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Recipes for juicy, flavorful turkey burgers

Turkey patties don’t have to be dry or bland, thanks to soy sauce, eggplant, and careful cooking.

Photograph by Jim Scherer / Styling by Catrine Kelty

Grilled turkey burgers.

Too often, turkey burgers are met with a sigh more than a hearty appetite. Shunned as dry and bland, they can be exactly that without some help in the flavor and texture departments — and careful cooking. Adding small amounts of umami-rich soy sauce and Asian fish sauce, though not enough to be obtrusive ,  contributes meaty flavor. And recently, on Seriouseats.com, I read about an addition to hedge against dryness: eggplant. A small amount of grilled eggplant adds both moisture and the smoky notes that eggplant acquires in cooking over a fire. Even with the eggplant, though, it’s important not to overcook turkey burgers to ensure a tender, juicy texture.

Mark Schou

Tip: Carefully wiping the hot grill grate with an oil-dipped rag or wad of paper towels is a good idea to help hedge against sticking, no matter what you’re grilling. Since the turkey patties are soft and sticky, oil them too for even more insurance.

Grilled Turkey Burgers

Makes 6 burgers

If you’re using a charcoal grill, you will probably have to add some charcoal to restoke the fire between grilling the eggplant and the burgers. The heat should be medium to cook the burgers. You can substitute well-mashed anchovy or anchovy paste for the fish sauce. While the burgers rest after cooking, grill the English muffins if you’d like.

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1 medium globe eggplant (about 1 pound), poked several times with a dinner fork

2 pounds ground dark meat turkey

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1½ teaspoons soy sauce

1½ teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Salt and pepper

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3 tablespoons neutral oil, plus extra for the grill

Toasted English muffins, buns, or other bread, for serving, if desired

Burger toppings, such as lettuce, tomato slices, and thin-sliced sweet onion, if desired

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, adjust burners to medium-hot and grill with the lid closed.) Grill the eggplant until the skin is charred and the flesh is very soft, about 30 minutes, turning 2 or 3 times.

When cool, halve the eggplant lengthwise and scoop the flesh into a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl (you should have about 1 cup); discard the skin. With a large spoon or flexible spatula, gently fold the eggplant in the strainer to break it up and help expel liquid; continue until liquid has nearly stopped dripping (you should have a generous ½ cup strained puree). Set puree aside.

In a large bowl, break up the ground turkey into rough chunks. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce, eggplant puree, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, and toss lightly with your hands to thoroughly distribute the seasonings and eggplant (the mixture will be very moist and sticky). Divide the mixture into six 6-ounce portions and, with a light hand, gently form into patties roughly 4 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick. Press a shallow divot into the top of each patty if desired. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Brush both sides of each patty with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

(If using gas, adjust burners to medium and grill with the lid closed.) Clean and oil the grill grate and grill the burgers over a medium fire, undisturbed, until grill-marked and cooked through, registering 155 to 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes, turning once halfway through (do not overcook). Rest the burgers for about 3 minutes, and serve hot on English muffins or other bread with toppings if desired.

> VARIATIONS

Grilled Turkey Burgers With Caramelized Onions and Tapenade

Makes 6 burgers

Follow the directions for Grilled Turkey Burgers, making the following changes:

1) In a small skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil until it shimmers. Add 2 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced, and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften and release some liquid, about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring and scraping skillet frequently (adjusting the heat if necessary), until the onions are soft, sticky, and golden, about 40 minutes longer (you should have a generous ½ cup). Add 2 teaspoons minced or grated garlic and a pinch of cayenne pepper, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Scrape the mixture onto a plate, spread into an even layer, and set aside. When cool, finely chop the mixture.

2) Along with the soy sauce, fish sauce, eggplant puree, salt, and black pepper, add the onion mixture and ½ cup olive tapenade, and proceed with the recipe as directed.

Grilled Turkey Burgers With Thanksgiving Flavors

Makes 6 burgers

You’ll need 1/3 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato — microwaved, grilled, or roasted is fine — to replace the eggplant. With sweet potato, leek, celery, sage, thyme, and cranberries, these burgers include many of the flavors of Thanksgiving. The idea of adding sweet potatoes comes from Seriouseats.com.

Follow the directions for Grilled Turkey Burgers, making the following changes:

1) In a small bowl, cover 2/3 cup chopped sweetened dried cranberries with hot water, soften for at least 15 minutes, drain, and set aside.

2) Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon butter until melted and hot. When the bubbling subsides, add 1½ cups finely chopped leek (white and light green parts), 1 cup very finely chopped celery, and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until the leek and celery begin to soften, about 2½ minutes. Adjust the heat to medium-low, cover, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have released their juices, about 5 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon each minced fresh thyme and minced fresh sage, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Scrape the mixture onto a plate (you should have about 2/3 cup), spread into an even layer, and set aside to cool.

3) Substitute 1/3 cup cooked, peeled, and mashed sweet potato for the eggplant. Along with the soy sauce, fish sauce, sweet potato, salt, and pepper, add the leek mixture and cranberries, and proceed with the recipe as directed.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com.
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