The classic American burger rarely is seasoned beyond salt and pepper. But Levantine cooks treat ground beef—however it is shaped—as just the starting point, adding all manner of bold seasonings. For example, kofte and kibbeh, varying styles of meatballs and patties, typically are seasoned with a blend of warm spices, such as the all-purpose blend baharat, which flavors the meat and cuts its richness. Fresh herbs, especially mint and parsley, can provide accents that help freshen flavors. And rich nuts, such as ground pistachios or pine nuts, add texture as well as moisture that prevents the meat from drying out.
Or skip the beef altogether. Ground lamb pairs especially well with cumin and chilies, and its more robust flavor tends to mellow on the grill. Pork can easily dry out because it requires more thorough cooking, but try adding a panade of breadcrumbs mashed with yogurt, which adds moisture and a dairy tang to accent the sweet, nutty flavor of the pork.
Don’t let the grill’s heat go to waste after cooking your meats. Consider using the cooling coals of a charcoal fire to grill vegetables or char whole eggplant for making baba ghanoush. Smoky-sweet grilled onions, scallions and tomatoes are particularly good in sauces, salsas and relishes. Halve onions and tomatoes, coat lightly with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, then cook until charred and softened, flipping occasionally. What doesn’t get used immediately can be refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for future use.
Recipes to Try
These are equally good prepared with ground lamb or equal parts lamb and beef.
In a food processor, chop ½ cup raw pine nuts or pistachios, ½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, 1 large, roughly chopped shallot, 2 teaspoons ground cumin, ½ teaspoon ground allspice, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil until coarsely ground, about 30 seconds. Add 1 pound 80 percent lean ground beef and process until finely ground, 30 to 40 seconds. Form into 12 patties, each 3 inches in diameter. Grill over a hot fire until browned on each side and the centers reach 160°F, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with warmed flatbread, sliced onion, diced tomato and/or cucumber.
These flavor-packed burgers are a spin on a chouriço-like spiced pork sausage from Goa in southern India. In a large bowl, combine ⅔ cup panko breadcrumbs, ¼ cup plain whole-milk yogurt, 5 teaspoons each garam masala and sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 large egg yolks, 2 grated garlic cloves, 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper and ¼ cup water. Using a fork, mash into a smooth paste. Add 1 pound ground pork and mix with your hands until evenly combined. Form into 4 to 6 patties, place on a large plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Grill over a hot fire until browned on each side and the centers reach 160°F, 5 to 7 minutes each side. Serve on toasted buns with torn fresh mint leaves and thin slices of cucumber or tomato and yogurt.
Either burger works with the following dipping sauce:
Spicy Yogurt-Tahini Dipping Sauce
This all-purpose dipping sauce works alongside grilled meats and vegetables. Mix 1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, 3 tablespoons tahini, 1 tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and kosher salt, ground black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. If you like, stir in chopped fresh herbs such as mint, cilantro, oregano or marjoram, and 1 grated garlic clove.
Sign up for our newsletter to get more tips on batch cooking.