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Healthy Eating: Make lamb leaner for better burger

| Tuesday, June 17, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
This April 28, 2014 photo shows grilled Middle Eastern lamb burgers with garlic sauce in Concord, N.H. Beef may claim to be what’s for dinner in America, but in the Middle East that honor often goes to lamb. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Beef may claim to be what's for dinner in America, but in the Middle East, that honor often goes to lamb. It's prepared in innumerable ways, but my favorite is when the lamb is ground, spiced and grilled, then topped with some kind of yogurt sauce and finally tucked into a pita. And that's how we're rolling here.

The only problem with ground lamb is that the kind available at the supermarket often is quite fatty. Generally speaking, of course, fat is where the flavor is — and the moisture. But lamb fat is saturated fat, and it's best to keep our intake of saturated fats down. Happily, lamb is packed with flavor, which means that even the leaner cuts deliver big lamb taste. What about the missing juiciness? We've replaced it with vegetables.

The surest way to source lean ground lamb is to grind it yourself or put it in the hands of a pro. Not all markets boast an in-house butcher these days, but if yours does, choose a leaner cut of lamb — a part of the leg, for example — and have the store grind it for you. Of course, if you own a meat grinder, or a stand mixer with a meat-grinding attachment, buy the leaner cut, bring it home and grind away.

If neither of those options is open to you, you can “grind” your lamb using a food processor. I put grind in quotes, because when you do it with a processor, it's more like chopping or shredding than grinding. Anyway, here's how it works: cut the meat into 1-inch cubes and freeze them for 30 minutes. Freezing the meat helps it to “grind” more evenly and prevents the processor from overheating the lamb in the process. Put the meat in the processor in batches and pulse until it gets to the desired consistency. But be careful not to overdo it. You don't want to turn the lamb into mush.

This burger remains juicy thanks to some onions and zucchini. We caramelize the onions to optimize their flavor, and grate, salt and drain the zucchini. I used to think zucchini were boring until I discovered this trick. The burger is seasoned with garlic, oregano and lemon, though you're welcome to swap out the oregano for basil, dill, mint or rosemary. Lamb pairs nicely with all of them.

And if you're not a fan of lamb, this recipe also is dandy made with beef. You can grind your own beef using the methods for lamb described above. Whichever, please don't skip the garlic-yogurt sauce. It's the perfect topping to a grilled burger on a summer day.

Chef Sara Moulton writes this column for the Associated Press.

Grilled Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers With Garlic Sauce

Start to finish: 30 minutes

1 medium zucchini (10 to 12 ounces)

Kosher salt

1 12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onion

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1 12 teaspoons minced garlic, divided

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided

Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound lean ground lamb

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

Olive oil cooking spray

4 pita bread halves

Grated carrots and chopped cucumbers, to serve

Use a food processor or box grater to coarsely grate the zucchini. Transfer the grated zucchini to a strainer. Toss the zucchini with 12 teaspoon of salt, and let it drain over the sink for 15 minutes. When it is done draining, working with a small handful at a time, squeeze the zucchini to get rid of as much liquid as possible.

While the zucchini is draining, in a large nonstick or stick-resistant skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 6 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the squeezed zucchini and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

Heat a grill to medium.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine the yogurt, 12 teaspoon of the garlic, 1 teaspoon of the lemon zest, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When the zucchini mixture has cooled, add the lamb, oregano, the remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, the remaining 1 teaspoon of garlic, and 14 teaspoon of salt and 14 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well, then shape into 4 patties, each about 12 inch thick. Spray the burgers lightly with olive oil cooking spray, then grill until medium-rare, for 3 to 4 minutes per side.

Serve each burger in a pita half, topped with the garlic sauce, carrots and cucumber.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 500 calories (250 calories from fat), 28 grams fat (10 grams saturated), 110 milligrams cholesterol, 35 grams protein, 26 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, 640 milligrams sodium

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