Round the Table: The Classic Hamburger

Mongol horsemen stayed in the saddle for long periods of time. They were able to do so because of the small sturdy ponies they rode and unusual eating practices. They sustained themselves on meat; it was chopped, raw and eaten by hand. As a result of this ingenious idea, we can safely assume that Genghis Khan fed his armies on hamburgers.

Sometimes, nothing else will do but an All-American Burger. Many thanks to Genghis Khan for hamburgers!

Fast-forward a few hundred years to Hamburg where sailors visiting the port were introduced to “steak cooked in the Hamburg style”. The ground meat patty then immigrated to the United States along with German settlers. Around the turn of the century, the American hamburger was created and working class America was captivated by this portable meal.

Americans grill hamburgers more than any other food. Hamburgers are fast, easy to prepare, inexpensive and guaranteed to please a crowd.  But too often, we settle for dry, crumbly flavorless burgers that require a blanket of condiments.

Most butchers recommend a ground beef chuck or round, both are very tasty, but my all-time favorite burger meat is brisket. I buy whole brisket when it goes on sale and ask the butcher to grind it for me. Then I freeze it in 1-pound packages for burgers anytime I want.

While the classic burger side dish is crispy fried potatoes covered with ketchup, I don’t think the whole-wheat pasta salad will disappoint anyone.  Fresh with roasted red peppers, goat cheese and basil, this is an interesting take on traditional heavy, creamy macaroni salads.  Try it alongside the green chile cheeseburger for a spicy change of pace.

All-American Burger

Yield: up to 4 burgers

  • 1 pound freshly ground meat, brisket or chuck.
  • Salt and pepper

Form meat into 4 patties, season each side with ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper.  Let seasoned burgers sit for 20 minutes before grilling.

Grilling Instructions from America’s Test Kitchen

A Green Chili Cheeseburger with Whole Wheat Pasta Salad is a nice twist on the classic All-American Cheeseburger.

For a charcoal grill: Open the bottom grill vents completely. Light a large chimney started filled with charcoal briquettes.  When the coals are hot, pour them in an even layer over the grill.  Set the cooking grate in place, cover and heat the grill until hot, about 5 minutes.

For a gas grill:  Turn all the burners to high, cover and heat the grill until hot, about 15 minutes.

To grill the burgers: Clean and oil the cooking grate.   Lay the burgers on the grill and cook, without pressing on them, until well seared on both sides and cooked through.  Use a meat thermometer to test for doneness. Transfer the burgers to a platter, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.


Tex-Mex Burger: top cooked hamburger with green chile sauce, shredded Colby or Monterey Jack cheese and condiments of your choice.

West Coast Burger: top cooked hamburger with avocado, sprouts, sliced cucumbers on a whole-wheat bun.

Mid-West Burger: top cooked hamburger with bacon, American cheese and grilled onions.

East Coast Deli Burger: top cooked hamburger with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and spicy brown deli mustard; raw onions are optional.

Green Chile Sauce

Yield: 4 servings

  • Simply roast the peppers over an open flame, steam them in a paper bag and rub them to remove the charred skin.

    2 Poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped*

  • 1 medium white onion, grilled or roasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, put through the garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Will keep refrigerated and airtight for 3 days.

*Chiles may be roasted under the broiler, over an open flame on the stovetop on the stove or over a very hot grill. I use the stovetop method.  Wash and dry the chiles, don’t remove the stem.  Hold the cleaned chile over the flame, with tongs and turn every minute or so; until the skin is blistered and blackened.  Repeat until the entire chile is charred. Place the hot chile in a paper bag and let them sweat for 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the bag, rub the chiles and the charred skin comes right off.

Roasted Red Pepper Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 pound whole wheat pasta, penne or fusilli
  • 4 oz. softened goat cheese
  • 12 oz. jar of roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup slivered almonds, toasted*
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoons chopped fresh Basil
  • 1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
  • ¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until tender.  Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta cooking water.  Drain the pasta and rise with cold water until cool, then drain well.  Transfer to a large bowl.

Process the goat cheese and 2 to 3 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water in a food processor until smooth. Add half of the roasted peppers, ¼ cup of the almonds, the Parmesan, oil, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust seasons; since the pasta water is heavily salted, you may not need to add more salt to the dressing.

Stir the cheese mixture into the pasta until well coated, adding the reserved pasta water as needed to adjust the consistency. Fold in the remaining red peppers and ¼ cup almonds. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. If refrigerated let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes, stir in warm water as needed to adjust consistency and season again with salt and pepper to taste.

*Toast almonds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

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