Lamb patties with tzatziki recipe

Chef’s Notes

Dr. Jessica B. Harris is an award-winning food historian, cookbook author and journalist specializing in the food and lifestyles of the African Diaspora. With this column, My Culinary Compass, she takes people around the world – via their taste buds – with recipes inspired by her many travels.

Cardinal points: 51.30 north, 0.7 west. London, England.

The spring through summer months are usually associated with lamb in my mind, from paschal lamb, which is the origin of the classic Easter roast, to lamb barbecues. Young animals frolicking mean dinner to me. Like the greedy wolf in the cartoons I watched as a child, when I see young lambs, I see chops on the hoof! I also often think of lamb in connection with the Middle East. I crave the lamb souvlaki that taught me to count in Greek one summer decades ago (ena souvlaki, dyo souvlakia, tria souvlakai, tessera souvlakia And so on). I think I got up until eight o’clock before my stomach gave in and my Greek number acquisition stopped. It doesn’t stop there; I am also thinking of the delicate lamb chops savored with the freshest of salads: the Greek classics with sun-ripened tomatoes and a generous crumble of feta cheese or a tumble of fresh greens seasoned with white vinegar and olive oil creamy. I dream of the taste of the crispy skin of spit roasted lamb, there is an Easter tradition in many countryside villages in Greece.

Several decades ago, my travels took me occasionally to Greece, where, as a young woman fresh out of university, I wandered the markets around Omonoia Square – before renovations, rummaging through bags of spices and sampling tastes, searched for treasures at flea markets near Monastiraki, took the local cruise ships and discovered the beauty of Crete, Mykonos, Delos and Hydra as I spent a month in Athens trying to learn the Greek language and archaeology.

Imagine my surprise when just a few weeks ago my lamb cravings were assuaged by a meal in London of all places at a Turkish restaurant, Pide Tas, known for its piss (an Anatolian form of pizza). Eating with a friend late one night and unable to find an open place within walking distance of her house, we stumbled through the door to a place that looked like it should be on the shores of the Bosphorus and not the side south of the Thames. They greeted us warmly, seated us and handed us menus filled with variations of piss. Annoying that I am, I wanted nothing to do with the beautiful breads filled with various ingredients. I opted for a lamb burger. (I’ve never been a big pizza eater.) Then, quickly becoming a waiter’s nightmare, I had the nerve to ask for it without a bun and instead ask for rice that I knew from the menu that came up. was hiding in the kitchen. It arrived with ketchup which I hadn’t asked for, but it also came with a heady garlic yoghurt which went perfectly with the lamb.

It was a lamb route across the Greco-Turkish divide. I was delighted but not surprised. I’ve been a geography student long enough to know that a lot of things related to Greece and Turkey are debated as to where they came from, and Eastern Mediterranean cooking habits are often linked in many ways. Is it Greek coffee or Turkish coffee is a question I will never answer in any public forum; I savor them both, nod and keep my opinions to myself.

Once back in the States, I decided to replicate my new favorite meal. I found ground lamb in my supermarket so easily it surprised me. The seasoning was simple salt and pepper with a few additions. The lamb burger was delicious and a welcome change. When it came time to serve it with rice and salad, I added a spoonful of tzatziki that I always have in my fridge. Wow! It was the perfect combination: the cucumber and garlic bite of the yogurt condiment pairs deliciously with the smooth juiciness of the lamb burger. I found it a perfect alternative to a more traditional burger and a lovely way to greet the arrival of warmer weather I had my meal with a glass of rosé, but in the future I might celebrate my Greek combination -turque of lamb burger and tzatziki with a glass of retsina.

Technical tip: Squeeze the cucumbers to remove excess moisture.

Special equipment: Cast iron grill pan.


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Preheat the oven to 400 F and preheat a cast iron grill pan over high heat.

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In a bowl, combine cucumbers, garlic, mint and yogurt until well blended.

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Add lemon juice, to taste, and stir to combine; let stand 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.


Meanwhile, in a large bowl, generously season the lamb with salt and pepper and toss to combine.

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Shape the lamb into 4 equal sized patties.

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Brush the drip pan with a thin layer of oil.


Add lamb patties and cook 3 minutes on each side; transfer to a quarter of a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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Cook patties until desired doneness, about 3 to 5 minutes for medium doneness.


Serve the patties with a layer of tzatziki, a little onion relish and a sprinkle of torn mint leaves; serve immediately.

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