Prime burger grilling season can’t be about just the meat. You’ll need to whip up some novel toppings to make your grill-out spread a little special. Produce is piling into the local farmers markets, ready to be transformed into unique condiments. Other inventive elements will jazz up the standard backyard BBQ, such as different sauces and tasty, homemade buns.
Let’s start with veggie topping ideas. Roasted peppers add wonderful flavor and textural interest to a burger. Sweet red bells are always welcome, but consider Anaheim or poblano peppers for a little bit of heat and a Southwestern feel.
Sautéed onions and mushrooms are a must for many burger lovers. You could style it up by using shallots instead of onions, and sautéing them with butter and fresh thyme. Add some thinly sliced Gruyere cheese and you’re in gourmet business.
Olive tapenade is a less common burger topping, but one that can get you hooked. Make your own by combining in a food processor: 5 lbs. of various pitted olives (I like a mix of green and black), 2 anchovy fillets, 1 minced garlic clove, 3 basil leaves, 2 Tbsp. rinsed capers and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice. Pulse until it forms a paste.
Sauces beyond ketchup and mustard will elevate your burger grill-out. For example, everything is better with sriracha, the hot sauce made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic, sugar, and salt. While the bold diner squirts it directly on a burger, you can mix sriracha with mayonnaise, blue cheese or ranch dressing to tame it down and add complexity of flavor. Also look to other hot sauces, such as the Middle Eastern harissa.
Decadent homemade mayonnaise adds a delicious touch to your burger. The Basil Mayonnaise recipe in Paul Virant’s book Preservation Kitchen calls for blending together 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 cup of coarsely chopped basil and the juice of half of a lemon. With the food processor running, drizzle in 1 cup of grapeseed oil until the mixture becomes quite thick. If it’s still loose, process up to another ¼ cup of oil. Season with salt and pepper and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.
If eating raw eggs is a concern, Trigs carries pasteurized eggs in the shell. If you don’t happen to have grapeseed oil on hand, use a light olive oil instead.
If creamy-based condiments aren’t your thing, jazz up a mustard by adding another flavor, such as a touch of maple syrup to stone ground mustard, or honey and a pinch of smoked paprika to Dijon.
Pickled stuff A zingy quick pickle of thinly sliced cabbage, cucumber, cauliflower or carrot makes a colorful and tasty burger topping. For something even crazier, spiralize firmer, larger veggies such zucchini with a special spiralizer tool.
A good carrot/radish quick-pickle comes from a New York Times recipe: Peel and cut 1 large carrot and 1 pound of daikon radish into matchsticks. Sprinkle them with a 1 tsp. salt and 2 tsp. sugar, and gently knead, allowing it to give off moisture. After several minutes, drain and rinse, squeezing out excess liquid.
In a bowl stir together ½ cup sugar, 1¼ cups white vinegar, and 1 cup warm water until the sugar is dissolved. Pour over vegetables and marinate for an hour. This keeps in the fridge for a month. If you can’t find daikon radish, substitute carrot or spring turnips.
My family are suckers for all things Korean-food, and store-bought kimchi—fermented, spicy, tangy cabbage—is always welcome at our cookouts, and makes a burger to remember.
Heavenly Hamburger Buns
The recipe, slightly adapted from Our Best Bites blog, gives you awesome buns, or hot dog buns or sandwich rolls. You won't believe how easy it is to make this homemade goodness.
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 ½ cup warm water
1 ½ Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt, heaping
3 ½ – 5 cups flour
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg, separated
2 Tbsp. cold water
Combine yeast, water, and sugar in large mixing bowl and let stand 10 minutes or until bubbly. Add salt, vegetable oil, and egg yolk (set white aside for later) and combine. Add 3 cups flour and mix well until combined. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough that barely sticks to your finger. Knead, either by hand or in mixer for another 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and allow to rise and hour, or until doubled in bulk.
Punch down dough. Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray, or use a silicone sheet or parchment paper. For buns or hoagies, divide equally into 8-10 (or even 12) pieces and shape as desired. Use a scale if you want equal-sized buns.
It’s okay if the dough balls touch, or will touch after rising. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise another hour or until doubled. Keep an eye on things. If they seem like they’re getting so big that they might collapse, hurry and get them into the oven.
Preheat oven to 375°. Mix egg white with water and brush over dough. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or dried, minced onion if you wish. Bake for 10 minutes and repeat brushing the dough with the egg wash. Bake an additional 10 minutes or until bread is golden brown and your house smells like heaven.