Persian Mini Meaty Pitas with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce
One summer, I cooked for an Iranian family in Falmouth, Massachusetts (the closest I’ve ever come to summering on Cape Cod!) I worked crazy hard, but I loved the family. They were from England, but they had held on to their Persian heritage, largely through their food. At first, I was intimidated by their huge collection of Persian cookbooks, but I figured cooking for them was the best place to experiment with this cuisine. If I messed up, I could get help from people who really knew the food and techniques. Because it was a hot summer, they requested lighter dishes. I created these pitas as an alternative to typical barbecue dishes that weigh you down. I love this with beef, but it works well with turkey or lamb, too. (Just season more aggressively with cumin and chile if you’re using lamb.) This dish is a tribute to that family and our summer together. I can’t thank them enough for introducing me to a world of flavors that I enjoy to this day.
Cucumber Yogurt Sauce:
1/2 seedless cucumber, finely diced
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1/2 cup sour cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 pounds coarsely ground beef chuck (80% lean)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
2 teaspoons fresh cilantro leaves, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for cooking
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
4 pocketless pitas
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon sumac (optional -- check out my tips below to learn more about it)
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded, and diced
1/2 Hothouse (English) cucumber, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1. To make the sauce: In a bowl, stir together the cucumber, yogurt, sour cream, garlic, cumin, and lime zest. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for at least 1 hour before serving or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 day. Stir well before serving.
2. To make the burgers: In a large bowl, gently mix the beef, garlic, mint, cilantro, cinnamon, lime zest and juice, oil, salt, and pepper until well combined. Form the mixture into eight 2-inch-round patties.
3. Heat a thin layer of oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add a few patties. They should fit comfortably in a single layer; don’t crowd the pan. Cook until browned on the bottom, about 4 minutes, then flip and cook until the meat is cooked through, about 4 minutes longer. Repeat with the remaining patties.
4. Meanwhile, use a 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut 8 rounds out of the pitas. (Snack on the trimmings!) In a small bowl, combine the thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt. Brush the pita rounds with olive oil, then press on the spice mixture. Grill or toast the pitas until just warm.
5. Put a patty on each pita, then dollop a spoonful of sauce over. Garnish with the tomatoes and cucumber and serve immediately.
• For classic American burgers, I prefer my meat medium-rare. With these rich spices, I like the flavor of the meat cooked all the way through.
• Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice with a tangy, lemony flavor, and a beautiful bright magenta color. It adds a pop of color and bright flavor to meats and fish, as well as hummus, vegetables like spinach and tomatoes, and eggs.
Love burgers? Try my Buffalo Wing Burgers!