A few months ago I came up with a personal culinary research project. Explore every country on Earth with the internal filter: “How would this culture make a burger?”
So I’d look for meat dishes that either use ground meat or if the culture is largely vegetarian, find flavourful non-meat alternatives and create it in the form of a burger.
Recently, I was looking at the North African country of Algeria. While some of the spice combinations are relatively common among its neighbouring cousins of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria has a French influence from colonial times. There’s delicate uses of flavoured butters to brush over meat while it roasts.
The Algerian roast lamb dish, Mechoui, is a prime example. By adding a myriad of spices and garlic to butter and oil, this flavourful medium is basted over either parts of a lamb or a whole animal and slow roasted.
I thought this would be a wonderful way to treat a lamb burger as it is griddled. Get a deep, dark sear on each side and baste it with a flavourful oil/butter. It’s perfect on its own, but I also like to explore what would be made in the region for a condiment. Or something creative to use as a condiment.
Sure I could use harissa. It’s a fiery paste used to accent any number of dishes across North Africa. But I like to find flavourful dishes that are unique to a given country. In Algeria, they have a stewed lamb, vegetable and chickpea dish called Chakhchoukha. Normally a braised lamb shank/chop dish with the sweet, floral essence of the spice blend, Ras el hanout, it becomes almost like the Algerian take on chili con carne. Rich, savoury, hearty and the perfect sauce for flatbreads.
Flatbreads. Meaty sauce. Flavourful burger. Sounds like a winning combination to me!! Enjoy!!
Algerian Mechoui Burger with Chakhchoukha:
For the Mechoui Burger:
600g/20 oz ground lamb
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup cold pressed camelina oil
1 tsp, each, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 tsp salt
For the Ras el Hanout Spice Mix:
1 tsp, each, cinnamon, ground ginger, cardamom, corainder seeds, cumin seeds
1/2 tsp each, cloves and hot paprika
For the Chakhchoukha (Algerian Lamb and Chickpea Stew):
100g/4 oz ground lamb
1 tsp cold pressed camelina oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/4 cup chopped parsnips
2 Tbsp Ras el Hanout
1/2 cup chopped rutabaga
4 cups water
1 red chilli, chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tsp dried mint
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1-1/2 cups water
Prepared Mechoui Burgers
16 whole wheat flatbreads, cut into circles just bigger than your burgers
1 cup of fresh parsley
For the Ras el Hanout, add all of the spices to a spice grinder and grind until a fine powder is achieved. Set aside.
For the Chakhchoukha, in a large pot over medium high heat, add the oil, onions, garlic, ground lamb and Ras el Hanout. Sauté, with vigorous stirring, for a few minutes to brown the meat and soften the onions. Add the carrots, parsnips and rutabaga. Stir for 4-6 minutes to start to soften the vegetables and coat them in the aromatic spices. Add 4 cups of water and the red chilli, bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, reduce heat to medium and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the meat and vegetables have softened more.
Add the tomato paste, chickpeas, dried mint and water. Stir to smooth out the tomato paste and increase the heat to medium high again to bring the mixture to a simmer again. With a lid ajar, simmer for another 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick. Set aside and keep warm.
To prepare the burger, divide the 600g of ground lamb into four equal portions. Form each portion into even patties. I like to press each portion into a large ramekin to form an even patty shape and pop them out. Instant burger patty!
Grind the spices for the Mechoui in a spice grinder. Melt butter in a small pan, pour into a small bowl with the oil, garlic and ground spices.
Preheat a cast iron pan over medium heat. Once it is smouldering, add a tablespoon or so of oil. Lightly season each side of the lamb patties. Place the burgers, two at a time, into the cast iron pan. Griddle for about 3-4 minutes. Flip, baste the seared side with the spiced butter mixture. After another 3-4 minutes, flip the patty again, basting the newly seared side with the spiced butter mixture. Allow to cook in the pan for a further minute to give an increased smoky essence to the toasted garlic on the burger. Repeat with remaining patties and spiced butter mixture.
To serve, ladle 1/2 cup of the prepared Chakhchoukha into a blender and purée until smooth. Spread 8 of the flatbread circles with the Chakhchoukha purée. Top each flatbread with another flatbread to make a series of Chakhchouka “sandwiches.” Add a small handful of fresh parsley on four of the “sandwiches,” add about 1/4 cup of Chakhchoukha to the top of the parsley, then a prepared Mechoui Burger and top with another Chakhchoukha flatbread “sandwich.” Serves 4. There will be a bit of Chakhchoukha leftover. It’s great on it’s own or with some flatbread chips.