Guess I found what I needed.
I have just made these and they were fantastic. I thought I’d have just one but it was so good, I had to have two! Fab recipe which I will be doing again. I was brave and added a whole teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
Has anyone tried these on the BBQ? With summer on it’s way (NZ – southern hemisphere) they could be a regular treat.
Tried these tonight. Made my own harrissa. Fabulous! Thanks!!
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