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Ukrainian Village Burger

My great grandparents came to Chicago from the Ukraine to provide a better life for their children, including my grandfather. They settled in an ethnic neighborhood on the near west side, on a street called Haddon. Eighty some years later, that neighborhood has come to be known as the Ukrainian Village and is one of the up-and-coming residential areas of the city. I moved to the area and find myself living on that same street where my great-grandparents first experienced American life.

The Ukrainian Village burger combines some of the best-loved comfort foods of traditional Ukrainian cooking. The fennel adds an aura of sausage and no good Slavic meal in complete without cabbage. Here I use red instead of the traditional green to play off the color of the dressing. The borscht dressing is a take on the beet soup commonly served in Ukrainian and Polish households. Finally, the latke is an homage to the importance of potatoes in western European peasant cooking.

All of these components comprise a hearty family meal and can be seen on the tables of many families still living in the Ukrainian Village. Each of the babushka-clad women you can seen in the tiny markets has her own slight variation on the recipe. I have given my own version an American twist to create a perfect fusion of old and new, Ukrainian and American, an a homage to my heritage and my neighborhood.

Ingredients 

Patties

2 pounds ground chuck

1/2 cup white onion, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 tablespoons fennel seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons salt

1 ½ teaspoons pepper

Borsht Dressing

1 large beet, root and greens removed

4 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

2 tablespoons Miracle Whip

¼ teaspoon sugar

Latke

2 large russet potatoes, peeled and grated

¾ cup white onion, grated

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

3 tablespoons butter (for frying)

Sautéed Cabbage

¼ small head of red cabbage

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

6 rye hamburger buns

2-3 table spoons vegetable oil or other product for grill rack to prevent sticking

Instructions 

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill with a cover or preheat a gas grill to medium-high.

To prepare the patties, lightly crush the fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or roughly chop with a knife. Combine the fennel seeds with the chuck, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Shape into six bun-sized patties. Place on a platter loosely covered with plastic wrap and keep cool.

Once the grill is pre-heated, place the beet on a sheet of tin foil. Seal foil around beet and place on grill for 45 min or until fork tender.

To prepare latkes, place a fire-proof skillet on the grill and melt the butter. Peel the potatoes and grate on the large holes of a box grater. Squeeze the grated potatoes over a strainer or in a tea towel to remove all excess water. Grate the onions on the medium holes of the box grater. Combine the potatoes, onions salt and pepper in a large bowl. With your hands form six bun-sized potato pancakes that should be no more than ¼ inch thick. Fry the pancakes in the butter until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Wrap finished latkes in foil to keep warm.

While the latkes are frying, heat another fire-proof skillet on the grill. Heat the olive oil. Chiffonade the cabbage and sauté it in the skillet until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Toss the cooked cabbage with the vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Cover the grill and allow to return to temperature.

To make the borscht dressing, allow the roasted beet to cool. Remove the skin by rubbing with your fingers. Roughly chop the beet flesh and place pieces in a food processor. Add garlic and oregano and process until a paste is formed. Combine the paste with the Miracle Whip and sugar in a small bowl.

Brush the grill rack with the vegetable oil. Place patties on the rack, cover and cook turning once, until done to preference, about 5-7 minutes each side for medium. Place the buns cut side down on the rack away from direct flame for the last minute of cooking.

To assemble the burgers, place equal portions of the warm cabbage on each bottom bun. Add the patties. Place an equal portion of borscht dressing on each patty. Add a latke to each burger and top with the other side of the bun. Cut in half and serve.

Makes six burgers.

Comments 

There are several steps here but much of the prep work, chopping and assembling can be done while the beet is roasting. To save time, the beet can be roasted up to two days in advance and can be stored in the refrigerator. All of the components are fun to make and are best combined by hand; so don’t forget to play with your food!