American expats talk a lot about how hard it is to be away during Thanksgiving, how the thought of roast turkey and mashed potatoes makes them desperately homesick, but for me, it’s never harder to be 4,000 miles away from the shores of the United States than it is this weekend. Memorial Day marks the beginning of an entire attitude shift in America: When you wake up tomorrow, it’s fully acceptable—if not borderline mandatory—to slip on a pair of flip flops, grab a beer from the refrigerator, and reacquaint yourself with that huge hunk of metal in your backyard. When I think of this weekend, I think of the smell of smoldering charcoal and carbonized protein, the noise the fire makes when rendered fat drips down and stokes it into a frenzy. When I think of that, my heart aches just a bit.
I bought a Weber Kettle here in Barcelona and set it up on my terrace. When the sun is out, I fill its belly with charcoal and carpet its blackened grate with burger patties and bone-in steaks, asparagus and peppers, but something is missing. Though this country may lay claim to the world’s most accomplished grillmaster, its people can learn a thing or two from Americans about fire and flesh and its ability to bring people together. The dinner table may be dead in the States, but a hot grill attracts family and friends like a tractor beam.
I spent the entire summer and fall last year in rural North Carolina, standing in front of a grill. Seven recipes a day, seven days a week. After three months, I was reduced to a warm mass of blackened skin and singed arm hairs. Though my role at R&K revolves largely around gluttony, in some parallel universe, I write about nutrition. The books, 14 of them to date, have spanned the edible universe—from restaurants to supermarkets to school cafeterias—but the most recent one is my favorite because it takes the grill as its muse.
Grill This, Not That! came out two weeks ago; if you’re interested you can find it here. If not, I’ve included a taste below, my favorite from its pages. We don’t normally run recipes on this site, but for Memorial Day, as I sit on my terrace and fiddle with my grill, trying to figure out which one is farther from home—me or the Weber—it would be nice to know someone on the other side of the pond will be eating the same thing as me.
Lamb Burger with Goat Cheese and Roasted Red Pepper Spread
½ cup bottled roasted red peppers
¼ cup goat cheese
¼ cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic
1 lb ground lamb
¼ tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp fennel seeds
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
4 1/4-inch thick slices yellow onion, skewered with toothpicks
Bibb Lettuce, arugula, or baby mixed greens
4 potato rolls
Preheat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. In a food processor, combine the peppers, goat cheese, yogurt and garlic. Pulse until thoroughly pureed and uniform in color.
Combine the lamb with the coriander, cumin, fennel, salt and black pepper. Gently mix with your hands, then form into four equal patties, making an indentation in the center of each (this will prevent oblong patties, which form after juices cause the meat to swell in the center during the cooking process).
Grill the burgers for 4-5 minutes per side, until firm but still giving to the touch (like a Nerf football). At the same time, grill the onion slices until lightly charred. While the burgers rest, lightly toast the inside of the buns.
Divide the red pepper-goat cheese spread among the buns. Place lettuce on the base of each, top with a burger, then crown with the grilled onions. Makes 4 servings.