Sunday, July 25, 2010

Spicing things up

Swimming in the beautiful, clean waters of the Mediterranean Sea with the sun beaming on your bare shoulders and cheeks, feeling the hot sand between your toes as you run towards the shielding shadow of a seaside taverna, eating freshly caught fish while a cool, summer breeze blows across your face, drying your salty hair—there is nothing that can compare to that. Being on summer vacation on a Greek island is one of the best experiences in the world.

Last summer, my vacation was just like that and it was perhaps the most amazing I've had in my whole adult life. Spent on a Greek island that I fell totally in love with; Kefalonia. This summer though, no Greek island vacation for S and me. We are left reminiscing the wonderful time we had last year. Being in Holland during this summer is all too different. There are no dreamy Aegean or Ionian beaches, light blue seas and island sunsets. No, here we have the not so appealing deep North Sea, crazy summer winds and this year in particular, a peculiarly insane weather.

Holland is notorious for its fickle weather, especially during the summer. The day can begin with a slight chill, followed by lots of sunshine and then, when you least expect it, the rain can pour down on you, soaking you right down to your underwear in a matter of seconds, only to be followed by a reappearing sun. I had to learn to deal with it.

This year though, the Dutch summer has become envious of the Southern European one. The temperatures have risen to unprecedented highs making the heat impossible to bear. Sure, being from Greece I'm used to high temperatures during summertime but when I lived in Athens, my apartment was air-conditioned. Here, I only have a meager fan—I never thought I'd need a bigger or better one—which is very close to producing its last current of air. I believe we've used it to death.

All this heat paired with the awful humidity, had made it impossible for me to spend any time in the kitchen. This I think angers me the most about this blazing hot weather. I, not being able to stay in the kitchen for more than a few minutes, me, not wanting to cook anything; this is preposterous. And just when I was beginning to believe that all hope was lost, a sudden breeze came bursting in. A rejuvenating, refreshing light wind finally began blowing through the wide open windows of my apartment, making its way into the kitchen. That was it. I was back!

What I had missed the most, was grilling. But don't go thinking that I'm referring to an open barbecue grill. I'm living in an apartment with a small balcony that overlooks other people's grills. There is no room for fancy stuff like that here. Just a convenient grill/griddle pan that actually manages to heat up the whole seven square meters of the room I call my kitchen.

We really love burgers in this house and by burgers I mean burger patties, not the traditional American burgers even though, let's be honest, we never say no to one or two (or three) of those. Being Greek, burger patties are automatically associated with souvlaki, where you take a Greek pita, wrap it around a couple of patties, add tomatoes and tzatziki and you're set. But we were not in the mood for a Greek souvlaki. We wanted to change things up a bit. The taste buds need a change from time to time, don't they? Keep them in shape. We were in the mood for a little spice; a little Indian spice.

The general idea here is the same as souvlaki. Pita, burger patties, some chopped vegetables, onions and instead of the Greek tzatziki, raita. Raita is an Indian yoghurt-based condiment, flavored with spices and finely chopped vegetables or even fruit. Indian food is rather spicy so the raita works as a cooling agent. The acidity of the yoghurt cools the mouth down creating a pleasant sensation, taking away the heat of the spices.

Chicken is the meat of choice in this recipe, mixed up with a number of different spices like paprika and cumin. The raita echoes the flavor of the chicken burgers with the addition of roasted cumin seeds and the sultanas, which are golden raisins, give a welcomed sweetness to the whole dish. The grilled pita halves are filled with the reddish-hued chicken burgers—a color rendered to them by the spices—sliced cucumbers, red onion and flat-leaf parsley. They are full of flavor, with the spices waking up your senses. The slathering of a spoonful of raita on top of the burgers adds another level of complexity to the dish and brings your palate to life.

Serve these delicious chicken pita burgers at a grill party—if you're lucky enough to have a yard and a barbecue grill that would be perfect—accompanied by raita and an array of sliced vegetables like cucumber, beefsteak tomatoes and carrots. To wash everything down, have an Indian beer like Kingfisher or an Australian Shiraz red wine. They are the ideal complement to this Indian-spiced dish.

Indian-Spiced Chicken Pita Burgers with a Cumin and Sultana Raita
Chicken burger recipe adapted from Everyday Food

I wouldn't suggest you skip on making the raita since it complements the chicken burgers perfectly. They are not the same without it.

I always prefer chicken breasts for burgers but you can also use thighs.

You can most certainly use coriander leaves instead of flat-leaf parsley.

I used white (they are called white but their color ranges from beige to light brown) mustard seeds for the raita but you can use brown or even black mustard seeds. Keep in mind though that the black and brown seeds are very pungent and spicy.

Yield: 4 main-course servings / 2 cups of raita*


for raita
450 g plain full-fat yoghurt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp white mustard seeds
3 Tbsp sultanas (golden raisins)

for chicken burgers
730 g boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into rough chunks
4 green onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 heaped Tbsp paprika
1 ¼ tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper powder
1½ tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Vegetable oil for greasing the grill
4 pitas, around 15 cm in diameter each
1 cucumber (250 g), thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
20 g fresh flat-leaf parsley, thick part of stalks cut off

Special equipment: large food processor, large grill pan (this is the one I use)


Make the raita
Place yoghurt in a small bowl and add sugar, salt and cayenne pepper. Mix everything with a spoon, creating a creamy mixture.

Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat and as soon as the oil starts to shimmer, add cumin and mustard seeds. After a few seconds, when mustard seeds start to pop—it is best to place a splatter screen on top of the skillet to prevent seeds from flying all around your stove top—take skillet off the heat and immediately add the sultanas. Stir once to coat the sultanas with the oil and quickly empty everything over the yoghurt. Stir well with a spoon to combine, cover bowl with cling film and place in the refrigerator.

Make the chicken burgers
In a medium-sized bowl, place chicken pieces, green onions, chopped ginger, lemon juice, paprika, cumin, cardamom, cayenne, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss with a spoon to combine everything. Cover the bowl with cling film and place chicken in the refrigerator for an hour to marinate.

Transfer chicken to a large food processor and, using on/off turns, process mixture until the chicken is roughly chopped. Pulse about 15 times but not more because you don't want the mixture to become pasty.
Using your hands, gently shape mixture into sixteen 2 cm-thick patties with a 5-6 cm diameter (2½ - 3 Tbsp of mixture each).
Remember to always wash your hands well after handling raw chicken.

Grill the chicken burgers
Oil your grill and heat over medium-high heat. Once it gets very hot (in order to check, you can pour a few drops of water on the grill and if they sizzle it is ready) add the chicken burgers. Grill for 8 minutes on one side and 6-7 minutes on the other or until chicken is cooked through. Chicken should always be cooked well done.
Don't press down the patties while grilling because they will lose all their juiciness.

Grill pitas
Cut pitas in half crosswise and as soon as the chicken burgers are done, place pitas on the grill. Cook them for 1-2 minutes per side.

Assemble and serve pita burgers
Place two chicken patties into each pita pocket, 2-3 cucumber slices, sliced red onions and parsley.

Take raita out of the fridge and stir well with a spoon. Spoon raita over the pita burgers or serve it on the side.

*Raita can also be used as a dip for different vegetables.


  1. We finally put the blanket back on the bed last night after it finally cooled down and the thin sheet wasn't quite enough any more. Now if only we could have the cooler temperatures but with the lovely sunshine.

    This recipe looks delicious! I've missed cooking, too, and this looks like a wonderful dish to try now that things have cooled off a bit. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Love the Indian chicken burgers! My partner and I fiddle with burger-flavorings all the time: lamb burgers scented with oregano or rosemary and stuffed with feta cheese... Asian chicken or pork burgers with a soy-ginger mayo. I never have thought of Indian as a possibility (as I hit my head with the palm of my hand and ask myself, "What weren't you thinking??). So I will be making these next weekend after we return from our weekend in Idaho - a respite from the desert heat, hold the humidity! Thanks! And I hope the heat wave has ended for the summer!

  3. oranjeflamingo — I too needed a blanket last night. I resisted it though. I was relishing the lower temperatures :)

    David — great ideas for burgers! I read feta cheese and my stomach rumbled. I think it's a Greek reflex :)

  4. I'm looking for that cool breeze as well. Loved that intro paragraph, especially the bit about drying your salty hair. Great writing :)

  5. Magda, I am so pleased you left a comment on my blog as it led me to yours- such beautiful recipes and the photos are gorgeous. i thought you had used a dSLR, in fact. i also started out with a point and shoot and just bought a dSLR (for my latest post i used the new camera)- i felt i had exhausted its use and it was time to move forward. lovely blog you have here. x shayma

  6. Magda, this is a great post---for both your story and your recipe---which has my mouth watering....I have never made chicken burgers, and this is a Must-Try. Perfect for this weather---which is ridiculously hot where I live, although we are fortunate to have a/c.

    someday, I shall vacation on a Greek Island!!!

  7. Shayma — thanks for dropping by. I had to look up what dSLR is :) I would love to have such a camera... one day perhaps.

    Nancy — I hope that day comes for you soon. You're gonna love Greece!

  8. As always, the step by step instructions are great, as the pictures are the recipe :)
    When did I swim in the sea for the last time? I believe it was 4 years ago in the southern Provence, but the seaside there is not so pitoresque as in Greece or Dalmatia.
    Here, for past two weeks, we were literally suffering from the heat - not only the temperature was extremely high, but also humidity...sauna...
    It has been raining since 2 days and the temperatures went down by half. We enjoy that from all our hearts!

  9. simply beyond. these pix and recipe are simply beyond. grazie!

  10. These burgers look delicious, as does the raita! Now that we can get Fage yogurt, the more uses the better. Stunning photos of Kefalonia - (have you read Corelli's Mandolin?) and your description of sand and sea so inviting. I hope you can return soon. (ps - thanks for your comment on Lemon Mint Ice Cream).

  11. Good one to have the cool raita and the pita burgers! :D

  12. Magdalena — 4 years is such a long time!

    12th Man — thank you

    Doreen — thank you. I have read it, yes. I loved the book, the movie not so much. I will definitely return!

    tigerfish — thanks

  13. I adore spices! Nice burger :)

  14. This is the perfect combination of flavors!