Lamb Sliders with Tzatziki
Sliders are such a fun meal to cook. They're currently a gourmet food truck catch-all, and for good reason. Modern sliders pack a wide range of flavors and cuisines in a quick, hand-held package. You have protein, carb/starch, and sauce, so the sky is the limit when it comes to combinations.
A couple months ago, I picked up some ground lamb at the store. I wanted gyros, but not gyros -- a play on the concept. I decided to go for a slider presentation, and it was so good, I wanted to make it again for our blog.
So, I present ground lamb sliders with a tzatziki sauce on mini-pitas.
I started with prepping the lamb for the sliders. I took a pound of ground lamb, and stripped some thyme leaves to add some herbiness. In my humble opinion, thyme is the perfect herb for lamb, less assertive (or cliche) than mint, and I dislike the pineyness of rosemary in general. Thyme gives a nice floral scent and flavor that balances the earthy, almost gamey taste of lamb.
I kneaded some minced thyme leaves into the ground lamb, along with some kosher salt and ground black pepper.
After combining the ingredients, I let the lamb sit in the fridge for a half hour or so to mix the flavors.
On to the topping. Tzatziki is a traditional Greek sauce, mainly Greek yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, and lemon. Variations are common, and I perused a lot of classic and alternative recipes. I'd especially like to give a shout-out to Peter, over at Kalofagas. He is a master of Greek cuisine and has some great, drool-worthy variations for tzatziki on his site.
I made my own variation, balancing ingredients on hand, time available, and what I felt would match the meal.
I started with a cucumber, peeled and seeded with a spoon. I grated the cucumber and put it in a strainer with some salt to reduce the liquid.
(You might ask what I did with the cucumber water that was left over. Well, I drank it. Salty and cucumber tasting -- it was really good.)
I took a clove of garlic, added some kosher salt to the top, then mashed and minced it. Smashing the garlic with the knife and really moving the knife around with the grittiness of that salt helps the garlic to get a little pasty. Once in the food processor, it'll blend a little more easily with the rest of the ingredients.
Next, I mince some fresh dill and add it to the food processor with the cucumber, some Greek yogurt, some sour cream, extra virgin olive oil, and the juice of half a lemon.
I want to plug the lemon especially, because I bought a lemon tree this spring and this was the first lemon that ripened from my lemon tree!
I also want to point out that traditional tzatziki uses strained Greek yogurt, which, like straining the cucumber, removes the excess water and keeps the sauce thick. Due to life in general, I didn't have time to strain the yogurt, so I added the sour cream mainly to add some thickening to the sauce. I also added it as a yogurt and sour cream blend is also common in my Eastern European background in meals like goulash and stroganoff, so it added a bit of familiarity.
I pulsed in the food processor, but just enough pulses to mix the ingredients together. I wanted to keep some cucumber and garlic texture, so I didn't puree the sauce into a consistent blend.
I wanted to add a bit of texture and green to the sliders, so instead of lettuce or some other leaf, I decided to use cut cucumber slices. I washed another cucumber to get the wax off, then peeled alternate slices off the cuke to get an interesting striped pattern. I sliced the cucumber, then salted to, again, draw out a little moisture, and to enhance the flavor so that it would come out against the lamb and tzatziki.
The lamb had blended enough, so I shaped it into patties. With any ground meat, fat is added. When cooking, some of that fat will render out of the meat, shrinking the patty, and the more fat there is, the more the meat will shrink when cooked. This ground lamb was fairly lean, so I made the patties about 10% wider than I wanted the finished ones to be. I pretty much got it bang-on, but check the fat content on the package for a good estimate of how much any ground meat will shrink.
Instead of using the grill, I heated a cast iron skillet to a pretty hot temperature. I wanted a nice sear on the outside, while keeping the center about medium (pinkish, but warm to hot). Cast iron was a great choice as it didn't lose any heat at all from such small patties, so I could sear and cook pretty nicely.
For assembling, I took a couple mini-pitas, added a cucumber slice, the lamb patty, some feta cheese, and the tzatziki on the side.
I also experimented a bit, and tried one with a single pita, cut in half, with the tzatziki spread on the top half. That was really good too, especially if two pitas seems like too much bread for one slider. It's still nice, of course, to have the tzatziki to dip with.