Cilantro Pesto Burgers

With Memorial Day just around the corner, most people have their menu planned. And you can bet that there will be burgers served at a lot of get-togethers on the day set aside to honor our veterans. And it’s the perfect time, since May is generally considered to be National Burger Month across America.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m planning to fix burgers on the grill Monday. Besides my regular burgers, I’m going to try a recipe from Hubert Keller’s “Burger Bar” (Wiley, 168 pages) for Cilantro Pesto Burgers. Luckily, I have several of the ingredients on hand, including pesto and fresh cilantro.

Keller is well-known in culinary circles. His reputation was made at San Francisco’s renowned Fleur de Lys as well as his inventive Burger Bar at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay and, Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco.

Here’s the recipe, along with five tips for grilling the best burgers, from Mark Bucher, founder of BGR The Burger Joint, which has locations throughout 10 states and the District of Columbia and offers award-winning prime, dry aged beef burgers, turkey burgers and veggie burgers. (The grain-fed beef burgers are made from all natural beef that contains no fillers. The restaurant chain focuses on providing healthier, fresher gourmet food options, served fast, including asparagus fries.)

1. Start natural. The best burgers are created by using good ingredients. Start with the best ingredients, no matter what kind of burgers you are making. Opt for the most natural, pure base that you can get. For example, if you are making beef burgers, opt for ground brisket that is free of hormones, antibiotics and fillers.
2. Prep the burger. Season your burger with a little sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and brush both sides with a small amount of canola oil. This will help prevent it from sticking to the grill, as well as giving it even more flavor.
3. Grill to perfection. Keep an eye on the grilling process of your burger. Burgers that are overcooked will become dried out. In order to get this right, you have to know how everyone prefers their burger, from slightly pink to well done, and everything in between. With practice, this is an area that can be mastered. Only flip once and use a theomometer to gauge doneness.
4. Choose your bun. Having a good bun to put the burger on should not be overlooked. Don’t skimp when it comes to the buns. Opt for a sesame coated brioche bun. One that is fresh and is going to add to the overall flavor.
5. Offer terrific toppings. Having an array of toppings can really make a big difference in burger taste. Along with the traditional condiments and veggies that people commonly add to their burgers, consider some new flavors, such as guacamole, salsa or grilled pineapple.

Cilantro Pesto Burgers
2 pounds ground chuck, chilled
Sea salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 slices provolone cheese
4 ciabatta buns
1 large tomato, sliced
Large handful arugula
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stemmed
12 roasted, salted macadamia nuts
1 or 2 garlic cloves, to taste
2 cups packed arugula
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1/3 teaspoon grated lime zest
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and cut into 4 thick slices
4 to 6 soaked bamboo skewers
For the pesto: Finely chop the nuts and garlic in a food processor. Add the cilantro, arugula, lime juice and zest and process to coarse puree. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth. Pulse in the cheese and season to taste. The pesto will keep, chilled, up to two days.
In a bowl, mix the meat, ¼ cup of the pesto and 1½ teaspoons pepper. Divide the meat into four evenly sized patties and chill several hours or overnight.
Preheat the barbecue for the onions. Whisk together the oil, mustard, honey and vinegar, and set aside. Thread 1 or 2 skewers through each onion slice. Brush the onions with the oil mixture and season with salt and pepper, then grill them for 15 minutes, flipping several times as they caramelize.
Season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper, and grill for 7 to 10 minutes to desired doneness. For the last minute or two of cooking, drape a slice of cheese over each burger to melt.
To serve, spread the bun bottoms with pesto. Top with tomato and arugula. Add the patties and then a grilled onion.
Note: Time-pressed cooks may substitute a purchased basil pesto and sauteed onions.
Yield: Serves 4.