If ever there were a time to follow the rules of local eating in the food world, it’s now at the end of summer. It’s criminal not to load up on produce such as tomatoes, which are currently overflowing at farmers markets.
Yet it’s also that time of year when change is in the air, and summer routines give way to a fall refresh. What was perfect off the grill on a hot July day seems a bit boring now that we’ve arrived in September.
Antoni Porowski can preach on the subject of change (as well as hangover cures). The “Queer Eye” star, who along with his co-stars wrapped season six of the hit reality show this summer, is famous for helping people alter their routines – and their lives. “It’s important to switch it up,” he said in a phone interview. “I get tired of preparing things the exact same way.”
That point of view informs his helpful new book “Antoni: Let’s Do Dinner” (Mariner Books; $30; Tuesday), in which he offers a slew of options to break up patterns for evening meals. Chapter titles include “Break an Egg,” “Veggie Night” and “Salad, But Make It Dinner.”
“The book helps expand the repertoire of what dinner can be,” said co-author Mindy Fox, a Portland, Maine-based food writer. “It’s breaking the norm to give you a lot more ideas, a lot of flexibility.”
The “Sandwiches & Their Cousins” chapter is especially good for people who want a dish that’s great whether eaten outdoors or at the dining room table. There are recipes for a Polish banh mi stocked with kielbasa and for curried egg and avocado tartines. And, of course, a burger. “I’ve never met a burger I didn’t like,” proclaimed Porowski in the chapter.
His favored version is made of lamb and was inspired by eating at Darjeeling Express in London. Chef Asma Khan, he said, “showed me this lamb patty that was filled with this cooling, yogurt-y, minty sauce in the center that she explained was the food of aristocrats – and I was just blown away by it. I’ve been thinking about that lamb burger ever since.”
In his book, Porowski pays homage to the trick by tucking a few spoons of yogurt into the patty. The seared, stuffed burgers are served on a soft flatbread with a simple, pesto-like cilantro chutney and optional garnishes like mint and red pepper flakes. It’s a dish that’s more than the sum of its parts.
Tuck into the crusty burger and admire the contrast of the gamy spiced lamb with the soothing yogurt secreted inside; the chutney enlivens it with jolts of jalapeño and lime. Shower everything with herbs, and it becomes even more compelling, especially with the flatbread base that breaks up the boring burger-in-a-bun routine.
Porowski believes the dish will help more people appreciate lamb. “It’s a wonderful meat. I’ve been eating it since I was a kid. And I think it’s really delicious, and people should give it a try.” But you can switch up the protein by using beef instead, he said. Skip the yogurt if you’re dairy-free, and serve it in a lettuce leaf if you’re counting carbs.
“The warm spices are a nice, gentle welcome to the fall,” he said of the cumin and cayenne seasoning. But he makes a point of garnishing the dish with one last blast of late summer: “That there are only a few weeks left of tomato season, this is a great opportunity to get a beautiful heirloom or a beef steak, or beautiful Jersey tomatoes.” He added, “Use those up fresh while you can because we’re going to miss them in the winter.”
Lamb Burgers With Cilantro Chutney
6 cups coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems (from 2 large bunches)
2 tablespoons unsalted roasted whole almonds, cashews or peanuts
1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons water
In a blender, puree all the ingredients until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste, and add a little more water if it’s too thick.
1½ pounds ground lamb
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ cup plain whole milk yogurt, seasoned with salt; divided use
½ teaspoon olive oil
4 pita breads, warmed and split, or warmed naan or other flatbread
Optional garnishes: Chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh cilantro, thinly sliced scallions and/or crushed red pepper flakes
In a bowl, mix the lamb with the onion, cumin, cayenne and salt. Using damp hands, shape the mixture into eight patties, about 4 inches wide and a half-inch thick and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread two tablespoons yogurt on top of each, leaving a half-inch border. Set the remaining patties on top, and pinch the sides to seal together and keep the yogurt in. (Don’t worry if a little oozes out.)
Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Working in batches, cook the burgers over moderate heat until browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn and continue cooking about 5 minutes longer for medium rare.
Spread about half the chutney inside the pitas or on the warm flatbreads. Add the burgers and garnish with toppings of choice. Drizzle with more chutney and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
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