John Ash shares his favorite non-beef burger recipes

Here’s a little history about burgers. According to Alan Davidson in his wonderful encyclopedic book, “The Oxford Companion to Food” (Oxford University Press, 1999), the word “hamburger” first showed up in print around 1890.

Cooked, flavored patties of meat, however, date way back and appear in many cuisines. It’s thought that the port of Hamburg in Germany and its Hamburg Steak, enjoyed by sailors who introduced it to others in their travels, is probably the birthplace for burgers as we know them today. Their fate was sealed when “hamburgers” served in a bun were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair of 1904, and the rest is history.

Burger purists will insist that burgers are only made from beef and that using any other base ingredient puts them in a different category. I don’t agree. All you have to do is look in current cookbooks or in the market to find burgers made from fish or poultry and vegetable/vegetarian versions that are becoming increasingly popular.

Here are some non-beef versions that are worth exploring.

This uses your favorite bottled barbecue sauce to punch up the flavor.

Pork Burgers with Slaw

Makes 4 burgers.

For the slaw:

¼ cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon chicken stock or milk

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar, or to taste

2 generous cups thinly sliced green cabbage

½ cup very finely shredded carrot

½ cup thinly sliced sweet red onions

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the pork burgers:

½ cup of your favorite tomato-based barbecue sauce

1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1½ pounds ground pork

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil, for the grill rack

4 buns or kaiser rolls or another soft, squishy roll, split and toasted or grilled

To make the slaw: Whisk together the mayonnaise, stock, vinegar and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Add the cabbage, carrot, red onions and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to coat. Set aside.

To make the pork burgers: Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot heat. Alternately, heat a ridged grill pan over medium-high heat on the stove.

Stir together the barbecue sauce, salt and vinegar in a medium bowl until combined. Set aside. In another bowl, add the pork, black pepper and 3 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce mixture and gently mix together. Do not overmix. Form the mixture into 4 patties, each about ¾ of an inch thick, being careful not to pack the pork too tightly.

Oil the grill rack and then grill the burgers, flipping them once or twice, until just cooked through, about 8 minutes total. Then brush the top of each patty with remaining barbecue sauce mixture, flip again and grill for 30 seconds to get a little char. Repeat, so both sides of the burger have been coated with the barbecue sauce mixture.

Assemble the burgers, starting with the buns and the burgers and adding a heaping tablespoon of coleslaw on top of each. Consume with gusto!

If you like crab cakes, you’ll enjoy these shrimp burgers, too.

Shrimp Burgers with Peach Aioli

Makes 4 servings

1 pound peeled and deveined raw shrimp (any size), finely chopped

1 large egg white, lightly beaten

5 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon minced parsley

1 tablespoon minced green onion

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, preferably white

Salt and freshly ground white pepper, to taste

Drops of hot sauce, to taste

½ cup or so coarse dry breadcrumbs, preferably panko

Clarified butter or olive oil, for sauteing

4 soft brioche or Hawaiian rolls

Peach Aioli (recipe follows)

Toppings: Tomato slices, crisp lettuce leaves, Kirby cucumber slices

In a large bowl, add the shrimp, egg and mayonnaise and combine with the next 7 ingredients. Stir in ½ cup of the breadcrumbs. Don’t overmix. You want the cakes to just hold together and be delicate in texture. Mix in additional crumbs if the mixture is too moist. (Cook a small tester to make sure.)

Form into cakes. Lightly dust both sides with additional breadcrumbs. These can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 hours. In a large skillet over moderate heat, saute the burgers in clarified butter or oil until lightly browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.

Lightly toast the halves of the brioche buns, if desired, and spread generously with the aioli. Add the cooked shrimp burger to the bottom half, then the toppings. Cover with the roll tops.

Peach Aioli

Makes ¾ cup

1 cup peeled and sliced ripe peaches

1 teaspoon chopped ginger

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon fresh lime or lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey, or to taste

Salt and drops of hot sauce, to taste

⅓ cup mayonnaise

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Correct seasoning to your taste.

You can grill or saute these, but I prefer the latter because they are more delicate and tend to fall apart as they don’t have the raw protein that meats and fish have to hold everything together. If you grill them, I recommend a hinged grill rack, which makes it easy to turn them.

Kidney Bean Burger

Makes 4 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup chopped green onions, both white and green parts

1 small seeded and stemmed poblano pepper, finely chopped (about ½ cup)

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 15-ounce can cooked kidney beans, drained and rinsed

½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped and loosely packed

1 large egg, lightly beaten

½ cup toasted whole-grain breadcrumbs, made from about 2 slices of bread

½ teaspoon pure chile powder, such as ancho or chipotle

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small saute pan over moderate heat and add the onions, pepper and garlic. Saute for 1 or 2 minutes just to soften a little and remove the raw taste. Remove from heat and place in the bowl of a food processor along with the beans. Pulse 2 or 3 times to roughly chop the beans. Be careful not to over-process.

Place mixture in a bowl and gently stir in remaining ingredients. Divide the mixture into 4 portions and form into patties. Chill uncovered for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to a saute pan and, over medium heat, cook the burgers until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes.

Serve on a bun with traditional garnishes.

This North African-inspired burger is delicious grilled.

Lamb Burgers

Makes 4 servings

3 garlic cloves

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon red chile flakes

⅓ cup finely chopped cilantro

1½ pounds ground lamb (not lean, but we usually don’t have a choice)

4 (6- to 7-inch) pita pockets

2 small heirloom tomatoes, sliced

Cucumber and yogurt sauce (recipe follows)

Mince garlic and mash to a paste with ¾ teaspoon salt using the side of a large, heavy knife. Stir together garlic paste, cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, chile flakes and cilantro. Sprinkle evenly over lamb and mix with your hands until combined (do not overmix). Form lamb mixture into four ¾-inch-thick patties, 4 inches in diameter.

Cut off enough from one side of each pita to leave a 5-inch opening and open the pockets.

Prepare grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas).

Oil grill rack, then grill patties, covered only if using a gas grill, turning over once, 6 to 7 minutes total for medium-rare. Grill pitas, turning over once, until lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes total.

Slide patties into pita pockets with tomato slices and a healthy spoonful or 2 of cucumber yogurt sauce.

Real Greek yogurt is made using sheep’s milk and often with a small percentage of goat milk. Let this recipe sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and the garlic flavor mellows. Overnight is great. You’ll note there’s no dill or lemon but, of course, you can add them if you want.

Cucumber and Yogurt Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup plain full-fat Greek yogurt

2 cups coarsely grated English or Persian cucumber, unpeeled

2 large garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Big pinch sugar

2 tablespoons chicken stock or milk

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Add the Greek yogurt to a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth.

Gently squeeze the cucumber with your hands to remove most of its water. Then add to the mixing bowl with the Greek yogurt.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix. Refrigerate, covered, for 1 hour, then taste and adjust the seasoning to your taste.

You can cook the mushrooms in a preheated 400-degree oven or on a grill over moderately high heat.

Portobello Mushroom Burgers

Makes 4 servings

4 large portobello mushrooms

⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Pimento cheese (recipe follows)

4 soft brioche or other hamburger buns

Toppings: Slices of tomato, iceberg lettuce leaves, sandwich pickle slices

Remove and discard the stems and scrape out the black gills from the mushrooms. Whisk together the olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a small bowl. Paint mixture onto both sides of the mushrooms. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms either in a preheated oven or on the grill until softened and juices are bubbling.

Meanwhile, spread the pimento cheese generously on the cut sides of the buns. Place a cooked portobello on the bun bottom half and top with tomato, lettuce and pickles. Eat!

This makes more than you’ll need for this recipe. But it’s great to have on hand. This is an adaptation of a recipe from my co-host on the KSRO Good Food Hour, Steve Garner, who is a “son of the South,” having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky. He notes, “I’ve never talked with anybody who agrees what should go into pimento cheese.” Of course, pimentos are what the recipe was named after, but I prefer piquillos, which are also now widely available.

Pimento Cheese

Makes 4 cups or so

16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, freshly grated

3 or 4 tablespoons of good cream cheese (I like Gina Marie from Sierra Nevada)

⅓ - ½ cup mayonnaise

½ teaspoon dried onion powder

1 teaspoon runny honey or sugar, to taste

8 ounces jarred pimentos or piquillo peppers, drained and chopped

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons hot sauce such as sriracha

Place all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until it forms a smooth paste with just a little texture. If desired, add additional mayonnaise for a creamier consistency.

In my restaurant days, we’d order whole ducks. The moneymaker was the breasts. Roasting legs simply with salt and pepper is delicious, but they were a hard sell. Usually, we’d pull the meat off the legs and the rest of the carcass and turn it into meatballs or burgers. We are so lucky today to have duck available to us (often frozen). This also works for those of you who are hunters and have a freezer full of ducks you don’t know what to do with.

Duck Burgers

Makes 4 servings

1 pound ground or finely chopped duck meat

¼ cup blanched slivered almonds, lightly toasted and chopped

¼ cup raisins, preferably golden and chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

⅓ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

¼ cup breadcrumbs, such as panko

1 teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons crumbled dried mint

1 large egg, mixed with a fork

Olive oil, for sauteing

Soft, squishy buns

Traditional garnishes

Gently combine all the ingredients except the olive oil. With wet hands, form into patties about ¾-inch thick. Heat about ¼ inch of olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Fry the patties until they are browned on both sides, about 6 minutes total.

Place on top of toasted buns with traditional garnishes and enjoy.

Don’t use canned chickpeas/garbanzos. They won’t work. Those of you who make falafel will recognize this recipe.

Chickpea Burgers

Makes 4 servings

8 ounces dried chickpeas

1 cup parsley, chopped and loosely packed

1 cup cilantro, chopped and loosely packed

½ cup finely chopped scallion, both white and green parts

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon toasted ground cumin

½ teaspoon toasted ground coriander

2 teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon chickpea or all-purpose flour

5 tablespoons or so water

Vegetable oil, for frying

Place chickpeas in a bowl and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Allow to soak for 24 hours. Drain well and place in a food processor along with the next 10 ingredients. Process for 1 or 2 minutes on high until the mixture is mostly smooth.

Divide into 6 portions and form into burgers. Heat ½ inch of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add burgers and cook on both sides until golden brown and crusty.

Slather buns with tahini sauce (recipe follows), add a burger and top with tomato slices, sweet red or white onion slices and arugula or shredded lettuce.

Tahini pastes vary widely, with some being bitter and grainy. My favorite is Soom, which you easily can order online.

Tahini Sauce

Makes 1 cup

½ cup well-stirred tahini paste, at room temperature

¼ cup or so warm water

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

2 large garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Optional additions (pick one!):

Chile flakes or chile paste (like sambal olek or sriracha)

A dash of soy sauce or liquid aminos

A dash of toasted sesame oil (for extra sesame flavor)

1-2 teaspoons za’atar spice

1-2 teaspoons ground cumin

Fresh chopped chives, Italian parsley, mint or basil

1-2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt

Place tahini paste and warm water in a medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Once you start whisking, it will thicken, so feel free to thin it out.

Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and whisk until creamy and smooth. It will thicken as it cools in the fridge.

Taste and adjust the salt and lemon to your liking. Whisk in any of the optional ingredients. It will keep for up to a week, refrigerated.

John Ash is a Santa Rosa chef, teacher, James Beard award-winning cookbook author and radio host of KSRO’s “Good Food Hour” airing at 11 a.m. Saturday. He can be reached through his website,

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