8 & $20: Lamb Burgers with Lemony Yogurt-Caper Sauce and a Roussillon Red

A bright, brine-spiked spread balances out this rich patty, paired with a medium-bodied French blend

8 & $20: Lamb Burgers with Lemony Yogurt-Caper Sauce and a Roussillon Red
A yogurt-based sauce cools and brightens gamy lamb in this easy-to-make burger, paired with a savory red wine. (Julie Harans)
Feb 23, 2021

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.

Lamb can be polarizing compared to counterparts like beef and chicken, with its pronounced flavors and gaminess at the forefront. But for lovers of lamb, its conspicuous qualities can be harnessed to create boldly flavored dishes without much effort.

Hamburger patties are one way to let lamb’s distinct star shine, amped up by mixing in classically matched seasonings like cumin and oregano. The dish has a luxurious feel, but ground meat makes it more convenient and economical than working with full cuts. Starting with a high heat puts a hard crust on a meat that’s typically more resistant to browning than ground beef; then the heat gets turned down for the last two minutes until the lamb is cooked through.

The patties don’t have to be perfectly round (mine certainly weren’t), but try to make their thickness as even as possible so they cook evenly, and keep in mind the shape and size of your bun. I favor something soft like a potato bun over a sturdier option like ciabatta, but it’s up to your preference. Even a lettuce “bun” would work nicely for this type of burger; just let it cool for a few extra minutes before wrapping in a sturdy, cup-shaped variety like butter lettuce or iceberg. Otherwise, the primary crunch component comes from the exterior on the lamb, and a bit from the toasted bun. If you’re craving extra texture, a simple slaw or even some sliced cucumbers would be a nice extra touch.

A Greek yogurt–based sauce studded with crisp fried capers and spiked with their brine brings necessary brightness to the burger, as does a flurry of lemon zest stirred in. Giving the capers a quick fry sort of blooms them (the way spices are bloomed in hot oil), releasing their oils and awakening the fragrance and flavors. That process infuses the oil, some of which you'll save to whisk into the yogurt, with a subtle caper character. To me, the combination of flavors in this sauce/spread provides the salty, umami goodness you’d find in olives and the creamy, cooling effect of a tzatziki—both time-trusted lamb pairings.

Even with the brighter elements, it’s still a rich dish, so it needs a wine with some body, tannins and rich fruit, but one that won’t steal the spotlight from the lamb’s flavors. To that end, I’d suggest a red wine from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region. My pick was M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2018, a medium-bodied blend of Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. It brings the dark fruit with the added bonus of dried herb notes that play off the fresh herb in the patties—all at a value price of only $15.

8 & $20: Lamb Burgers with Lemony Yogurt-Caper Sauce

Pair with a medium-bodied red from France’s Languedoc-Roussillon region, such as M. Chapoutier Côtes du Roussillon-Villages Les Vignes de Bila-Haut 2018 (87 points, $15).

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Approximate food costs: $35


For the burgers:

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for toasting bun
  • Burger buns of choice, toasted with olive oil

For the yogurt sauce:

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained well and patted dry
  • 1/2 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons caper brine
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil (from strained frying oil)
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

1. In a large bowl, combine lamb, cumin, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic and salt. Shape into 4 even patties, cover and set aside at room temperature while you fry the capers.

2. In a small saucepan, add enough olive oil to go 1/8 to 1/4 inch up the sides and heat for 3 minutes over medium-high. Quickly and carefully add the capers (they will splatter!) and fry for about 2 minutes until very fragrant and slightly darkened. Strain, reserving the frying oil and setting it aside, and transfer capers to a plate lined with paper towels.

3. Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per burger in a large skillet (cast-iron preferred) over medium-high. Working in batches if necessary, add the burgers and cook for 5 minutes until you get a nicely browned crust. Flip and cook for 2 minutes more on medium-high before reducing heat to medium-low until the burgers are cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate while you finish the yogurt sauce.

4. In a medium bowl, whisk together yogurt, 2 teaspoons of caper brine and 4 teaspoons of the reserved caper-frying oil. Fold in the fried capers and lemon zest. Spread some onto both sides of toasted burger buns, top with lamb burgers and serve. Makes 4 burgers.

Recipes Cooking

You Might Also Like

5 Favorites: Rosé Pairings for Summer

5 Favorites: Rosé Pairings for Summer

Beat the heat with these seasonal and shareable dishes; break out the pink wines, invite …

Jul 16, 2021
East End Summer

East End Summer

A Long Island menu celebrates the bounty of land and sea

Jul 31, 2021
Maine Course

Maine Course

California Chardonnay with Maine lobster rolls

Jul 31, 2021
Jacques Pépin’s Summery Fish-and-Pasta Feast for Father’s Day

Jacques Pépin’s Summery Fish-and-Pasta Feast for Father’s Day

The chef who helped shape French cuisine in America shares simple recipes for crispy …

Jun 11, 2021
Nik Sharma’s Lamb Chops with Scallion-Mint Salsa and Cucumber-Corn Salad for Memorial Day

Nik Sharma’s Lamb Chops with Scallion-Mint Salsa and Cucumber-Corn Salad for Memorial Day

Thanks to his molecular-biology background, this cookbook author has flavorful, tender …

May 21, 2021
5 Favorite Recipes for Springtime

5 Favorite Recipes for Springtime

Take advantage of the season's fresh produce with these creative salads, starters and main …

May 18, 2021